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Curtis Budka
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Just some thoughts here.
I know one of the biggest reasons PEP1 has be thought of is to create a certification for people to do consultancy for Paul under his education, but some things that are already included in the list (i.e. Proenneke style woodworking) are more homesteadish than permaculturish and may or may not be directly fundamental for doing permaculture consultancy. Firefighting is one of those more homesteady things and some knowledge on the subject could be useful to anyone, but particularly someone who lives way out there. A lot can happen in the time it takes the volunteer department to get to you. I know most people don't have the opportunity to go stop a house from burning down, or contain a brush fire (nor do they probably want to). BUT, what if you end up in that situation? Building one of these in the video could save lives/tens of thousands of dollars/a lot of grief.




Fire safety could include things like trying to keep up your property to prevent a wildfire from spreading, something that could be added to the woodland care section, and electrical and wood heating safety could go in with electricity and the RMH sections, OR should the whole fire topic get its own section, considering firefighting is a skill that isn't really related to anything else.

OR, does this belong in PEX?
 
Peter Ellis
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For what it is worth, my opinion is that this is definitely an aspect of permaculture design. When the Big Black book has discussion of the "fire sector", then it seems pretty clear that at least a basic understanding of how fire works and what things can be done to prevent it from happening, reduce its impacts, etc. is needed for a proper permaculture design development.

How much actual firefighting knowledge is needed, versus best practices for preventing it in the first place and keeping it from encroaching onto a design site, well, I think there's a good body of overlap there.

And yes, it interlocks with things like forest management, water design and plant choices. It is recognizing the interconnections that make permaculture what it is.
 
Michael Cox
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The Permaculture Handbook has a pretty big section on this, and in climates where it is important it is really important.

Firefighting is one element of fire safety, but landscape design is another big one. It is also very complex... landforms can turn innocuous looking locations into deathtrap windtunnel chimneys, vegetation choices can promote or hinder fire development, land usage strategies can affect fuel load, well thought out earthworks for ponds can provide huge reservoirs of gravity fed firefighting water...

A mobile fire engine might be an element of a fire-safe or fire resilient system but it isn't really a permaculture approach.
 
Peter Ellis
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I do not agree that a mobile fire engine is not really a permaculture approach. Permaculture is about appropriate technology, so yeah, some kinds of mobile fire engine migt be contrary to permaculture ethics and principles, but it is not that hard to come up with versions that absolutely are in line with permaculture principles.

There have been such machines for at least a couple of hundred years. They definitely predate the industrial revolution.

A pick up powered by wood gas or biodiesel with a water tank and man powered pump seems pretty well within permaculture guidelines for me.
 
Curtis Budka
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A mobile fire engine might be an element of a fire-safe or fire resilient system but it isn't really a permaculture approach.


This is why I said firefighting is more of a homestead thing. But that doesn't mean you can't make it sustainable like Peter said. HOWEVER. Looking at the practical side of this, you can't control how your neighboors manage their property, meaning you can't dictate what a wildfire might do over a broad area that happens to be where you live. But you can protect your own as well as others' assets. What if building in water retention systems isn't enough? Can you get a hand pump to produce the necessary volume/psi to be effective in that situation?

If we apply this to a smaller scale: if your house is on fire, are you going to not use a fire extinguisher because it has nothing to do with permaculture?

Yes, there may be better options to look into, but an out of control fire is an emergency for a reason.
 
Peter Ellis
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My point is that firefitting equipment certainly fits in permaculture. It falls firmly under the ethic Care For People.
Not being prepared to deal with a fire would be a permaculture failure.
 
Erica Wisner
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I'm currently in the middle of my first firefighting class, and the topic is huge.
Trying to integrate the hugeness of wildland firefighting into the hugeness of permaculture sounds like a big project.
For example, weather has a huge influence on fire behavior. Weather prediction, at the local level to the point where you could predict where to safely stand when the valley winds are accelerating due to temperatures several times a normal summer's day, is a complex topic in itself.
Weather is just a few hours of a 36-hour course, the basic introduction before you are supposed to start getting any hands-on experience.
It has taken me more than 7 years so far to realize how little I really understand about weather behavior. When the entire local weather system - including eddies around hills, effects of daily heating and cooling, atmospheric stability layers or instability, prevailing winds, thunderstorm winds, frontal patterns, etc - is just a subset of what you need to know to predict fire behavior.... well, that's a big topic.
Firefighters with 20+ years' experience report seeing things they've never seen before on our latest big one, the Carleton fire complex.

