San Diego Fire Blog Part III
Thoughts On the Edge of the Fire Pit
Like a lot of retiring boomers, I looked forward to selling my over priced house near where I worked (Silicon Valley) and getting a place in the country with a large oak tree for my hammock, and maybe a view out my breakfast nook of a spotted fawn hidden behind green leaves and red brown bark. And while I was at it, maybe I’d plant a tangy Eucalyptus or two for shade and grow my own grapes for artisan crafted big red wines.
Sounds idyllic, right?
What I’ve just described is literally the plans for an organic crematorium.
Sorry for the contrived lead but after five days of fires on all four sides I wanted to write about something that I was taught back in elementary school in Azusa, CA;
Fire Safety When you live on the Edge of Wild Lands
When I moved to this house I noticed a previous owner had used indigenous California plants to accentuate his house and lawn. Using native plants for landscaping was quite the trend in the early Seventies, when my house was built.
The problem with that when you live on the edge of wild lands is that native drought resistant brush = chaparral. Chaparral is made up of three distinct plants that grow wild i what we jokingly call “national forests.” in California Those plants are mesquite, ornamental madrone (which is actually a type of mesquite), scrub oak and poison oak. Each of those plants has two interesting characteristics: while very much able to survive droughts, their branches and leaves dry up; And, they burn hot enough to melt metal and destroy concrete.
Don’t believe me, ask the 2,000 or so residents of Oakland Hills who returned after being evacuated to find homes –including the concrete slabs they were built on—completely and utterly burned.
I have a simple rule about chaparral anywhere near my house. I use a tractor to pull it out by its roots. A Wind driven, chaparral fueled, fire generates enormous amounts of burning embers that can travel a mile or so to start new spot fires. Although my house was not damaged in the Witch Creek fire here in Escondido, five houses up the street at the base of my hill burned to their foundations.
And on early Tuesday I got a lttle freaked when I thought I smelled hot plastic. As soon as I recognized the smell I jumped up, yelled “Holy Shit,. The boat!” I jogged out to the boat port, the oor got stronger and I looked closely at its deck. Right there where it’s gas tank normally sits but which I removed earlier, was a small melted depression with a black piece of charcoal in the middle. I don’t have a degree in fire science, but I recognized the piece of charcoal as being manzanita. The closest surviving stand of which is two blocks away.
As I kid, growing up in Azusa, I learned about the dangers of chaparral fires in the fourth and fifth grades. At about the same time they warned us never to play with blasting caps or railroad torpedo signaling devices. I’ve never forgotten those lessons, but judging from the damage I’ve seen on the news here in San Diego, basic wild land fire safety is no longer taught in public or private schools.
It should be.
Two of my best friends live today in the Gold Country in El Dorado County near Sacramento. Both have untended chaparral near their houses. I suspect that the next time I go up to visit, I’ll rent a tractor, bull doze and remove their stands of crematory fuel.
I believe that the best approach to fire safety around my house is a nice lawn and water filled succulents, I don’t mind mowing my lawn but I do mind losing my house to a fire. When I realized that the nearby hills could burn this week— I raked, bagged up and removed my compost pile and took a long hard look at the properties that adjoin my mountaintop. I began saturating the citrus and avocado trees and got rid of the flammable detritus nesting against the fence that separates my neighbor’s untended five-acre field from my lot.
The whole process took only abot four hours and afterwards I was pretty satisfied that my place, and I, was safe.
I try to respect my neighbors. But their idea of a picturesque view that includes manzanita hedges and light tan, dried wild wheat, makes me think of me as a charcoaled curled up hot dog sizzling on a BBQ.
Prior to the fire season last year, I took my tractor to my neighbor’s field and cleared a 200-foot fire break on her side of the property. She didn’t like it and said that she probably had “liability issues” with my using the tractor to clear the field to bare mineral earth.
I mentioned that if I burned because of her untended fire trap field, my heirs and assignees could probably “turn her field into a nice 15-home development, yielding a couple of million in profits!”
She took my point and I’ve since cut her field twice, for free. The neighbor and I are on very good terms today. I drop of an occasional bag of yellowtail or halibut steaks and try to give her strawberries from my patch. We laugh about my cutting her field the first time and she’s come around on fire safety.
I love living on the edge of wild lands a great deal. But living here involves stewardship of the land and an understanding of basic fire safety.
My final thought is about something that you see down here in upscale communities that I really don’t get. Shake shingle roofing.
Good God, why not just douse your house in nitro methane and throw a road flare on it. That anyone would have a shake roof after the 2003 fire is beyond my comprehension. And that the county building and fire departments have not cited home owners with flammable shake roofs is a condition I just don’t understand.
Fire takes three things: fuel, air and heat. Reduce the impact of any one of its three components and you live another day. Enhance key elements of the fire triangle like fuel or heat and you can lose your home, your life, and really hurt your loved ones.
I have to mention my respect and admiration for the wild lands firefighters of the State of California and the USDA’s Forestry Service hotshot crews. Houses and lives have been lost but without their gritty efforts this fire season could have been much worse.
And, to the volunteers of the Calvan Christian High School who volunteered to set up an emergency overflow evacuation center here in Escondido you reinforced my respect for all people of faith. You also made a big difference for several thousand of your fellow residents here in town.
Jim “Joad” Forbes from smoky Escondido on 10/26/2007. Now back to blogging about portable computing, organic gardening, technology and fishing at the same bat channel and the same bat time.