Forest Care demonstrates fire-safe landscaping

Forest Care demonstrates fire-safe landscaping

09 July 2011

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USA — Sometimes, landscaping designed to provide a peaceful sanctuary can instead be an invitation for a ruinous inferno.

But if it’s done right, plant maintenance can create better-looking yards, safer houses and healthier forests, said Julie Crick, director of Forest Care.

Forest Care – a program created by Cal Fire and the nonprofit San Bernardino National Forest Association – is there to help mountain residents do it right.

“I know you want to have a row of trees, but that’s not how they’re meant to grow,” Crick told a group of residents who live near a Lake Arrowhead home the program had helped bring up to fire standards. “If you clear them out, the fire can’t spread (as easily), but it’s also better for forest health.”

One thing the changes might not be is cheap, she said, which is why Forest Care will reimburse homeowners for 75percent of most fire-preventive measures. The money is available for mountain residents, after a 2007 fire demonstrated the need for better protection, Cal Fire officials said.

Ideally, Crick said, most vegetation should be at least twice its height away from the nearest other vegetation – so a 12-foot tree should be 24 feet from another.

Another big change at the demonstration home was clearing away any flammable vegetation from the 15 feet closest to the house, and thinning out the area 15- to 30-feet from it.

But sometimes, she said, the code can be overly restrictive and
inspectors will make reasonable exceptions.

“That’s a fruit tree, which is more water than most (trees), so it’s OK that it’s there,” she said. “But you don’t want a spruce tree, you don’t want anything sappy, because that’s an indication it’s really going to burn.”

Fire safety codes are being increasingly enforced every year, said Thomas Bradt, senior officer for fire abatement with the San Bernardino County Land Use Services Department.

“The ordinance is 2 1/2 years old, but it’s 2 1/2 years of education more than enforcement,” he said. “This year, we’re going to enforce it where (the violation) is really bad.”

Residents said they appreciated the reimbursement and the learning opportunity.

“We’ve been working really hard” to get their property fire-safe, said Rick Landrum, a friend of the family whose house was demonstrated on. “We’re just glad that they have this program to be educational.”

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