There's also a huge range of differences between different regions. What's "normal" here (sagebrush and grassy slopes of 30% to 100+% grades) is considered extreme fuels elsewhere. Yet some of the vegetation of the American midwest and southest will burn in humidity conditions we would consider extremely safe - our grass doesn't burn much above 33% moisture levels. One could easily over-generalize from the Australian permaculture manual, or from western US experience, and end up writing advice that would be misleading in other regions.

The permaculture manual talks about inland winds being a fire sector directional consideration for Australia. Perhaps wildfires tend to come from the inland-wind direction there.
But here in inland WA, we get drying winds from both directions (foehn winds down the mountains on both sides of us). We have a fire season independent of wind, due to very dry Mediterranean summers, and a seasonal lag where the larger forest timbers remain dry enough to burn readily well into the fall.
Arguably our biggest weather factor leading to wildfire risk is dry lightning storms (which often are attended by many-directional winds).
Second biggest causes of fires are human error, things like someone getting a flat tire and their rim throws sparks into roadside grass, or unattended barbecues setting off a propane explosion, or people running a burn-pile to get rid of yard debris.
I suspect any good permaculture homestead can think of a dozen better things to do with slash/woody debris than a burn pile, of course.

There are some good resources out there for regionally-specific landscape management tips to make homes and farms defensible in case of wildfire. The big question is where do you stop - the safest yard according to firefighting principles is a mineral pad the size of a football field, but obviously this isn't very pleasant to live in, let alone productive like we want to see in permaculture Zone 1. You can consider making a fire-safe zone to one side of the building, or a ring farther out; or you can dovetail fire protection into productive Zone 1 activities.

The Landscape:
The big points they make in our Western US fire-wise design info are:
- park-like setting for 50 feet around the house: clear ladder fuels away, space trees so that flames cannot jump directly from tree to tree (crowning fire), use mown lawn or irrigated, low plantings, mineral fire-breaks (e.g. a circular driveway that goes around the house), and maintain both horizontal and vertical space between anything that might serve as fuel (including all types of shrubs, trees, etc). Don't have any trees located where they can drop limbs on your home or vehicles.
Bill Mollison suggests using types of plants that don't burn readily to create radiant heat barriers. In our climate, anything that survives without irrigation will burn sooner or later, usually sooner. So mineral materials might be the best option. Bill also suggests how to build a fire shelter (earth-sheltered fire protection might double as a root cellar/storm cellar), and how to consider the "fire sector" in design analysis.

- Park-like, low shorn vegetation / well-spaced trees: a permaculture model might include multi-purpose benefits from this shorn process: rock/herb gardens that are regularly harvested for culinary uses; grazing animals close to the buildings such as guinea pigs, sheep, or geese; geese suggest a pond which is another natural fire barrier, etc. Different sectors could use a combination of grazed, mineral (gravel/stone walkways), and irrigated buffers.
- Ladder fuel removal: Most ladder fuels also make great rocket stove fuels, especially if gathered and stored when dry.
- Woody debris can also be good mulch or hugel fodder - but locate them in areas where they could safely burn. Mulch right up against the house can become tinder; sparks and ash may drift like snow into the same corners of homes and outbuildings.
- Distance between the wood storage and the house is a consideration. Fuel stacked up against the house (including lawn furniture and other junk) is a disincentive to firefighters.
- The "junk pile", car parking, and other potentially hazardous fuel accumulations may need their own zone away from the house and animal homes.
- Spacing out the trees, away from the house: Radiant heat from a wild fire tends to come in at lower angles than summer sun. Trees and shrubs may be able to block radiant heat without shading the building; but getting good summer shade that doesn't also pose an increased fire risk is a question. Look into species that might resist burning, or ways to trim trees that make their catching on fire much less likely.

