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Brush and Fire Mitigation

 
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I have a relatively new to me property in an area that is susceptible to wild fires.  We had a scare already this year and had to evacuate for an evening.  I'm trying to take all the steps I can to mitigate the risk.  Most around here clear brush off their property which would be counter to permaculture thinking.  What are some of my options to still mitigate my risk but not get rid of loads of bio mass on my property?  One option I have considered is accumulating brush far away from structures and eventually renting a chipper but I have even read in this area to not use wood chips too close to structures.
 
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Perhaps build some large hugelkultur gardens.
 
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There was another thread about this recently:
https://permies.com/t/148817/Fire-Protection-safeguarding-home-property
 
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Bury all of your brush or chippings and soak the area well. You don't lose the nutrients, but they are wet and underground. Bury them as deep as you can, 2 feet is a good idea, 3 inches is not. All the dirt you can get on them. This is a variant on the hugelculture gardens Mike Barkley mentioned, it will break down much faster if it's small stuff like chipped brush, but that also means it's not going to be a hazard as long.

When they say "don't use wood chips" they mean the decorative ones on the surface, those burn really well, they are basically kindling that gets dry and has good air flow.

Also remember the wetter your soil is, the less chance of heavy burn, and swales and lots of organic material will hold the water in the soil longer.

Some reading for you:
Wildfires and permaculture  
PEP1: Firefighting/fire safety
Wildfire Mitigation and Long-Term Permaculture of Western US
Permaculture fire suppression
Fire Protection: safeguarding our home and property

Erica Wisner is one of our really knowledgeable people on fire, if she says something, odds are REALLY high she's right. Look for her posts in threads on fire.  

:D
 
Earl Ironside
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Mike Barkley wrote:Perhaps build some large hugelkultur gardens.



Thanks I have started some hugelkultur and plan on doing more.  My property is pretty sloped and rocky so digging down or digging up the dirt to do hugelkultur is a bit of a challenge but I will do that to some of the brush for sure.


Juniper Zen wrote:There was another thread about this recently:[/url]



Thank you I did read through that thread before posting.  Lot of good information in there.  I almost posted this in there but didn't want to hijack.


@Pearl Sutton

I will look at those resources thanks for the information.  I will try the bury method but it is a bit difficult on my property as I mentioned above.  Maybe at some point I could rent some heavy equipment to aid in the process.
 
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Hi Earl,

Mike and Pearl make very good points about making some type of hugel mound.  For my part, I think if you are growing the vegetation, using it and let it grow back, you are staying within general Permie principles.  

My personal favorite technique is to grow brush and harvest it every 1-2 years and chip it all up and use those chips in the garden.  This really reduces the fire hazard to almost nothing, the chips rot down and should eventually become moist, and eventually become wonderful garden bedding.  But I am curious as to why wood chippers are not recommended.  Are they considered a fire hazard?  Granted, they are noisy and expensive, but I like to rent on once per year and I get loads of mulch from them.

Anyhow, these are just my two cents.

Eric
 
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Brush piles might be a good solution. On my property, I have lots of brush piles as it is part of our wildlife management. These make lovely homes for various creatures.

Here are some threads that might help:

https://permies.com/t/108865/brush-pile-observations

https://permies.com/t/149143/Acres-Hill-Homestead-Permaculture-Soil#1164575

https://permies.com/t/103202/Brush-pile-tree-hastened-blooming

https://permies.com/wiki/108150/pep-animal-care/PEP-BB-animal-sand-pile

https://permies.com/wiki/148858/pep-animal-care/Control-Rodents-Permaculture-animal-straw

 
Pearl Sutton
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Eric Hanson wrote: But I am curious as to why wood chippers are not recommended.  Are they considered a fire hazard?  Granted, they are noisy and expensive, but I like to rent on once per year and I get loads of mulch from them.


Eric: Because most people don't bury the chips, they are left on the surface, where they dry out, and become fire food. The machines aren't bad in and of themselves, just the common use for chips is a problem.
 
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although might just be my obsevation but many of the structures where I live have corrugated tin roofs and most people here heat primarily with wood. ive seen where people in high fire prone areas use tin or corrugated metal to encapsulate structures so that blowing hot embers will have less likelihood of starting structures afire. and keeping trees away from structures. although I sure do like big shade trees keeping summer sun off the house but I've had other problems caused by having large trees right up next to the house, branches through the roof after big storm, excessive moisture and rot if leaves accumulated snakes and birds,  thank goodness none of the problems included fire.
 
Earl Ironside
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Thanks for the response everyone.  With regards to brush piles I was under the impression that they are fire hazards.  Is it better to pile brush in big heaps or leave it relatively scattered across the property?
 
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I have a PDC and oddly enough spent a year surveying properties for insurance companies and bank loans. In that work we did brush fire reports where we measured how far the fuel was from the home. If you go on google maps and zoom in on your property you can measure the distance from your house to the brush (trees/sagebrush) in a forested situation. But note that a google map could be 2 years old and have outdated information. An insurance company wanted to have no fuel in the 30 feet surrounding the home. "Fuel" was a continuous large supply not a landscaping tree. Dry grass is low risk, sagebrush is medium risk and trees are high risk. No plants, trees or shrubs more than 3 feet tall under an eve. No plants or trees touching windows. A tree 10 feet away or more from the side of a building preferred. No trees touching the roof. Other measurements were keeping the fuel sources 100 feet away from all structures. We measured everything in a 1000 ft radius of the home. Trees should be limbed 6 ft (all the branches cut off the trunk up 6 feet). Some properties that were in wildfire country cleared trees and shrubs to 200 feet around the structures. They also didn't like thickets of trees, trees too close together. They would recommend thinning to prevent fire from spreading. And did not want the tops of trees in clusters touching each other. Sagebrush can have 16 ft tall flames. You don't want it up against the house. No Firewood stacked against a building but stacked 65 feet away from the house (sounds fun in winter huh?).

