Tips on How to Protect Your Home From Fire

Most Santa Cruz residents know that fire can spread in the blink of an eye. Do you know what to do to protect your home?

Santa Cruz has started to take on the hues of summer. The neon shades of green that signaled spring have given way to deeper tints.

But the beautiful setting that attracted homebuyers here in the first place also creates conditions ripe for wildfire.

Those who have been in the region for awhile know that the conditions are ripe for fire during the hot, dry summer months. With Memorial Day signaling the start of fire season, knowing how to protect your home and property from fire is absolutely vital.

In 2009, the Lockheed Fire in the Santa Cruz Mountains scorched 7,817 acres of land before it was put out. Over 2,400 people were evacuated from the area during the course of the blaze. 

What started the fire that ended up costing $12 million? Embers from an unattended campfire.

The previous year, another fire burned 520 acres and destroyed 11 buildings just three miles from the site where Lockheed started.

Every year, California provides plenty of examples of burning earth year after year. The Oakland Hills experienced a that jumped a freeway and took 25 lives, resulting in an economic disaster costing $1.5 billon. More recently, the deadly wildfires in San Diego County in 2003 and 2007 produced towering flames that overran entire neighborhoods, destroying thousands of homes.

While there’s no defense against some firestorms, there’s a lot that homeowners can do to protect their homes from the fires that can spring up at any moment.

Cal Fire has declared it fire season in Northern California and expects this year to be one of the worst in recent history. The agency has also issued guidelines to help any homeowner to create defensible zones.

The Central Fire District has a fire prevention division solely dedicated to keeping Santa Cruz County as protected as possible from the conditions that can lead to fire. 

Here are some tips from the CFD and Cal Fire on how to create a defensible space around your house and property:

Zone 1 - Area within 30 feet of structures

  • Remove all dead plants, grass and weeds. The CFD provides a list of companies who provide weed abatement in the county. For those with large lots of land within the city limits, you should have been contacted by May 15 regarding weed abatement on your property. Reports of weed abatement violations or hazards can be made anonymously by calling 831-420-5280.
  • Remove dead or dry leaves and pine needles from your yard, roof and rain gutters.
  • Trim trees regularly to keep branches a minimum of 10 feet from other trees.
  • Remove branches that hang over your roof and keep dead branches 10 feet away from your chimney.
  • Relocate woodpiles at least 30 feet from structures, fences and other combustible materials.
  • Remove or prune flammable plants and shrubs near windows.
  • Remove vegetation and items that could catch fire from around and under decks.
  • Create a separation between trees, shrubs and items that could catch fire, such as patio furniture, wood piles, swing sets, etc.   

Zone 2 - Area 100 feet from structure

  • Cut or mow annual grass down to a maximum height of 4 inches.
  • Create vertical and horizontal spacing between shrubs and trees.
  • Remove fallen leaves, needles, twigs, bark, cones, and small branches. However, they may be permitted to a depth of 3 inches if erosion control is an issue.

Additionally, CFD recommends enclosing the undersides of elevated decks and eves with fire resistive materials. At least two escape routes should be identified on your property. Residents should have a disaster plan and supplies and should replace the batteries in their smoke detectors twice a year.

For more fire prevention information, visit the CFD's website or the City of Santa Cruz website's section on fire prevention.

John Colby June 01, 2012 at 06:43 PM
I worry that one of the many chain-smokers at my apartment complex, some elderly and/or alcoholics, will start a fire here. I worry about the safety of my cats in case a fire breaks out. The management hasn't educated us about emergency plans in case of fire. I think they should because this is a government subsidized apartment complex. HUD must have rules about fire safety education for HUD residents. I know HUD is encouraging program participants to implement smoking bans in order to safeguard elderly and disabled residents against dangerous secondhand smoke and to make HUD apartment complexes safe from fires.


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