April 4, 2019 – Hey, Nevada County, you can do this! Stop fretting about the coming fire season, and give yourself a measure of protection that won’t put a hole in your pocketbook. Be aware of the facts: it wasn’t the fire front that burned the 14,000 homes in Paradise. It was the ember storm blowing off the main event that destroyed the town. That’s exactly how most homes burn in a wildfire. Think fiery charcoal briquettes dropping from the sky!

Now, let’s say you don’t have defensible space around your home because you think it’s going to cost too much. Actually, for the majority of homes, defensible space isn’t a high hurdle at all. In most cases, you don’t have to take out the healthy trees, but just whack away those crowded juvenile oaks and cedars that keep popping out of the earth. Look for the fire footholds on the ground, roof, gutters, and decks — those places that can become the starting point of fire and where it might spread to nearby bigger fuel sources. For most of us, a rake, a pole saw and some pruning shears might be enough. And make sure that a fire truck coming into your driveway has enough clearance above and to the sides. You see, we are not defending against a raging treetop fire. When that happens, evacuation is your only option. What we are actually defending against is the much higher risk of becoming a victim to windblown, hot embers that come off a wildland fire that could be quite a distance from your home. Those embers can easily start a spot fire on your property and burn down your house even when the main fire event is a mile away! With a new fire starting on your property, the firefighters will then have to contend with an ever widening treetop fire that also threatens everyone around you. Our overarching goal should be to keep a ground fire from getting into the big trees. If that occurs, we are facing a huge loss!

The costs of getting defensible space are cheap in comparison to the risks of being a fire target. Order a 90-gallon yard waste container from Waste Management (274-3085), and for a few bucks a month, they will pick up with your regular garbage. Get into the habit of filling it with debris for the twice a month pick-up. They also have bigger containers for bigger clean-outs. Remember that during the low risk fire months, you are allowed to burn garden waste in unincorporated areas so long as you have a burn permit (issued by most fire agencies) and follow the safety rules. That’s a cheap way to get rid of lots of dangerous fuel. See burnpermit.fire.ca.gov for convenient online permits and information. For most situations, you don’t need to cart things off to the landfill. So that you can stay ahead of the annual deadfall which can easily amount to a ton of debris on a half-acre wooded lot, regular maintenance is the key.

And if you are unclear about what constitutes “defensible space,” call the Fire Safe Council (272-1122) and ask for a free “Advisory Visit” from trained volunteers who can help you to assess your property’s safety. If needed, their donation-run chipping service can help with those larger branches.

Sure, we can go the extra mile by removing huge trees and retrofitting our houses so that they can survive the worst situations. But aren’t we more likely to get generally safer if we spend our energies on preparing for the more common danger of being vulnerable to an ember storm? Can we really expect many people to spend thousands of dollars removing big trees, replacing wood decks and siding? Let’s try to get more bang for the buck by simply cleaning up our properties as a first line of defense.

Working toward and keeping defensible space is not hard or expensive. It just requires a little physical exercise and persistence. It’s the little things on your property that count as the biggest danger. Keep thinking that way, and you will soon be satisfied with your results. And… it won’t put you in a financial bind! So stop leaning on that rake, and get started, now!

Kent Rees, Founding Chair
Coalition of Firewise Communities of Nevada County