October is traditionally a high risk month for wildfires in San Diego. Brush dried from the long, hot summer combined with Santa Ana winds is a recipe that has produced the two largest wildfires in San Diego history in October 2003 and October 2007. City Heights, lined with multiple canyons, is especially vulnerable. Now is the time to prepare.
Studies show that up to 80 percent of homes burned in urban wildfires could have been spared had residents and property owners taken a few simple precautions. The following are some tips, provided by the San Diego Fire-Rescue Department, to keep you and your home safe during an urban wildfire.
If you live next to a naturally vegetated area, often called the Wildland Urban Interface, provide firefighters with 100 feet of defensible space to protect your home. The buffer you create by removing weeds, brush and thinning vegetation helps keep the fire away from your home and reduces the risk from flying embers.
Within a 35-foot radius of your home, you should do the following (see graphic, Zone 1):
- Irrigate all plants to maintain succulent growth.
- Maintain low-growing plant material, with the exception of trees.
- Trim tree canopies regularly to remove dead wood and keep branches a minimum of 10 feet from structures, chimney outlets and other trees.
- Remove leaf litter such as dry leaves and pine needles, from yards, roofs and rain gutters.
- Relocate woodpiles and other combustible materials at least 35 feet away from your home.
- Remove combustible material and vegetation from around and under decks.
- Remove or prune vegetation near windows.
- Remove “ladder fuels” – low-level vegetation that would allow the fire to spread from the ground to the tree canopy. Create a separation between low-level vegetation and tree branches by reducing the height of the vegetation and/or trimming low branches.
From 35 feet to 100 feet from your home, do the following (see graphic, Zone 2):
- Minimize the chance of fire jumping from plant to plant by removing dead material and removing or thinning vegetation seasonally. The minimum spacing between vegetation is three times the dimension of the plant.
- Cut or mow annual grass down to a maximum height of 4 inches.
- Trim tree canopies regularly to keep branches a minimum of 10 feet from other trees.
The roof is the most vulnerable part of a home because it can easily catch fire from windblown embers, even from flames miles away. Homes with wood-shake or shingle roofs are at high risk of being destroyed during a wildland fire. Build your roof or re-roof with fire-resistant materials such as composition, metal or tile. Block any spaces between roof decking and covering to prevent ember intrusion.
In addition to preparing your home, prepare your family with an emergency plan. Have a meeting place and escape route in case of evacuation. Make sure your family knows how to turn off the gas, electricity, and water. Have a three-day kit assembled and ready to take with you.
For a checklist of supplies, visit the American Red Cross website. For more information on creating defensible space, visit www.sandiego.gov/fire.