The Home/Buildings:
- Local building codes include a lot of hard-won knowledge about fire safety. These include clearances to combustibles around heaters and stoves, egress windows for bedrooms, smoke alarm locations, procedures for safely installing electrical wiring and appliances, etc. Even if you don't like being bossed around by "the man," consider better-than-code safety practices rather than reinventing the Catherine wheel.
The most common denominators for home fires in the US seem to involve heat sources too close to combustibles, with a period of inattention. (Smoking in bed, leaving the kitchen "just for a minute" while cooking/frying, leaving combustibles too close to candles (1 foot) or heaters (3 feet)). Improper wiring, maintenance, and repairs can also cause house fires.

- Good design is iterative: it builds on prior experience. "Uniqueness" is not a primary virtue. Take the best of local traditional buildings, better-than-code safety considerations, and well-documented ecological designs for similar climates, and make your home a subtle improvement upon time-tested local norms.
- A good designer exceeds the code when it comes to safety concerns. Read up on fire codes, ADA guidelines for access and escape, and see if you can improve and tighten up your design before building or altering.
- Know your energy flows. Improper electrical or heating components can be a fire hazard. Make sure there are redundant precautions in place to protect you from your own unseen servants. Efficient, solid-state, passive-solar designs are not only good conservation, they can also reduce fire danger by reducing the energy at play and stored, and the constant monitoring needed for active systems. Make sure there are redundant safeguards in case of overheating of any energy system, including solar collectors, battery banks, wood heat, electronics, and appliances.
- Know your materials. Plastic and synthetic furnishings are nasty, toxic, dangerous fuels in structural fires. Trailers are among the worst - the fire often burns so hot nothing is left but the steel frame.
Non-combustible materials are reassuring, but fires are particularly adept at finding the one chink in the armor. Wood trim around the eaves is a common weak point, allowing fire to crawl up into the woodwork of the roof. It's hard to build a roof without wood, and the alternatives are energy-expensive. There's also the consideration of heat conduction: dense mineral materials may conduct heat inward faster than an insulated timber frame. Use fire-resistant materials judiciously for interior and exterior protection. Clay-coated straw, natural plasters, and plastered woodwork can be surprisingly resistant to fire, and more insulative than solid masonry.
- Assume you will need to evacuate during a fire. Don't be tempted to risk your life to protect inanimate objects. Organize your property and home ahead of time so that vital documents, valuables, etc. are already in the safest possible places. If anyone fights the fire with water, assume there will be flooding damage as well as fire and smoke.
- Assume you will be disoriented and sleepy when you get the first warnings of a fire, since smoke and CO cause impairment. Plan and practice your evacuation/escape routes ahead of time.

The Surrounding Community:
- Know your local fire department's emergency and non-emergency phone numbers.
- Know their capabilities and response time - are you 3 minutes from help, 30 minutes, or 3 hours?
- Do they undertake structural (going into your home), wildlands (landscape only), or both types of firefighting? Their qualifications may determine whether you can get fire insurance.
- Fire departments, public lands management agencies, and fire insurance providers can be good sources of information about defensive strategies. Do your homework before purchasing new property.
- Ask the fire department about their "triage" process in the event of a wild fire. What do they look at when deciding whether they can defend your property, vs. having to retreat to a safer area? Do they have an opinion about your proposed home site? Can they recommend any good examples in the area, of homes that survived a wildfire due to good design and planning?
- Many agencies offer free property inspections by a fire-safety education person, to give you a list of suggestions for improvements.
- Know and follow local building codes for fire safety. Even if you do not need or want building permits for your permaculture projects, make sure they are safer than the conventional alternatives.
- If you are interested in being able to stick around and defend your property, or learning more about local fire hazards, consider taking a basic firefighter training course. These are often free if you join a local volunteer fire department. There is a great deal of practical knowledge needed to safely fight fires. Learning from an experienced local firefighter who has fought fires in local conditions (weather, climate, vegetation, topography, and other fire behavior factors) is extremely valuable.


I don't know if there's a particularly permaculture or non-permaculture approach to firefighting.
Wildlands fire strategies are probably a deep-permaculture art: they call upon immense reserves of local knowledge, weather, geographic, environmental, and systems-flow interactions.
The process of designing and maintaining a fire-defensible homestead is an excellent permaculture exercise, especially in a fire-prone area, because anything not well maintained is likely to be removed from the picture.