As permies, at some point you ask yourself why do I want to live in a forest if I have to chop half of it all down? Or the crazy insurance rules made it seem like sure I'll just move this tree 10 feet to the left and everything will be fine. And yet we have gone through 3 wildfires where we live and fire is very real, very demanding, even relentless. You will have to figure out what you are comfortable with. The insurance companies didn't want anything flammable on a deck. There goes your adirondack chairs your grandpa made, do I really have to get rid of them? It's all in your comfort level. If the chairs catch on fire first and because of them the whole house burns down will you be okay with that? We had to watch a video training where they burned a house down on purpose. They showered the house with sparks until it ignited and burned down. They watched for what lit first. Often it was pine needles on the roof or in the gutters. So walk around your property and ask what will catch on fire first? What can you do to protect that spot? Houses that burned down in previous wildfires were rebuilt with a four foot landscaped rock bed on all sides of the home. There's no reason you can't secure your home to your level of safety and still do permaculture. Fire is part of nature. And you can engineer details into your property design. Green zones. A secondary evacuation way out. Fire "resistant" plantings nearest the house. We have a gravel front yard. Learn what wildfire people do to bulldoze fire breaks. Some folks here have their own private fire truck on their property. One guy showed me equipment where he could hook up a fire truck to the huge irrigation system out in the field. Visit mitigated properties to get more ideas and learn from fire fighters who have experience defending their homesteads.

The mountain outside our dining room window was on fire three weeks ago. Friends of ours evacuated here but did not have a home to go back to the next day. God bless your mitigation efforts and may you be safe and prosper in your permaculture!
 
Eric Hanson
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Pearl Sutton wrote:

Eric Hanson wrote: But I am curious as to why wood chippers are not recommended.  Are they considered a fire hazard?  Granted, they are noisy and expensive, but I like to rent on once per year and I get loads of mulch from them.


Eric: Because most people don't bury the chips, they are left on the surface, where they dry out, and become fire food. The machines aren't bad in and of themselves, just the common use for chips is a problem.



Thanks Pearl,

I guess growing up in the humid part of the country, I just don't think of wood chips as being a fire hazard as they usually get moist and rot.  Correct me if I am wrong, but I would think that chips would be less of a hazard than standing brush, but still not advisable in arid country.

All those wood chips makes me think of all sorts of projects I could do with them!

Eric
 
Pearl Sutton
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Eric Hanson wrote:
I guess growing up in the humid part of the country, I just don't think of wood chips as being a fire hazard as they usually get moist and rot.  Correct me if I am wrong, but I would think that chips would be less of a hazard than standing brush, but still not advisable in arid country.



Standing brush and wood chips each have their own issues, but one of the things with chips is the ones on top are likely to be dry, and it's a fire bridge. Visualize  two shrubs, 10 feet apart, with chips all across the ground between them. A fire on one shrub burns it, then catches the chips, and they set the other on fire. The first shrub by itself may not have been enough to start the second one burning, but the chips gave it a bridge. Put a foundation planting near a house, with chips, and the house is likely to go up too. Flying sparks also light chips easily, think of how you start a campfire, with small pieces of wood with lots of edges to catch.

And yeah, wet and dry climates are very different, I had chips in NM that were intact for years, but in MO, I have had chips be totally gone in 6 months. Generally places that are always soaked don't tend to have many wildfires.
:D
 
Eric Hanson
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Fair points Pearl,

We used to bring in loads of mulch to place around our house as it was a cheaper ground cover than rock—at first.  In my humid part of the country wood chips just don’t last long so we eventually bought rocks.  The rock cover was more expensive up front, but rocks don’t rot and disappear in a year—or ever for that matter.

Good points Pearl,

Eric
 
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Hi Pearl,

When I moved to MN in the early 80s, it was an especially dry year with no burn orders out.  A "spontaneous " fire broke out in a forested area that was put out with some difficulty.  The DNR investigated.  They trailed the "fuse" for miles ....the smoldering thatch...to a town several miles away where someone had dumped charcoal coals in their backyard after a cookout.  I suspect that, in a worse case, wood chips might do the same.
 
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Just my own $0.02, I would clear it. You don't need to clear all of it, and a road counts as "clearing". We designed our road/driveway to encircle our buildings, creating firebreaks that needed to exist anyway.
 
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Certainly not a chop and drop strategy. In my location, farmers chop and burn while the weather still allows for safe burnings. Oh, and we don't build wood houses, that's craziness. Typical houses were made of stones and dirt (maybe a big log to support the roof), maybe bricks, nowadays we use concrete. Anything less is too dangerous.

 
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Another thought is to do controlled burns on your brush areas that contain high amounts of carbon. Just before these burn piles turn to ash, when they have almost burnt all the way down and have a nice coal bed, you can smolder them out with water or earth. This will cut off all of the oxygen creating an anaerobic state which produces coal (biochar). I believe this is better than just burning, as coal is a much more stable carbon that regulates nutrients and water absorption. If you replenish these areas to replicate a biodiverse meadow by using multispecies "cover-cropping" you will not only lessen the possibilities for fire to spread but it will also help build healthy soil. Dr. Christine Jones recommends using a minimal of 8 different species of covercrop seed but more is better. We're talking grasses, legumes, herbs, wildflowers, etc. But the sky is the limit. Just depends on what you want to do with the area. I'm just suggesting something that will help build soil in the long run. I also highly suggest to whomever has not listened to her lectures to give it a peep. She has a ridiculous amount of information for building soil fertility, in which goes against the much regurgitated information out there. Hope that was at least somewhat helpful.
 
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