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Wildland Fire Prevention: Fuel Breaks, Fuel Reduction, & Other Tips

 

Fire Season 2004
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“The key to maintaining defensible space
is to eliminate as much potential fuel as possible.”

 

Overview
Defensible Space
Fuel Breaks
Preparing for Fire Season
Regional Fuel Reduction Projects
CRFD's Letter to District Residents
U.S. Forest Service Letter to CRFD & Residents
Fire Prevention & Fire Hazard Reduction Recommendations
Alternatives to Slash-Burning
Fire, Firefighting, and Fire Prevention: What is Fire?
Fire Season Tips
Fire Season Reminders from the ODF

 

Overview:

What you can do to help defend your home from wildfires:

You can improve your chances of surviving a wildfire by eliminating fuels around your home that have accumulated, and by improving your fuelbreaks.

By establishing fuel-free areas around your home, you are giving yourself a fighting chance to avoid losing your home to a wildfire.

Fuelbreak recommendations vary for each homesite, depending on slope, topography, and types of fuel nearby.

For additional information regarding homeowners' "defensible space" legal obligations, see our summary on Wildland Rural-Urban Interface Legislation. (This page also has other links to the Oregon Dept. of Forestry's full background and latest developments on this issue.)

You can also view the Mail Tribune's article, "Preventing rural fires," that was published on Wed., February 11, 2004. This article also covers Senate Bill 360 ("SB-360") and its implications ("Homeowners are responsible for thinning brush that could fuel wildfires under Senate Bill 360").

"Under the act, rural landowners will have the option of meeting the standards, which include creating a fuel break from 50 to 100 feet from structures, depending on the property's classification. Those who choose not to will be responsible for paying a portion of the state's cost of suppressing a fire that starts on their land and spreads as a result of their decision not to meet those standards. That liability could be as much as $100,000."

For additional general information, check out our list of related websites covering rural fire prevention and preparation.

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Defensible space

While fuel breaks are technically areas without any fuels at all, including fire lines that get down to mineral soil where the duff (forest leaves, needles, and other surface debris) has been removed, defensible space can be exactly what the term says: areas that are defensible.

It is not necessary to remove all vegetation to create defensible space. That is a myth. Defensible space can be landscaped, have shrubs or trees, be irrigated areas, or watered lawn grass, as well as rocked or cleared areas free of vegetation and other fuels.

Eliminate slash, remove dead fuels (vegetation, branches, or trees) and prune up lower-hanging tree branches. Landscape with fire-resistant plants.

Selectively thin existing live fuels. Remove trees or shrubs that are too close to, and would jeopardize, your home if they became involved with fire.

Homes on flat or gently sloping land should have a defensible space radius (distance from structure) of at least 30 feet. This should be increased to 100 feet if there is much shrubbery.

For those who live on a moderately-sloped hillside with either grass or trees, a distance of 100 feet is recommended. This should be increased to 200 feet with shrubbery.

On steep slopes of grass and/or trees, a 100-foot clearance is the minimum, and with shrubbery, 200 feet.

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Fuel Breaks

Everyone should bear in mind that the new fuel break standards that apply to all new home approval permits are a good gauge for us all, even if we aren't facing a property inspection.

The following recommendations are made by Jackson County firefighters experienced in protecting homes from wildfire. They do not take precedence over local ordinances.

Jackson County Land Development Ordinance Chapter 280.100 requires a minimum 100-foot fuelbreak around all new construction within wildfire hazard areas.

Ideally, your home should have 2 fuel breaks around it: The first one should be a continuous fuel break around your home at a 30-foot distance. A second break should be established at 100 feet out.

The wider these breaks are, the more defensible the space and structures within them will be. Even a few feet, however, where there are no fuels, will help enormously to halt or deter a wildfire.

Having defensible space and fuel breaks does not guarantee that everything behind these lines is safe, but gives you a significant advantage in beating the odds of losing your home.

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Preparing for Fire Season

For only about one more month, that elusive window of opportunity known as "pre-fire season" still exists. During this time, there are a number of things you can and should do to maximize your own chances for fire safety once fire season hits.

The basic idea is to establish and maintain a fuel-free perimeter zone around your house and other structures, either by manually clearing away fuels and potentially flammable debris, or by keeping areas of vegetation watered and green to prevent fuel development. A handline of some kind as a perimeter "moat" is also useful.

In general, a space between structures and fuels of at least 30 feet wide is recommended; this increases with slope. Homes situated on steep terrain should have at least 100 feet free of flammable material on all sides, ideally, with particular attention to the south or downhill side, since fire travels uphill.

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Regional Fuel Reduction Projects

In recent years, federal agencies and other organizations have become increasingly concerned with assisting individuals who live in rural-urban interface zones to reduce forest fuels for wildfire prevention.

