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The Dirt | Emergency Preparedness Tips #9

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Whether it’s an ice storm, a wildfire, or another natural disaster, volunteers from Benton County Community Emergency Response Team (BCCERT) have been trained to help their neighbors respond. Pam Wilson is a retired teacher and a trained BCCERT member who has created this blog post series to help Benton County residents prepare for emergencies. This is the ninth installment.


Defensible Space and Beyond

In Emergency Preparedness Tips #8, I discussed the Home Ignition or Immediate Zone, which extends from 0 to 5 feet from the furthest attached exterior point of the home. The next two zones of defensible space and the wildland fuels reduction zone, just beyond the defensible space, are today’s topic. Although my references differ as to how these zones are named and how far they extend from the house, the recommended actions to establish and maintain the zones are pretty much the same.

5 to 30 feet out from home: Intermediate Zone, aka Structure Ignition Zone aka the Lean, Clean and Green Zone

These suggested actions are for the zone from 5 to 30 feet out, which goes by the various names mentioned above, depending on the source:

  1. Clear vegetation under and around large stationary propane tanks. Keep it clean.
  2. Prune branches 6 feet to 10 feet up from the ground to reduce “ladder fuels”. Do not exceed 1/3 of the tree height for shorter trees.
  3. Space plants, shrubs and trees so as to not lead a fire to your home.
  4. Use driveways, paths and sidewalks as firebreaks.
  5. Choose fire-resistant plants, shrubs and trees that don’t ignite easily. Last week’s post has two plant references you can download from OSU.
  6. Keep lawn mowed and green.
  7. Remove invasive weeds (blackberry, Scotch Broom, Gorse, cheat grass, hazel) and dead fine vegetation.
  8. Keep hoses attached to faucets so you (or a firefighter) can get to a water source quickly and easily.
  9. Put your house numbers on your house – sources differed but the recommended number size was from 3 inches to 4 inches high. This is in addition to the white/blue signs at the end of your drive. Smoke may make signs difficult to see.

30 to 100 feet out: The Extended Zone, aka Fire Break Zone, aka Outer Defensible Space Zone

This zone melds into the next zone for me. This zone’s goal is to interrupt fire’s path and keep flames smaller and on the ground. In addition to everything done in the other zones, it is recommended we:

  1. Continue removing fine, dead vegetation, including shrubs that are “standing dead.”
  2. Thin dense patches of trees and shrubs to create separation between them. Think about how you want it to look when it’s thinned. Nothing wrong with a clump of trees or shrubs, but you will want to clear around them – the goal to break up fuel and vegetation continuity.
  3. Continue to reduce ladder fuels.
  4. Continue to remove invasive weeds.
  5. Remove vegetation adjacent to storage sheds and other outbuildings in this zone as well as in any “parking” places you have for equipment. I have an RV shelter that needs weeding since the RV burned up last month! These are where we move vehicles not involved in evacuation – away from the house and with the windows rolled up.
  6. Store firewood in this zone.
  7. Trees 30-60’ from the house should have at least 12 feet between canopy tops. Trees 60-100’ from the house should have at least 6 feet between canopy tops. The distance increases with the percentage of slope. Of course, these recommendations differ with specific site conditions and the species of trees involved.
  8. It is fine to leave some brush patches, downed logs and dead trees for habitat and soil benefits, learn more here.
  9. There is a basic recommendation for driveways to be at least 12 feet wide with 15 vertical feet of clearance for emergency response vehicles.


More than 100 feet out: Wildland Fuel Reduction Area

The last zone is from 100’ out and is called the Wildland Fuel Reduction Area – the area beyond a home’s defensible space. Fuels reduction is not as intensive as within our defensible space – the goal is to break up fuel and vegetation continuity. For some properties, this means basic forestry practices like thinning and clearing or creating oak savannas. It is mowing pasture if we don’t have animals chomping it down and whacking away at invasive species like blackberry, poison oak, hazel, gorse and Scotch broom. It is not planting trees and shrubs that are flammable. Often a mix of conifer and hardwoods should be considered.

Remember neighbors, as if you could forget, to keep working on your evacuation plans and preparation. I for sure want to see if the seasonal guide to preparation can help me spread the work out throughout the winter and spring rather than ending up with so much to do I don’t even know where to begin. The FIREWISE site has a wealth of information about subjects like skylights, exterior sprinkler systems and ember-ignited decks. These tips all started with the February ice storm, it seems like a year ago, so here’s some wisdom from an old friend to keep things in perspective —

“It’s snowing still,” said Eeyore gloomily.
“So it is.”
“And freezing”
“It is?”
“Yes,” said Eeyore. “However,” he said brightening up a little, “we haven’t had an earthquake lately.”  –A.A. Milne