Defensible Space Key To Fire Safety


It continues to be hot, dry and windy in the Rim country. In fact, the last half of June is considered the most dangerous time of the fire season.

The small amount of moisture that we received last spring is just a distant memory, and the grasses it produced are now tinder dry and waiting to explode. Meanwhile, the first monsoon clouds have yet to make an appearance on the distant horizon,

Living in a community surrounded by the forest is a helpless feeling, but we aren't completely at the hands of fate and Valley campers. There are steps we can all take to reduce the risk of and be better prepared for wildfire.

Gary Roberts, fire prevention officer for the Payson Ranger District, says the best thing you can do is create defensible space -- a buffer zone 30- to 200-feet wide around your home. During a major wildfire when resources are stretched, firefighters will triage or focus on those homes they can safely defend.

Roberts' advice for constructing a defensible space:

  • The single most vulnerable part of your home is your roof. Keep it clean and remove dead branches and limbs within 10 feet of your chimney and deck.
  • Cut tall grass near structures. A fire in dry grass burns quickly and is very difficult to control.
  • Remove excess brush and small trees from at least 30 feet around buildings. Dense brush burns quickly and can provide a "ladder" for low flames to reach up into larger trees. Widely spaced trees and shrubs can be left in the landscape for shade and esthetics.
  • On larger lots, maintain a fuel break of low-growing plants 30 to 70 feet out from buildings. Such fuel breaks act as a buffer between the manicured landscape near the home and the adjacent wildlands.
  • Rake up leaves and twigs. Remove plant litter (dead leaves, twigs, etc.) that accumulates under trees and shrubs to reduce fuel loads. Tree litter that accumulates on roofs and in gutters should also be removed regularly.
  • Thin dense tree groups. Though the grouping of trees is normally a good landscaping technique, in fire-prone areas it can be hazardous. Thinning these groups will slow the spread of fire.
  • Make sure firefighters can reach all parts of your property. Place fences, trees, retaining walls, etc. so that they don't restrict access.
  • Cooperate with neighbors to provide large defensible spaces. A 30-foot wide clear space around a home may not be adequate in a severe fire, especially if neighboring properties have not been well-designed or maintained.
  • Maintenance is a never-ending task. Inspect landscapes monthly and attend to problem situations before they become serious hazards.

Remember, defensible space reduces the risk of wildfire reaching your home in the critical minutes it takes a fire to pass, and it also provides a space for firefighters to defend your home.

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