Don't give the brush off to brush management

Beating the drum about fire prevention and brush maintenance may be part of an old song. But it should be moving up the hit parade this year as we see one of the earliest and most damaging fire seasons already upon us.

It used to be that our minds turned to thoughts of brush fires when the Santa Anas blew through in the fall. No more. Look no further than Big Sur or Yosemite, or Lakeside where sparks from a weed whacker started a 225-acres fire last Saturday.

Consider our surroundings:

  • Our region's rainfall totals are well below normal and are forecast to be that way again next winter. n Just a few months ago the hills and canyons around us were ablaze with color; now they're spattered with brown.
  • In August 2003 – only two months before the Cedar Fire - the San Diego County Wildland Fire Task Force report made extensive recommendations about brush management. That report noted that nearly half the county's wildland vegetation is more than 50 years old; another 30 percent is more than 20 years old.

Some experts have questioned how much risk that causes and how much effect extensive brush management would have, even saying that clearing might make the situation worse because it could encourage growth of plants that could feed fires. Even so, one of those people - Richard Halsey, director of the California Chaparral Institute - has said that pine and eucalyptus should be kept away from structures because of their "explosive" nature.

Others say Mexican fan palms should be added to that list.

Brush management is all about creating defensible space. The idea is to give firefighters a better chance to save structures, give them better access and to reduce the chances of fire spreading.

Brush management doesn't mean denuding the hillsides. It means reducing the fuel load without killing the vegetation by removing dead vegetation and trees, thinning or trimming back flammable plants - particularly invasive ones like pampas grass and non-native species like acacia.

Fire officials are onboard but we need a commitment from property owners and a concerted effort to tackle this challenge on a communitywide basis. It's not a one-time event; once cleared, an area must be maintained every two years.

Just because you live near the coast or are surrounded by homes and not hills or canyons doesn't mean you're immune from fire. Think about last October when fires burned hundreds of homes from the inland reaches of the county to Rancho Santa Fe and evacuations stretched to Del Mar and Solana Beach.

Interstate 15 didn't work as a firebreak then and I-5 may not in the future.

Take a look outside your house (or your business). How far is the nearest group of eucalyptus trees or those fan palms that haven't been cleaned out for years?

A lot of people, from fire officials to members of the many Fire Safe Councils that have been forming around our communities, have information on how to reduce the risks of fire by carefully managing the vegetation around you.

Take advantage of the work they've done and figure out what you can do to make your community safer.

   
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