The Lomakatsi Restoration Project, a local organization working to reduce fuels and restore habitat in order to prevent a catastrophic fire in the Ashland Watershed, is one of these. In addition, the Lomakatsi Restoration Project provides its own workforce for the work itself.

For the last several years, the Colestin valley has received fuel reduction assistance through this group, while the costs have been covered by Lomakatsi Restoration Project funding grants.

These efforts have been particularly useful for reducing the fire hazard in some of our denser, steeper, and more inaccessible terrain, and in areas adjacent to or near railroad easements in the valley, an historically recognized target for higher fire risk due to the fire-sparking potential of the trains.

This past year, a new fuel reduction project in the valley has been initiated, supported by the U.S. Forest Service through the Klamath National Forest office. In order to meet its objective of maintaining healthy forests, Klamath National forest workers have been removing dead and diseased trees in the forest.

Since some of the removal areas involved are within the Colestin valley, Klamath representatives first discussed the proposed project with us. To inform local landowners and residents of the project, we sent out the following letter during May (2004), together with a letter from the Forest Service describing the project:

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Colestin RFD's letter to our district landowners/residents:

May 8, 2004

Dear Colestin Resident:

The Colestin Rural Fire District Board of Directors has been approached by representatives of the Klamath National Forest to support the Colestin Fuels Reduction Project.

Briefly, the project involves taking out dead and diseased Ponderosa and Jeffrey pines so that healthy trees can grow and not become bug-infested. It has the added benefit of seriously reducing the fuels (since dead and bug-infested trees create very strong potential fuels) in order to assist with fire control.

We have taken the liberty of reproducing the letter from Ray A. Haupt, District Ranger, because it does such a good job outlining the problem and proposing a solution.

Because we know that forest management is a concern of many Colestin residents we wanted to share this information with you and invite you to attend our next Board meeting. We will meet at the Hilt Church at 6 p.m. on Friday, May 21st. At that meeting Carl Varak who is heading up this project will be available to present more information and to answer questions you might have.

The Board has heard from the Forest Service representatives, studied the proposal and will take action on a recommendation at that meeting.

We hope you will be able to attend.

Sincerely,

Peggy A. Moore
Chair
Colestin Rural Fire District Board of Directors

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U.S.F.S. Klamath National Forest letter to CRFD & district residents:

May 4, 2004

Dear Interested Party,

This is in response to your interest in the Colestine [sic] Fuels Reduction Project. This Project is intended to treat approximately 425 acres of Ponderosa and Jeffery [sic] pine plantations on the Klamath National Forest. The plantations are located contiguously in T40S, R1E, Sec. 26, 34 and 35 and T41S, R1E, Sec. 2. [Note: "T" denotes Township, "R" Range, "S" & "E" South & East, resp.]

A wildfire in 1935 created the need to reforest this area. Planting took place in 1937; however, much of the planted stock died, and snowbrush and manzanita filled in the open areas. This brush was piled with a dozer in 1964 and then replanted to conifers. The current stand is mainly comprised of 40-year-old trees, with scattered groups and individual trees that are approximately 70 years old. The crowns of the trees are now interlocked and diameter growth is slowing. Inter-tree competition is now occurring for site nutrients and water. Over the past two years, bark beetles have begun killing trees individually and in small groups. This mortality is increasing in distribution and size. The beetle outbreak is becoming more successful due to the overstocked condition of the stand as individual trees do not have sufficient resources to repel the bugs. This plantation is also at high risk from catastrophic fire. Although the trees average 30-100 feet in height, they still have branches nearly to the ground and many have live foliage. This, in conjunction with the almost closed canopy, would allow a surface fire to easily get into the crowns and spread throughout the stand. As evidenced by the 1935 and 1981 incidents, stand-replacing fires can and do occur in this area. The current vegetation and fuel attributes place these stands in a Fire Regime Condition Class 2.

The project proposes to reduce stand densities and treat the resultant slash. Some of the work will simply be cutting the trees and hand piling them, particularly on the steeper slopes. The piles will be burned during the wet season. On the gentler ground (usually [less than] 35 [per cent]), mechanized equipment may be used to cut, skid and de-limb the tree boles. The larger stems (10 [inches] on the large end) may actually be sold as logs. The smaller trees will be piled along with the branches and tree tops. These piles will be burned or, if market conditions permit, chipped and sold as biomass. The resultant stand will have trees spaced 24-28 feet apart, closer along draws and wet areas. Black oak thickets may also be thinned. The slash will be treated leaving a more fire and insect-resilient stand. Forage and mast production will be enhanced for elk, deer and turkey populations. With more site nutrients and water available to the remaining trees, diameter growth will also increase. No new roads will be built into the project area and the existing roads will be improved for fire fighting access. If treated as proposed, the area will return to a Fire Regime Condition Class 1. The lowering in condition class, simply put, means a change to a more natural condition, which provides greater resilience to the effects of wildfire.