This is one of those bigger-than-your-own-backyard issues. You can do a tremendous amount ahead of time to prepare for safety, but once it's your place that's burning, are you really going to interview fire trucks at the gate about their fuel type?

Some long-established cultures in fire-prone areas took almost the opposite approach that we do today, setting fires casually and frequently rather than suppressing wild fires.
I sometimes hear people suggesting "they should let the fires burn, the current fuel buildup is unnatural." Indeed, aggressive fire suppression is a factor in increased fire intensities in some parts of the West.
Yet one of the most unnatural aspects of the current fuel buildup is that it's occurring right around the dwellings of nature's fire-apes, the humans. Instead of harvesting small fuels from the woods around us, and burning out the occasional field, creating cleared park-like areas, we are burning imported fossil fuels and allowing our environs to become choked with brush. Not to mention the acreage of cities and urban strip-malls: more barren than a burned-out landscape, yet they also burn more terribly due to concentrations of dense fuels like rubber, plastics, tar, and varnished wood.

Wildlands firefighting strategies include controlled burns in seasons less likely to cause catastrophic large fires; defining a control line at a safe distance from the fire which often implies large burn-overs of vast wildlands areas; defending densely settled areas or critical resources (like the now-rare old-growth timber stands). If you look at the boundaries of recent fires in our area, it's a patchy mosaic with a lot of fires sharing boundaries: an area that burned 2 or 3 years ago may be the perfect place to stop this year's fire, as there is less fuel and old control lines can be re-used. Patchy mosaics where areas burn at different times are one of the most resilient arrangements for promoting healthy, fire-tolerant ecosystems.

Hm.
I guess I'd say for PEP system: (PEEK would be PE Erica K)
PEEK1:

White Belt:
- Never smokes in bed; has designated smoking areas without a lot of upholstery or intoxicants.
- Keeps equipment in good repair. No tools shooting sparks, chains or rims of trailers dragging sparks, barbecues without their ash-drawers dropping coals on weedy patios, etc.
- Keeps combustible and flammable stuff away from heat and sparks, especially small fuels like paper, sawdust, wood trim, dry grass, etc.
- Has a healthy respect for gasoline, firearms, combustion engines, and other potential explosives.

- Knows at least 3 ways to put out a fire (grease fire, wood fire)
- Can point to at least 2 of these options near any heat source (campfire, car engine, kitchen stove)
- Does not leave fire unattended; turns off any heat-and-flammables sources like kitchen fryers or clothes iron before leaving room.

As a permie, gives serious consideration to:
- Using fire responsibly: obeying burn bans, controlling sparks, burning fires cleanly without smoke or waste.
- Waste into resource: harvesting ladder fuels and garden waste, and processing into tinder, firewood, or mulch;
- Zone and sector analysis: identifying highest potential for fire danger, both directional and seasonal; letting information change designs rather than getting attached to generic templates.
- Local info: finding out about fire behavior and risks, possible political shifts in fire management (both woodstove and wildfire), "newbie errors" when moving into this region
- Responsible camping, interning, and festival activities; may volunteer to help gather firewood, watch fire until it's out, etc.

Green Belt:
- Reads and makes use of local info sources about fire prevention, fire-wise landscaping, burn bans, etc.
- Spends at least a few hours per week making the house and yard more fire-safe, even if it's just tidying up.
- Has put out campfires with and without water
- Can estimate how long it will take for a fire to burn out in a given setting.
- Has working fire alarms in home - near bedroom doors, near top of stairwell, and on each floor.
- Has already taken care of any valuables or pets that might cause a temptation to run back into the house: fire-resistant storage or duplicate copies for important papers, bug-out bag for key valuables, pet escape door(s), etc.

