29 March 2009

Fire Suppression in Carbon Canyon: Thinking Ahead

Our rainy season is about over and there is plenty of green in this fire-scarred canyon, as seen in the above photo, taken just east of Sleepy Hollow a few days ago. Meantime, in my CalTrans post from Friday, "CanyonNative" left a comment about some upcoming meetings concerning fire protection in Carbon Canyon. For example, Tuesday night, 1 April, is the regular meeting of the Carbon Canyon Fire Safe Council at the Sleepy Hollow Community Center. Also, there will be an "Open House" on 30 May, although I haven't heard where. Last year, there was a public meeting about that time of year at Western Hills Country Club. When I hear more about this event, I'll post it here.

It turns out, moreover, that yesterday I met up with some people from La Habra Heights, who have been doing the same thing. I received a bunch of handouts and materials concerning fire suppression that should be of interest to anyone who lives in a fire-sensitive area.

First, there is a La Habra Heights Fire Watch, Inc. organization in that city in the Puente Hills and that group will be holding a program on Wednesday, 15 April @ 7 p.m. in the Multipurpose Room at La Habra Heights City Hall. The topic of discussion is "Vents and Wildfires," meaning that the focus will be on how to secure various vent types in houses: gable attic, eave and soffit, foundation, and roof dormer. Brandguard Vents, a company that deals with vents, will be there to demonstrate and display their products, which help to prevent fires that start from embers penetrating vents. There willl also be members of the Fire Watch and Neighborhood Watch entities talking about their programs. For more information, visit http://www.lhhfirewatch.com/.

Among the materials I received yesterday were: a CalFire folder with good information on fires, defensible space, ember-resistant construction and other items. CalFire, along with the Fire Safe Council and State Farm Insurance, also issued a "Wildfire Survival Checklist" with categories covering evaucation prep, dealing with items outside and inside the home, staying at home during a fire, and post-fire matters. There are two web sites of importance in these items: http://www.firewise.org/ and http://www.firesafecouncil.org/.

Another item is a 34-page pamphlet issued by the Prevention Bureau of the Forestry Division of the County of Los Angeles Fire Department called "Homeowner's Guide to Fire and Watershed Safety at the Chaparral/Urban Interface." An unwieldy title, but an important guide with material on chaparral plants; watershed management; fire management; fire-safe homes; landscaping and maintenance for fire and watershed safety; evacuation and road closures; post-fire emergency measures; brush clearance; and others. This is a 2003 update of a 1983 document and there isn't a web site given, but there is a phone number (hopefully still correct): (323) 890-4330.

Also from the County of Los Angeles Fire Department is a brochure on "Fire Hazard Reduction and Safety Guidelines" with good info on defensible space, advance preparation for fire, emergency water supply, access to the property, construction tipcs and more.

Courtesy of the U. S. Department of Agriculture, the University of California, and the County of San Diego is a four-page item called "Invasive Plants and Wildfires in Southern California," compiled by three men, one from UC San Diego's Cooperative Extenstion program, another from UC Davis, and the third from the U. S. Geological Survey. In this important document, we learn about how invasive plants thrive in areas hit by wildfires and create enormous problems in these areas.

There is also a publication called Watershed Wise, put out quarterly by the The Los Angeles and San Gabriel Rivers Watershed Council. In the Summer 2008 issue, there are articles on "Sustainable and Fire-Safe Landscapes;" "Brush Clearance on Unimproved Parcels;" "Building and Living in California's Wildland Urban Interface" and others that give excellent information on fire issues in our region.

Also from the LA&SGRC and the California Invasive Plant Council (Cal-IPC) is a double-sided broadside called "Weed Watch" which lists plants (perennials and shurbs, trees and palms, groundcovers and vines, and grasses) to avoid and others to use in your garden when it comes to invasives, which, as mentioned above, can take over fire-ravaged natural habitats. Listed as among those grasses to avoid: arundo, which has made a huge inroad in Carbon [Canyon] Creek over a number of years. For the latter group, its web site is: http://www.cal-ipc.org/.

I also think it is important to mention one other publication, though it is not directly connected with fire suppression per se. This is a County of Los Angeles Fire Department one called "Oak Trees: Care and Maintenance" and, because there are so many natural oak trees in Carbon Canyon, it seemed good to mention this.

In my case, we had two natural oaks, one at about 40 feet in height, on our property, around which our house was built. Unfortunately, the builder and original owner, from whom we bought, graded and irrigated (sprinklers) the area in and around these trees. Four months after we moved in, the smaller tree, a mere inches from a corner of our house, fell and crashed through our perimeter fence, anhiliating three panels. On inspecting the base, it was found to be saturated with water. Over a 14-year period, the three slowly weakened and gave way. Then, two years later, the bigger tree, turned brown and died with a few weeks just before Christmas. An arborist we consulted suggested that over watering may have caused "tree death" such as we encountered, perhaps from "Oak Root Fungus." Suddenly, two majestic native oaks were gone.

So, this booklet discusses grading, trenching, soil compaction and paving, watering, pruning, mulchingm diseases and pets and planting under trees (with suggested plantings.) There are also lists of additional resources and publications that can be very helpful.

Well, there's a lot here (and there's much more out there), but there is also a great deal to consider about natural environments, the intersection with development, fire suppression, and fire protection.

Here it is, early Spring, and our fire-ravaged Canyon has a considerable cover of green and, to some people, it appears that there has been quite a "comeback." To a degree, this is true, but there is also that matter of invasive plants crowding out or replacing natives. In addition, we have fallen short of "normal" rainfall for a third consecutive year and, with reservoirs and water storage facilities still far below normal in most cases, we are in for potential rationing this summer. Depending on weather conditions this summer and fall, we could well be in for a difficult fire season when all this green we see now turns brown later.

The point is: fire protection, prevention and suppression is a year-round matter. On the Chino Hills side of the Canyon, fire crews have been around in the last week or so making their reviews of properties for brush clearance and issuing their documents that either clear homeowners of further suppression or mandate that clearance be conducted soon.

We've come a long way over recent years, but, as the Freeway Complex Fire should remind us, under certain conditions there may be little or nothing that can be done to protect those "interface" areas, especially in those areas in or next to the point of origin. Sleepy Hollow, where I live, was not in the fire zone until 17 hours after it started. If the fire had started in or near this community, the devastation would have been severe. Fortunately, there are resources such as the ones mentioned above to help residents do what they can.

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