- Editor: John M Harper
- Author: Pam Kan-Rice
August 11, 2021
CONTACT: Pam Kan-Rice, (510) 206-3476, email@example.com
EDITORS: Images can be downloaded at https://bit.ly/3fVjMKS
Landscaping with wildfire exposure in mind can protect homes
What can Californians do to improve the chances that their homes will survive a wildfire? Simple actions taken around the home can substantially improve the odds that a home will survive wildfire, according to UC Cooperative Extension advisors.
During wildfire, structures are threatened not only by the flaming front of the fire, but also by flaming embers that are lofted ahead of the fire front and land on fuels such as vegetation or mulch next to the house, igniting new fires. Traditional defensible space tactics are designed to mitigate threats from the flaming front of the fire, but do little to address vulnerabilities to embers on or beside a structure.
"Without attention to ember-related risks, defensible space efforts only address a portion of the wildfire threat—especially during wind-driven fires in which embers are the primary source of fire spread," said co-author Yana Valachovic, UC Cooperative Extension forest advisor in Humboldt and Del Norte counties.
An updated University of California Agriculture and Natural Resources publication describes how embers, radiant heat, and direct flame contact ignite buildings and shares low-cost actions residents can take to create effective defensible space.
"The new publication is up-to-date with the changes in California's defensible space guidance, and it addresses Zone Zero, or the missing ingredient, in defense space," Valachovic said. "The publication also provides a thoughtful discussion of plant lists and their limitations."
The odds of a home surviving a wildfire can be substantially improved through careful attention to three things: careful design and maintenance of landscaping; awareness and management of combustible materials on the property such as leaf litter, wood piles and lawn furniture; and incorporation of fire- and ember-resistant construction materials with appropriate installation and maintenance.
"You don't have to spend a lot to protect your home from these wildfire threats," said Valachovic.
Zone Zero, the area within five feet of the house, is the most vulnerable area around the home, according to the UC Cooperative Extension researchers. "During wind-driven fires, embers are the primary source of fire spread," Valachovic said.
They recommend removing combustible plants, planter boxes, mulches and wood piles within the five-foot perimeter of the house and beneath attached decks.
"While it may be a radical change, clearing the area next to the house will reduce the risk of ember-caused direct flame contact and radiant heat exposure, which are responsible for many home losses," she said. "Because embers can accumulate at the base of an exterior wall, it is also important to create a six-inch noncombustible zone between the ground and the start of the building's siding."
Colorful illustrations in the publication depict the three-zone defensible space strategy and show how spacing out trees on a sloped landscape can prevent fire from climbing from tree to tree to reach a house at the top of the slope.
The 12-page "Reducing the Vulnerability of Building to Wildfire: Vegetation and Landscaping Guidance" is available free for download at https://anrcatalog.ucanr.edu/pdf/8695.pdf.
"Landscaping for fire is part of an overall strategy aimed at reducing risk to the home," said co-author Steven Swain, UC Cooperative Extension environmental horticulture advisor for Marin and Sonoma counties. "To reduce the risk of home loss, start at the house and work out from there," he recommended.
Swain, Valachovic and Stephen Quarles, UC Cooperative Extension advisor emeritus, are currently updating a publication on retrofitting houses for wildfire resiliency.
Steps for hardening houses against wildfire can also be found at the Fire in California website: https://ucanr.edu/sites/fire/Prepare/Building.
UC Agriculture and Natural Resources brings the power of UC to all 58 California counties. Through research and Cooperative Extension in agriculture, natural resources, nutrition, economic and youth development, our mission is to improve the lives of all Californians. Learn more at ucanr.edu and support our work at donate.ucanr.edu.
For those of you that have been impacted by past or current wildfires in relation to loss of rangeland forage, the YouTube video link and related website below would be good resources to review to help calculate forage loss. If you know of anyone with grazing lands impacted by the 2020 fires, please distribute. Also any of you that have current loss of structures, fences, stock and forages, it is always helpful to hear from you so we can summarize (without identifying individuals) to share with policy-makers. This information is often used to request federal disaster funds. Thanks in advance and stay safe!
Ukiah, CA, September 16, 2020 — Recent wildfires have impacted farmers and ranchers in Mendocino and Lake Counties. The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), through the Farm Service Agency (FSA), has disaster assistance programs available to help agricultural producers recover after natural disasters, including wildfires.
“FSA offers a variety of disaster assistance programs to support farmers and ranchers through times of adversity,” said Katie Delbar, County Executive Director for FSA in Mendocino and Lake County. “Many disaster programs have a 30-day window to report losses, so once producers are able to evaluate their losses, it is important to contact the local FSA office to report all damages and losses and learn more about how we can assist.”
