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Residents key in fire prevention battle

As temps rise, defensible space around home can be lifesaving
By: Kirsten Read Journal Correspondent
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While wildfires may not be as blissful as popsicles and sunblock, they are just as prevalent during summer months in the foothills. However, there are many things that homeowners can do to keep their homes safe during wildfire season. “This time of year we’re into fire season, so there’s a heightened fire danger in the foothills, increasing in the valley floor, where the grass is, then creeping into the foothills and mountain area,” Chelsea Fox, fire prevention specialist at Cal Fire, said. According to Fox, defensible space is a great way to protect your home during this season. It requires homeowners that live in state responsibility area covered by Cal Fire, or anything that is outside of city limits and national forest boundaries, to clear the area around their home. The area within 100 feet around the home or property line, whichever is closer, must be removed of dead or dying debris, leaves, and branches. “We talk about [defensible space] year around, but it gets a lot more attention in the summer,” Fox said. “We try to push it in the springtime, when the weather’s starting to really warm up. We describe it as a modification of vegetation around the house.” Auburn Fire Chief Mark D’Ambrogi said removing debris from the roof and gutters is as important as clearing it from the ground surrounding your home, and gives officials the ability to suppress the fire easier. “[Defensible space] is the removal of dry natural vegetation to slow down or stop a wildfire from approaching the structure,” D’Ambrogi said. “What that means is cutting down dry grasses and brush such as manzanita in the space around your home. The trees don’t necessarily have to come out, but they should be limbed up about eight to 10 feet to keep the fire on the ground and not spreading upwards. Another thing is raking up the leaves and needles, which basically create a big bed of fuel. Clearing debris from the roof areas as well; people don’t realize that that’s really important. An ember can fall on the roof and spread quickly if it’s covered in dry leaves and pine needles.” According to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection website, in January 2005 a new state law became effective that extended the defensible space clearance around homes and structures from 30 feet to 100 feet. Proper clearance to 100 feet dramatically increases the chance of your house surviving a wildfire. This defensible space also provides for firefighter safety when protecting homes during a wild land fire. “[2005] was the last time [the law] was modified, but every year we put together a new message about how to get the word out and express the importance of it,” Fox said. “People have to understand how vital defensible space is, and know that once you create it you have to maintain it every year. It’s an ongoing process.” Another issue that has caused up to 2/3 of the wildfires in the area is irresponsible equipment us, Fox said. “We see a lot of fires caused by equipment use this time around, such as lawn mowers and weed eaters,” Fox said. “People don’t think about the sparks that can be created by hitting a rock or something. Use the equipment before 10 a.m., not in the heat of the day, or when humidity is higher and temperatures are lower.” Awareness is a vital part of fire safety, Fox said, and can make all the difference. “The key is to be responsible and always pay attention to what’s going on around you,” Fox said. “Defensible space is a really important part of it, as is not throwing cigarette butts or anything like that. Follow burn ban laws, which we put into effect from July 1 to the end of October. During this time, warming and cooking fires, such as barbeques and campfire rings, are still allowed, but we highly encourage people to have a clearance around the fire, or a concrete patio. Basically the creation of a safe space; that’s the message we want to get across. You should have a sense of vigilance while you enjoy the nice outdoors during this time of year.” Regarding local summer wildfires thus far, D’Ambrogi notes that this summer has been reasonably calm. “Things have been relatively very quiet, but time will tell,” he said. “We’re getting down to that critical time period where fires do and will occur. People think that they’re doing the best thing possible, and next thing you know they’re starting a fire. The best thing to do is continue safe practices.” ---------- 5 tips on fire safety from Chelsea Fox of Cal Fire -Create defensible space by clearing dry grass and brush within 100 feet of your home. -Use outside equipment, such as lawn mowers and weed whackers, before 10 a.m. and not in the heat of the day. -Clear leaves and pine needles not only from the ground around your home, but from the roof and gutters. -Abide by burn ban laws for yard brush -If burning an outside campfire, be sure to have clearance around the fire, or light it in a contained pace on a concrete patio. ----------