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Landscape lessons from the 1987 fire in Pebble Beach.

Fires teach harsh lessons. And those lessons have been starkly apparent over the last two summers, when fires have swept through several Western communities. If we have another dry winter this year, yet fail to reduce fire risks around homes in high-danger areas, next summer could be even worse. On the last day of May, 1987, a fire swept up a hillside in Pebble Beach, California, eventually burning 140 acres and destroying 31 homes. Fueling the flames were a thick accumulation of dry needies under the native pines, overgrown brush close to homes, and flammable roofs on many of the houses. The house pictured above, owned by Barbara Burdick, was spared by the fire, though some of its landscaping was destroyed. However, a 40-foot-wide swath of that garden, planted with slow-to-ignite ground cover, actually helped keep flames at bay. And falling embers from surrounding trees failed to ignite the house's asphalt-and-gravel built-up roof.

A year later, new plants take root, old ones resprout After the fire, the garden was cleared and replanted with drought-tolerant species. Burned trees and shrubs were cut back but their root systems were left in place to help prevent erosion. Some plants have since resprouted.

In fact, nature's response to most fires is rapid regrowth, which can cause problems when you're trying to relandscape. On the Burdick property, the fire caused many seeds, including Monterey pine and weedy broom, to germinate. Such plants can be killed with contact weed killers or prevented with pre-emergent herbicides. However, native plants that grow or resprout in burned areas are often the best adapted for that region; if possible, save or transplant them.

To control erosion in steep areas, some of the area's residents laid down soil-holding jute netting, then planted through it; others built retaining walls. Seeding with annual rye grass is another good but temporary erosion control.

Where fire burns extremely hot, topsoil can be damaged or destroyed. When this happens, you need to break up the ground and work in compost or other organic matter.

How to reduce fire risks around your house, and a helpful Sunset reprint

If you live in an area prone to fires, these steps could reduce the risk of serious damage to your property:

Trim trees near the house. Cut back any limbs hanging over the roof. Also remove branches growing within 10 feet of the chimney.

Plant fire-resistant ground covers. Ask your nurseryman to recommend plant types suitable to your area.

Clear brush. Allow at least 18 feet between large shrubs; prune dead twigs and leaves. When possible, mow large areas of seasonal grass once seeds have ripened.

Beyond 100 feet from the house, cut back native woody chaparral yearly. Remove highly combustible shrubs such as ones with oily stems and leaves. Clear excessive leaf litter ftom the ground, rooftops, and gutters.

For a reprint of the article Protecting your home against brushfire, send $1 to Brushfire Reprint, Sunset Magazine, 80 Willow Rd., Menlo Park, Calif. 94025.
COPYRIGHT 1988 Sunset Publishing Corp.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1988 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Date:Nov 1, 1988
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