Other Voices: Five excuses why homes aren’t fire safe
As the 20th anniversary of the catastrophic 49’er Fire nears, I often wonder why many people make excuses for not clearing their property of hazardous brush and ladder fuels. Wildfire is the No. 1 natural disaster threat we face living in Nevada County. I hear a lot of good reasons why residents are not making their homes fire safe. Here are some of them:
1. “I can’t afford to do it.” You can’t afford not to. Can you afford to lose your home or put your family in danger? Can you afford to lose your fire insurance if your carrier deems you too high a fire risk? This is happening in Nevada County. If you are cited for not being compliant with the law, you’ll have to do it within a limited time. Some will take action, but a greater number will do nothing unless forced to do so.
The effort it takes to accomplish this goal may not be as insurmountable as one may think. Much can be done by the individual with help from friends, neighbors, family or the employment of a brush clearing company. Take a new perspective – brush clearing may actually improve the value of your property. Phase your project to spread the work or cost.
2. “What’s the use? A wildfire would burn everything anyway!” Creating defensible space has proven to be the most effective measure you can take to save your home from a wildfire. Removing brush and other flammable material from around the house and property lines will reduce the risk of a wildland fire destroying your property. It’s a fact – just ask your local firefighter.
3. “I want to leave my property natural.” Dense and overgrown brush is not a natural condition and is no longer a healthy ecosystem. A thinned out and well-maintained forest is natural and creates better habitat for wildlife. Naturally occurring, low-intensity fires were a benefit to the pre-settlement ecosystem.
When European immigrants came to the new world, they suppressed wildfires, allowing excessive plant material to accumulate. This overcrowding causes its own devastation. Competition for water and nutrients kill many native plants.
To expect fires to come through and restore the natural order is no longer a viable solution. The current fuel load would create an inferno of proportions that would create temperatures far in excess of naturally cleansing fires prior to those that occurred before the mid-nineteenth century. Erosion and soil sterility can also be an issue. Homes in the wildland expose extreme fire danger to a growing population living in or near the forest. Thinning brush will not only reduce the devastating effects of wildfires, but restore the environment to a more natural state. Aesthetic enhancement is an added benefit.
4. “I want privacy” Plants, both native and ornamental, can be placed or left in a staggered formation so as to create a visual but noncontiguous screen. Screens made up of fire-safe plants such as English laurel and photinia create a great alternative to dense, flammable brush. This takes long-range planning and forethought, but it will help solve the problem while meeting the needs of the individual.
5. “Why should I do it?” Fire safety is your responsibility as a landowner under the law. It is a responsibility to the community as well. In addition to creating a defensible space around your home, a defensible perimeter around your property line may help prevent a fire from spreading to your home. It could also serve as a firebreak for the rest of the neighborhood. This patchwork of firebreaks throughout a neighborhood could protect adjoining neighborhoods, the forest and watersheds we treasure.
We have the opportunity to become part of the solution. Our actions or lack thereof have consequences. Nevada County is a beautiful place to live and many have come here for the lush natural beauty of our surroundings.
The 49’er Fire ranks 13th among California’s most devastating wildfires by structures destroyed with 312 homes destroyed. With more people living here than in 1988, the losses today could be staggering. The Fire Safe Council of Nevada County is a nonprofit organization working to prevent catastrophic wildfire through education. We offer defensible space advice, a roadside chipping program, community green waste drops, and defensible space clearing for low-income seniors and the disabled. We vie for grants so that these programs are free to residents of Nevada County. We also complete projects such as evacuation route clearing and community-wide fuel breaks. With so much help available, what’s your excuse for not being fire safe?
Joanne Drummond is the executive director of the Fire Safe Council of Nevada County.
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