Weed abatement and hazard elimination improves fire safety

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Weed abatement and hazard elimination helps firefighters protect homes and property. Diane Sieker photo

When authorities talk about defensible space – the area between a home and a potential fiery disaster – they are being deadly serious. Mowing, weedwacking, pruning and relocating combustible materials like firewood piles are advised. Anza Valley residents are familiar with the dangers of not maintaining a buffer zone and the importance of employing hazard reduction methods to keep it in good shape.

In 2005 a new state law came into effect that extended the defensible space clearance around homes and structures from 30 feet to 100 feet.

Proper and safely conducted clearance to 100 feet increases the chance that a house will survive a wildfire. This buffer also provides for firefighter safety as they work to protect structures and property from a wildfire.

Light fuels such as grass, small shrubs and weeds should be abated and tree branches trimmed to 6 feet from the ground.

Weed abatement and hazard elimination also assists equipment deployment to protect homes. Diane Sieker photo

Since abating brush, weeds and grass usually means employing machines that can cause friction and create heat and flame, caution must be taken in their use.

In the Cal Fire area of San Diego County for the year 2014, improper equipment use caused 16% of the blazes. That’s 16% of fires that could have been easily prevented with education and common sense.

The “One Less Spark” program sponsored by The California Wildland Fire Coordinating Group has safety tips posted on their website.

Mow before 10 a.m., but never when it’s windy or excessively dry. Lawn mowers are designed to mow lawns, not weeds or dry grass. Metal blades striking rocks can create sparks and start fires.

In wildland areas, spark arresters are required on all portable gasoline-powered equipment. It includes tractors, harvesters, chain saws, weed-eaters and mowers. Keep the exhaust system, spark arresters and mower apparatus in proper working order and free of carbon and debris buildup. Use the recommended grade of fuel and don’t over fill the tank.

In wildland areas, grinding and welding operations require a permit and 10 feet of clearance. Keep a shovel and a fire extinguisher ready to use. Don’t drive your vehicle onto dry grass or brush. Hot exhaust pipes, catalytic converters and mufflers can start fires that often can’t be seen until it’s too late. Keep a cellphone nearby and call 911 immediately in case of a fire start.

To protect water quality, do not clear vegetation near waterways to bare soil. Vegetation removal can cause soil erosion especially on steep slopes and this can cause debris flows in heavy rains. Always keep soil disturbance to a minimum.

The website also advised, “Whether working to create defensible space around your home, just mowing the lawn or pulling your dirt bike over to the side of the road, if you live in a wildland area you need to use all equipment responsibly. Lawn mowers, weedeaters, chain saws, grinders, welders, tractors and trimmers can all spark a wildland fire. Do your part, the right way, to keep your community fire safe.”

Many residents opt to hire professionals to handle the task. Tree trimming and mowing services, weed control companies and other contractors are available to help. Make sure the contractors are properly licensed and can provide proof of workers’ compensation and general liability insurance. Professionals will know all the safe methods to use.

Be aware of what is around a property and the hazards that may be present. Understand that fire is a living, breathing force.

Hazard reduction is the key to defensible space around homes. Unfortunately, sometimes the act of creating the safe space can cause a wildfire. Being prepared for the worst and hoping for the best is the best option.

For more information on safe weed abatement, visit www.preventwildfireca.org/Equipment-Use and  www.readyforwildfire.org/Defensible-Space.

Diane Sieker can be reached by email at anzaeditor@reedermedia.com.