San Diego County residents woke up to a red flag warning today. A red flag warning means critical fire weather conditions are either happening now or will shortly. Any fires that develop may spread quickly, according to the National Weather Service. Count on it being the first of many this year.
Wildfire is a fact of life in Southern California, and for many other people in the United States. The current drought hitting so many areas including San Diego makes it even more important to be aware of the potential danger of wildfire.
Your landscaping can play a critically important role in protecting your home and your property from being damaged or destroyed by wildfire. Spring is a great time to create firesafe landscaping so it is in place and ready to help when wildfire season starts. Since it is likely to come early this year, it is important to assess your needs right away.
First, you need to create something firefighters call “defensible space.” The days of having your home surrounded by eucalyptus trees and bushes to create privacy are over. Those trees and bushes can easily catch fire and act like tinder for your house. Create space clear of flammable plants for a minimum of 100 feet surrounding your home. Remove dead leaves, twigs and branches. Keep flammable shrubs and trees, especially those near windows and the eaves of your home pruned back. If you store wood outside, keep it away from your home. If you have grassy areas, cut it down to a maximum of four inches.
If you have stopped watering your lawn or other plants in anticipation of removing it, don’t leave the dead, brown plant material outside your home. It creates a fire danger. Remove it as quickly as possible.
Even though there are no truly fireproof plants and foliage, many can slow down fire and avoid becoming fuel that feeds into the intensity of a wildfire. Many have the benefit of being native to California and drought tolerant.
Coreopsis can handle being planted in a wide variety of soil. Its little yellow flowers are pretty, too. California Fuchsia has bright orange flowers. Once this perennial is established, it will need little to no watering. Planting foliage that is low growing also helps with fire safety. Yellow Ice Plant is wonderful in its capacity to slow down a fire.
California Redbud, California Lavender, and California Lilac are good choices to protect your home and still have lush looking landscaping. The attractiveness of their flowers is definitely a plus.
Other eye-catching choices for fire safety include Red Monkey Flower, Society Garlic, Ornamental Strawberry, and Sage. All Mediterranean type herbs grow well in California, and they have the benefit of making your garden smell wonderful. All will do well in any landscape setting while providing the benefit of safety during fire season.
Succulents are a traditional to keeping fire at bay. Storing water in their plump leaves and stems, familiar succulents like Aloes, Agaves, and Euphorbias are excellent inhibitors of flame. There are many other more exotic, unusual succulents and new varieties being grown every day. Visit your favorite nursery and you might be surprised by the wide variety of colors, leaf shapes, and sizes available.
Once you have chosen your plants, consider adding mulch. Mulch can help prevent fire from spreading. Pine Mulch and Shredded Hardwood Mulch help retain moisture in the soil, and keep weeds to a minimum, But avoid the pretenders. Red, Brown, and Black Mulches are artificially dyed, ground up pallets. They resemble mulch, but they are not.
One of the most important reasons to have fire safe landscaping with ample defensible space: when firefighters must make difficult decisions about which homes to save and which homes they have to abandon, the difference often comes down to whether a house has more chance of surviving because it has defensible space. When they have to choose, firefighters will protect the home with defensible space over one that lacks it.
For more advice, download this checklist from the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection.
The threat of wildfire is scary, and ever present. But knowledge is power and knowledge kills fear. Proactivity is your friend. Take advantage of our nice spring weather, get outside and get prepared.