Defensible space tips for forested regions |

Defensible space tips for forested regions

Many homeowners in fire-prone areas assume that a fire engine will be parked in their driveways and firefighters actively defending their homes in the event of a major wildfire.

But when a blaze enters the area experts call the wildland-urban interface, such as a subdivision surrounded by forest, it is unlikely that there will be enough firefighting resources available to defend every home. Because of that, firefighters will select homes that can be protected safely and effectively.

To ensure that a home stands the greatest chance of surviving a blaze, homeowners must landscape so that a fire’s intensity is reduced as it closes in on a structure.

And while defensible space just makes sense, it is also the law. Violating defensible space requirements can cost homeowners up to $500 in California.

Maintain fire resistant area

The law requires 30 feet of defensible space around a home (or up to the property line if it is less than 30 feet from the home). However, in high-hazard areas, such as the mountainous Lake Tahoe region, experts recommend a larger buffer around houses. That is especially important in an area with medium to tall brush or trees and the house is on a slope. If so, up to 200 feet of defensible space may be needed to give firefighters a chance to properly defend a home during a fire.

Specific requirements vary according to local conditions, and most local fire agencies will provide homeowners with personalized defensible space consultations and recommendations if asked.

3 Rs of defensible space

Removal involves eliminating entire plants from a site, particularly trees and shrubs. Examples include cutting down a dead tree or removing a flammable shrub.

Reduction involves cutting dead and low-hanging branches off trees and shrubs to a height of 15 feet above ground. Dried grasses should be mowed.

Replacement involves substituting less-flammable plants in place of more hazardous vegetation. Planting an irrigated flower bed where a stand of dense brush used to be is an example.

• A home’s roof is the most vulnerable part of a house because wind-blown sparks from a nearby fire can set roofing materials and/or debris built up on the roof ablaze. Make sure to remove pine needles, leaves and other debris from the roof and gutters and trim any overhanging branches. Also, if roofing material is flammable, such as wood shakes, consider re-roofing with materials with at least a Class C fire resistance classification.

• “Fire resistant” plants are those that are less likely to burn than others. However, there is no such thing as a plant that will not burn.

• Leave space between shrubs and trees to cut down on the “ladder fuels.” Ladder fuels are bushes, shrubs and low branches that allow a ground fire to make its way up into the canopy of larger trees.

• Plant lawns, succulent ground covers or other low-growing plants near structures; water them regularly.

• Clear all vegetation and other flammable materials from beneath decks. Enclose the undersides of elevated decks with fire resistant materials.

Truckee Fire Department chipper program:

The Truckee Fire Department has a free “chip in place” program available to all residents within the Truckee Fire District. For more information or to schedule chipping, call (530) 582-7850 Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. 5 p.m.

• Chipping is done on a first-come, first-serve basis with priority given to groups of neighbors working together.

• Materials that can be chipped include tree limbs, small trees and brush with a maximum diameter of 12 inches. No loose pine needles can be chipped.

• Limbs and brush should be placed with the cut end toward the road.

• No dirt, rocks or root balls.

• Material must be stacked where the truck and trailer can safely access them without causing any damage.

• All material chipped will be blown back onto the property.

Nevada County Fire Safe Council:

See for information on chipping programs, free defensible space cleanup for seniors and disabled people and more. You can also call (530) 470-9193.

Defensible space contractors in the Truckee area:

• R & R Light Tractor – contact Ray Belli at 587-0753.

• SnowTech – do work in Tahoe Donner only 582-0300

• The Natural Look – 582-9000

• Sierra Snow Removal & Excavating – Gary Rhoads at 426-3016

• ???Raymond Knox – 827-3380

*Note: This is not a comprehensive list and the Sierra Sun does not recommend or endorse any vendor on this list.

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