A Firesafe Home

A Firesafe home starts with you. Here in Kern County, the fire season is always close. Even in the middle of the winter we’re only a few short weeks away from our first wildfire ignition. To be prepared for fires, you should create Defensible Space and Harden Your Home as well as creating an Emergency Plan together with your family members.

Give Yourself a Break!

One of the most important things you can do to make your home fire safe is to create a fuel break around your home. California state law requires 100 feet of defensible space. Why 100 feet? Check out this video for more information on the regulation.

Does this mean you need to cut all the vegetation around your house down? No! Clearing vegetation down to bare soil makes it easy for noxious (and flammable) weeds to grow. It is unsightly, and won’t reduce fire risk. Remember, all work should be done on cool days or in the morning when dew is still present.  A spark from the lawnmower or tree trimmer could ignite the very fire you are trying to defend against! Looking for more information? Download this flyer on creating defensible space from Cal Fire (PDF) or a detailed check-list (PDF).

There are two zones of defensible space. In Zone 1, the area beginning at your home (as well as other structures) and extending out 30 feet, you need to eliminate any flammable materials.  CalFire suggests the following proactive measures in Zone 1:

  • Remove all dead plants, grass and weeds (vegetation).
  • Remove dead or dry leaves and pine needles from your yard, roof and rain gutters.
  • Trim trees regularly to keep branches a minimum of 10 feet from other trees.
  • Remove branches that hang over your roof and keep dead branches 10 feet away from your chimney.
  • Relocate wood piles into Zone 2.
  • Remove or prune flammable plants and shrubs near windows.
  • Remove vegetation and items that could catch fire from around and under decks.
  • Create a separation between trees, shrubs and items that could catch fire, such as patio furniture, wood piles, swing sets, etc.

Zone 2 begins at the outer boundary of Zone 1, and extends an additional 70 feet. Together, Zone 1 and 2 comprise the 100 foot mandated defensible space requirement in California. In Zone 2, CalFire suggests the following actions:

  • Cut or mow annual grass down to a maximum height of 4 inches.
  • Create horizontal spacing between shrubs and trees. (See diagram)
  • Create vertical spacing between grass, shrubs and trees. (See diagram)
  • Remove fallen leaves, needles, twigs, bark, cones, and small branches.

However, they may be permitted to a depth of 3 inches if erosion control is an issue.

Creating defensible space around your home can allow firefighters to safely project your property from wildfire. In fact, defensible space has been shown to work on its own! A U.S. Forest Service report found that during the 2010 Kern County Bull Fire, a fuel break in RiverKern saved several homes from the fire without any assistance from firefighters. Get started on your defensible space clearances today!

Harden Your Home

Embers from a burning wildfire can travel miles, and have been demonstrated to be the cause of many homes being lost in wildfires. Reduce the likelihood of your home burning because of ember attack by making your home less susceptible to ember attack.

Photo Courtesy of Firewise USA www.firewise.org

For tips on hardening your home against ember attack and more information, visit Cal Fire’s Ready For Fire site.


Emergency Plan

What will your family do in case of an emergency? Surrounded by forest, living on more than one fault line and flanked by the busy interstate, disaster seems all but inevitable. By making a plan ahead of time, you and your family will know what to do in case of an emergency.  Get together with your family and develop an Emergency Plan that includes information on what items to take from the house in an evacuation, and where your family will meet once you have reached safety. Emergency Plan templates can be downloaded from Ready America

Your emergency plan should include (but not be limited to) the following essentials, drawn from Cal Fire’s Ready For Fire website:

  • Plan different evacuation routes and a meeting location outside the fire hazard area.
  • Appoint an out-of-area friend or relative as a point of contact so you can communicate with family members who have relocated (and make sure each member of your family remembers their phone number)
  • List the items that should be taken in case of an evacuation. These should include but not be limited to important documents and all prescription medication.

Once you have an Emergency Plan, practice it with your family once a year. When disaster strikes, you will be ready!

Equally useful activities to prepare for emergencies:

  • Maintain a list of emergency contact numbers posted near your phone and in your emergency supply kit.
  • Stock up on canned goods, water, gasoline, candles, flashlights and batteries, fire wood, and pet food. Make sure you have a two weeks supply for everyone in your household. Rotate your supplies periodically as some go bad eventually.
  • Make sure every member of your family knows how to turn off water, gas, and propane lines supplying your home.
  • Have fire extinguishers on hand and train your family how to use them.
  • Backup important papers by having a copy stored at a distant family member’s home as well as (securely) online. Have important papers and pictures in a place where they can be easily transferred to your vehicle in case of evacuation.
  • Be ready with pet carriers and leashes to take your small animals with you.
  • Plan ahead of time where you will take large animals in case of an evacuation.

Looking for more information? www.ready.gov is the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s comprehensive resource for emergency preparedness. They even have kits you can buy!
Note on evacuations: Local law agencies (county sheriff in our case) are responsible for communicating evacuation orders. Fire and forestry personnel work closely with the Sheriff to determine the stages of evacuation. A “voluntary” evacuation means that if you have health problems or small children, large animals etc., you should seriously consider leaving. If they issue a “recommended” evacuation order, it means they will not tell you again, and you should leave. Again, this order will come from law enforcement agencies, and no other sources.