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Articles

Certain landscaping materials can increase risk of fire

Perry Van Houten, Ojai Valley News reporter
Maintaining defensible space is a critical part of keeping homes fire-safe, but it's not just brush clearance that's crucial during wildfire season in Southern California.
Experts say homeowners need to take a close look at everything near their home.
“When we talk about defensible space we often focus on vegetation and the importance of removing dead or dying vegetation,” said Daniel Berlant, Cal Fire assistant deputy director. “However, any items that are flammable, whether it's dead grass, wood piles, plastic lawn furniture or even mulch piles, must be kept a distance from the home.”
Mulch can be useful in reducing soil evaporation and helps in erosion control when spread over the soil, but it should never be left in piles near the home, Berlant said.
“Mulch is flammable, but by itself is generally not a significant fire hazard,” he explained.
“However, if the mulch is touching the side of a building, the fire can spread to the building, so we do recommend there be a space in between any mulch and the building itself.”
Are artificial lawns a fire hazard?
“Modern artificial grass is fire resistant,” Berlant said.
“It doesn’t appear that it will sustain a flaming front, but it will melt.”
Professional landscaper Kathy Nolan, of Ojai, specializes in firescaping and fuel modification plans.
Nolan says every property is different, but there are several things to consider when designing and maintaining landscaping.
“You have to assess the site and its condition,” she said.
In general, Nolan said, you want low ground cover and plants that have fleshy, water-storing leaves in the area immediately adjacent to the house (Zone 1).
“Plants that are able to store water in their leaves and stems, such as succulents,”she explained.
You'll want irrigated planting in the first zone to keep some water in the soil, Nolan said.
Zone 2 starts 50 to 70 feet from the house and can include taller plants and trees.
“Look for plants that produce limited dead and fine material, plants that have extensive root systems to control soil erosion, and plants that have high levels of salt and non-resinous compounds,” Nolan said.
Trees with resinous compounds (sap) include conifers such as pine, spruce, fir and juniper.
Eucalyptus have high levels of oil that can be flammable.
Residents must walk a fine line between water conservation and fire safety, since some drought-tolerant plants can pose a fire hazard.
Look for plants that can survive severe pruning, Nolan said, and plants that can sprout quickly after a fire.
Plants that are low-growing in form are best in fire-safe landscaping, she added.
“You can have some trees, but the lower-growing the better.”
Visit www.firesafeojai.org for more tips on fire-resistant landscaping from the Ojai Valley Fire Safe Council.
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