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Protection against brushfire: lessons from Santa Barbara.

When urban development sprawls into wildlands, fire danger becomes a way of life. Last year in drought-ravaged Santa Barbara County, that potential danger became a reality. In an area that hadn't burned since the 1963 Coyote fire, tinder dry vegetation covering the mountain slopes went up in flames sparked by an arsonist's torch. The Painted Cave fire burned 4,900 acres and destroyed about $273 million worth of private and public buildings.

Atop the mountain where the fire started, many more houses would have been lost if not for the volunteer fire departments and auxiliary support teams of the Wildland Residents Association-an umbrella organization of eight communities situated in the mountains above Santa Barbara. The association was formed 10 years ago to protect these isolated communities from fire. Its accomplishments offer a valuable lesson for other communities living with the threat of wildfire.

Activities range from brush control to fire fighting

The association's primary purpose is to serve as a liaison with public fire-fighting agencies (the Forest Service and city and county fire departments) for fire prevention and control.

Hazard abatement (shrub and weed control) around the community is one of the main preventive activities for members. They also offer advice and assistance to residents on protecting their houses. During fire season, each community has someone on fire watch through most of the night. At times of extreme danger, members patrol roads and the person on watch hands out fire-safety brochures to passing vehicles. A radio network is used throughout the year to maintain communication between the communities.

Each community has its own fire truck and equipment. When fire breaks out, local volunteer fire fighters can respond quickly and try to contain it. Because the communities are relatively remote, it takes professional fire fighters much longer to reach the scene, but, when they arrive, the volunteers let them take over and act on orders from the professionals. During fires, the association's auxiliary members also act as a communication network, maintaining contact with other communities and between separated family members. In addition, they supply food, water, and generators to fire fighters and residents.

Fund-raising events help pay for equipment and maintenance

The association is a nonprofit organization, and it raises money for equipment through grant proposals and events such as bake sales and rummage sales. Its latest purchase was a commercial-size chipper for brush control. The chippings are used as a mulch around plants to help conserve water.

Annual dues of $25 help pay for information pamphlets, the network of radios, vehicle and liability insurance, and equipment maintenance.

Forming your own group to control and prevent fires Ted Adams, president of the Wildland Residents Association, offers the following advice to people interested in forming a similar group: Start by determining a need in the community (such as for hazard abatement, or an emergency communication network), then establish an identity for the group based on that. Hold monthly meetings.

You may want nonprofit status for fundraising purposes; this requires electing a board of directors, writing a set of bylaws, and filing for nonprofit status with state and federal governments.

For more on how to organize and establish your own community association, write to Ted Adams, Box 2800, Painted Cave Rd., Santa Barbara 93105.

Landscape lessons from last year's fire In the face of a wildfire, fire fighters are selective about the houses they try to save. They choose the most defensible ones, determined largely by accessibility and combustibility of the structure and surrounding landscape. How fire resistant your landscape is and how the site is maintained may determine whether fire fighters pass yours by in an emergency. As peak fire season approaches, let these landscape lessons, relearned in last summer's Painted Cave fire, help you prepare.

Reduce fuel around your house. Clear leaves from roofs and gutters. Keep structures free of vegetation. Cut and remove weeds and brush. Thin trees to 18 feet or more apart; prune low branches. Remove highly flammable trees such as pines, junipers, and many eucalyptus. Mulch with nonflammable material like stone.

If you have a large piece of property or property that borders on wildlands, clear a 30- to 100-foot defensible space around your house.

Water permitting, irrigate plants to reduce flammability and encourage deep rooting, which helps to control erosion.

Remove or replace wooden structures near the house-like fences, decks, and trellises-with nonflammable structures.

In accordance with building codes, bury plastic irrigation risers on pressurized lines underground. Exposed lines may melt and burst, causing water loss for the entire property.

Store flammable household materials in a fire-safe location, not under decks or next to structures.

Use metal, not plastic, garbage cans, and secure them so they won't blow over and ignite. The above pointers can help you make an existing landscape safer. For increased safety, consider planting a zoned landscape with the most fire-resistant plants growing nearest the house, progressing to thinned and pruned native vegetation farthest from the house.

Santa Barbara's Firescape Demonstration Garden, at 2411 Stanwood Drive, is a 1.7-acre site with recommended plants displayed in a zoned design (see photo at left); it's open from dawn to dusk daily To aid fire fighting, follow these additional site precautions.

Equip pools and spas with a gasoline powered pump to make an auxiliary supply of water available.

Install full-circle impact sprinklers with 50-foot-radius spray on roof line or on fence top along property perimeter. Operate only as a last resort when fire threatens. Reduced water pressure, common during fires, may restrict their use. Run only two or three at a time, on the side of the property threatened by fire.)

If time permits before evacuating, help fire fighters in these ways: Move lawn furniture inside. Close windows and doors; leave unlocked. Install fire shades (see middle photograph on page 80) or cover insides of windows with aluminum foil. Turn on indoor and outdoor lights. Connect garden hoses. Raise ladders against house in visible places. Lay out garden tools such as shovels, rakes, and hoes. Clear driveway and house perimeter for easy access.

For other pointers, check with fire agencies for brochures and programs on fire prevention and preparedness. El
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Copyright 1991 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Publication:Sunset
Date:Jul 1, 1991
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