[from]

Ray A. Haupt
District Ranger
Scott River Ranger District
11263 N. Highway 3
Fort Jones, CA 96032-9702

 

For the latest information or further details about this project, contact (fire chief) Steve Avgeris.

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Recommendations for Fire Prevention & Fire Hazard Reduction:

  • Provide adequate emergency vehicle access

  • Turn around space should be large enough for fire trucks (at least 100-foot radius)

  • Remember that your driveway is your escape route - clear flammable vegetation away on both sides. Never try to drive through flames.

  • Plan for an alternative escape route if the primary route is threatened or blocked

  • Address signage should be clearly visible at driveway connection to main roadway

  • Alternative water sources including creeks, wells, swimming pools and ponds that are accessible within 16 feet to a fire pump truck

  • Remove combustibles, construction debris, other flammable materials away from the house

  • Remove flammable vegetation away from house

  • Remove leaves, needles, and twigs from roofs, gutters, and from beneath unscreened decks, porches, and other openings on and around your house to protect it from wind-blown embers.

  • Have fire tools available - long handled shovel, rake, axe, handsaw, chainsaw, hose, ladder, 2.5-gallon bucket

  • Woodpiles should not be stacked against the house, or downhill from buildings

  • Follow local burning regulations - check with the fire district before you burn

  • Know the level of fire protection available to you (visit our website's Services and Legalities page) and have our phone number programmed into your phone, or otherwise available

  • Work with your neighbors to create a fire awareness community.

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Alternatives to Slash-Burning

You can always reduce fuels around your residence using no-burn options:

  • Woody debris can be disposed of year-round at Biomass One in White City and Murphy, and also at the transfer station in White City for no charge.
  • Or choose alternatives such as chipping, mulching, or composting.

Once fire season begins, all arc, spark, and flame-causing activities in and around the wildlands are restricted and/or banned by the ODF. This also limits or restricts some types of fuel reduction activities.

It is to your advantage to prepare your home's defense from wildfire prior to these restrictions, and before a fire occurs !!

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Fire, Firefighting, and Fire Prevention:

What is Fire? And why does it matter to understand it?

 

Fire is composed of three main ingredients:



Fuel, heat, and oxygen.

(Source: The National Fire Protection Association's Fire Protection Handbook,
Section 4, Chapter 4, Fig. 4-4B)

These three factors are always present to some degree, for fire to be able to occur. Managing fire therefore requires manipulating these three factors.

A fire can be contained and ultimately controlled by lessening just one of these factors, and it doesn't matter which one. They are all directly related.

Increasing one factor such as heat increases the other two; similarly, decreasing one factor decreases the other two. With this in mind, it becomes possible to develop strategies for limiting or preventing fire.

Bear this in mind in your own fire prevention planning strategy.

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Fire Season Tips

Keep a shovel or other fire tools available during the fire season, as a general precaution, in the event of sparks from vehicles, barbeques, or other sources.

Do not park on or near dry grass. Park with vehicles facing forward, for easy departure during fire incidents. Above all, be vigilant and use common sense.

Be alert during and after lightning storms for smoke or fires.

Lightning strikes can cause fires in slow-burning, heavier fuels or subsurface forest floor duff that sometimes remain unseen for several days before they build into visible fires.

This can be just as true when lightning hits with rain, as without rain, depending on the type of fuel involved.

Rain does not remove fire danger: it only lessens it temporarily.

In high heat, previously dry light "flash" fuels, (i.e., grasses, surface duff and shrubbery) can become completely dry and flammable again within a day or two.

Report any fires and any signs of fires, e.g., smoke, particularly during or after lightning storms.

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Fire Season Reminders from the ODF:

  • "...It's too soon to know how severe this fire season will be but one thing we know for sure, in Southwest Oregon all fire seasons are bad, some are just worse than others. Oregon Department of Forestry officials are urging residents to take steps to reduce or remove fire hazards..."

  • When it becomes too late to burn debris this season, there are alternatives, such as "chipping, mulching, or composting." Another alternative to removing fuels, if that is not feasible, is to cover fuels with a tarp or visquene (heavy plastic sheeting), to prevent oxygen from getting into these fuels, should fire approach.

  • "Remove leaves, needles, and twigs from roofs, gutters, and from beneath unscreened decks, porches, and other openings on and around your house to protect it from wind-blown embers."

  • "Remember that your driveway is your escape route - clear flammable vegetation away on both sides. Never try to drive through flames."

 

For more local (Colestin - Mt. Ashland) information, call us at (541) 488-1768, or email us. For general information, call Dan Thorpe at the ODF's office in Central Point at (541) 664-3328, or Rick Dryer at (541) 474-3152.

 

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