FSA offers many programs to help producers recover from losses, including the Livestock Indemnity Program (LIP), the Emergency Assistance for Livestock, Honeybees, and Farm-Raised Fish Program (ELAP), Emergency Forest Restoration Program and the Tree Assistance Program. Producers located in counties receiving a primary or contiguous disaster designation are eligible for low-interest emergency loans to help them recover from production and physical losses.
To participate in LIP, producers must submit a notice of loss to their local FSA office within 30 calendar days of when the loss of livestock is apparent. In addition, livestock producers should bring supporting evidence, including documentation of the number and kind of livestock that died, photographs or video records to document the loss, purchase records, veterinarian records, production records, and other similar documents. Owners who sold injured livestock for a reduced price because the livestock was injured due to an adverse weather event, must provide verifiable evidence of the reduced sale of the livestock.
To participate in ELAP, producers must submit a notice of loss to their local FSA office within 30 calendar days of when the loss is apparent. Producers should also maintain records and receipts documenting that livestock were removed from the grazing pasture due to adverse weather, costs of transporting livestock feed to eligible livestock, receipts for equipment rental fees for hay lifts, and feed purchase receipts.
The FSA Emergency Conservation Program provides funding and technical assistance for farmers and ranchers to rehabilitate farmland damaged by natural disasters.
Compensation also is available to producers who purchased coverage through FSA's Noninsured Crop Disaster Assistance Program, which protects non-insurable crops against natural disasters that result in lower yields, crop losses or prevented planting. Eligible producers must have purchased NAP coverage for 2020 crops and file a notice of loss and application for payment on qualifying crops.
Please contact the local FSA office at 707-468-9223 (ext. 2) for more information about our disaster assistance programs or visit farmers.gov/recover.
The current cost is $9/acre for 10 pounds/acre seeding rate and $10/acre for 20 pounds/acre seeding rate. If more landowners participate with more acres the price may go down. Gibson plans on being here on the Sunday after Thanksgiving which is November 26, 2017. Diane, Devon (Farm Bureau), Katie Delbar (FSA) and I are working together to get the word out not just the ranchers who have been affected by the fire, but also any rancher who would like to take advantage of the plane being in the area to get some seeding done. Diane was told that Gibson said that he would help to source seed. Feel free to share this information with anyone you think might want to be involved.
Usually the goal for a cattle, sheep or goat livestock operation is to maximize high quality forage production. Typically on the North Coast, a 50:50 mix of annual grasses and legumes are recommended and seeded at 20 to 25 lbs per acre. The grasses are usually annual ryegrass, brome and fescue. The annual legume is subterranean clover. In areas of less steep topography and good soils, Berber orchardgrass, a perennial, may be substituted for part of the grass mixture. Perennials extend the green season providing better forage and enhance carbon storage. Many, however, don't compete well with annuals and have difficulty surviving our hot dry summers. A recent paper in California Agriculture was just published on some other promising forage perennials. The study was done in the Sierra foothills and a few of those mentioned have been tested here. The link to the current issue is http://ucanr.edu/repository/fileAccessPublic.cfm?calag=fullissues/CAv071n04.pdf&url_attachment=N. The range seeding paper starts on page 239.
For those interested in using California native grasses and forbs check out the following publication at http://ucanr.edu/sites/BayAreaRangeland/files/267610.pdf. Be aware that seed sources for natives will often cost more than 10 times the typical forage species. Also some are toxic to livestock or are not great forage species.
Post fire inventories include a lot for ranchers, e.g. stock, forage, fence, buildings and equipment losses immediately come to mind. Equally important is an inventory of potential sediment sources from hill slopes, fire cut roads and riparian areas that will need mitigation to prevent soil loss and sediment movement into streams.
Rice straw as mulch, in bales for check dams and in the ubiquitous waddles all come into play for the recovery process. Sometimes the mulch is also used in reseeding sites too. The following sources of rice straw were put together by Rachel Elkins, pomology advisor and were forwarded to me by Greg Giusti, forestry and wildlands advisor - emeritus.
Paul Buttner of the California Rice Commission (https://twitter.com/PaulTheRiceGuy). His website is: http://www.ricestrawmarket.org/index.html. It is a buyer-seller website. His phone number is (916) 206-5340. His twitter page links to http://calrice.org with more contact information.
Ken Collins, a rice grower in Gridley (Butte County) is a large rice straw dealer. His phone number is (530) 682-6020.
EarthSavers makes straw wattles. They are in Woodland: http://www.earth-savers.com/.
Once you have an inventory of potential sediment sources identified, contact the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) for technical help with mitigation and design of erosion control structures. I've included Carol Mandel's contact information below. Many of these mitigation techniques will have cost share programs to help.
USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service
1252 Airport Park Blvd. Suite B-1
Ukiah CA 95482
Bus: (707) 468-9223