- As a permie, gives serious consideration to the benefits and drawbacks of various fuel-mitigation strategies:
--- controlled burns
--- burn piles or slash/debris removal
--- ladder fuels reduction/chop-and-drop
--- Chipping and mulching of woody debris
--- hugel beds; potential for root-fires in buried punky debris
--- rings of fire 'moats' and windbreaks
--- fuel spacing vs. deforestation
--- benefits of patchy landscape treatment vs. broad uniformity

Brown Belt:
- Follows weather, burn bans, fire-danger warnings; knows when not to use a chainsaw after 1 pm, etc.
- Knows how to put out an electrical fire. Has a suitable extinguisher to do so. Is almost certain that due to careful, better-than-code maintenance of all electrical wiring, vehicles, and appliances, will never need to do so.
- Can identify location and hazards of any special materials or chemicals in home, and has them stored as safely as possible to prevent fire.
- Has escape routes and meeting points planned - both for home fire, and for evacuation in case of wild fire.
- Has multiple resources for fire info: local fire dept. non-emergency, local weather and fire weather warnings, an online site for emergency info, apps or text alerts.
- Discusses fire-prevention strategies with others in community; supports local firefighting, prevention, and land-use management efforts.

- As a permie, gives serious consideration to:
-- Human/wildlife interface zone as pertains to wildfire management
-- Using building and farm materials that do not result in special hazards in a fire (fewer synthetics, chemicals, more natural materials)
-- Neighborhood-scale planning to maintain defensible fire-barriers, water supplies, etc.
-- Native and introduced vegetation, and ongoing landscape efforts that combine good biomass with lower fire danger.
-- Weather and climate changes, including projected changes in local weather, and experimenting responsibly with plants that may tolerate the wider range of expected conditions.

Black Belt:
- Home and Zone 1-2 are model landscape showing defensibility from wildfire
- Home meets or exceeds fire safety codes with respect to escape routes, clearances to combustibles, electrical wiring, and safe storage of chemicals or other fire hazards.
- Is part of neighborhood or regional planning to create environmentally sound, culturally attractive, and fire-defensible neighborhoods; for example clustering homes and wildlife corridors, setting up fuel-removal options for locals, designing drought-tolerant and fire-resistant public landscapes.

As a permie, the black belt fire prevention operator is already watching:
- weather, climate change, and local microclimate conditions
- fuel buildup, regional imbalances between fuel needs and fuel sources,
- other characteristics of "fuels" - are they endangered species, cultural or biological reserves, humanitarian concerns?
- topology as it affects fire behavior, evacuation routes, safe passage for people and animals, potential fire-breaks or control lines
- political structures that affect wildfire management, neighborhood safety, and legal liabilities for management activities
- local cultural norms re: compliance with authority, anti-establishment activism, or autonomous responsibility.

After the Black Belt categories:
I: Red Card: Has basic firefighting training, either wildlands or structural
II: Has firefighting experience on 2 or more fires
III: Has squad or task boss experience (several years on active fires), and is qualified to train others as firefighters
IV: Experience may include IC of fire incidents, local fire chief or department officer, managing teams of firefighters and civilians; special conditions or equipment training.
V: Is qualified to manage extensive firefighting efforts, issue fire-weather warnings, revise training materials, etc.
VI: All that and still improving... beyond my comprehension.

Fire prevention's ultimate goal is the safety of people, and of our cultural and biological heritage, and thirdly our personal and public property and infrastructures.
If fire prevention or fire fighting destroys people's lives or living conditions, it is overstepping its goals.
Most people in the heat of the moment want safety and protection, and only from a distance is there public outcry in favor of letting things burn "naturally."
In wilderness areas, wildfire is now seen as largely a natural phenomenon, and the goal is to allow a reasonable level of fire-related succession while protecting nearby patches of human infrastructure and unburned wildlands. From a permaculture/resilience standpoint, a patchy landscape is more resilient than a monochrome one. Fires often stop at the boundaries of a previous year's fire, and depending on the severity of the burn there may be intact seed to take up new growth at the next rain.
Many American permaculturalists may move from one region to another, and live with very different fire behavior patterns and fire-hazard levels.
In cities, the goal is 100% fire prevention as fast as possible. Fire departments may have response times under 4 minutes and also provide services such as paramedic or rescue. Most cities are provided with extensive fire hydrants, and may have codes requiring sprinkler suppression systems, hazardous material identification or registration, etc. Cities also contain concentrations of artificial and special fuels, and structural firefighting training is typical.
In smaller towns, the goal is more likely to be to protect lives and property, and prevent the spread of fire or the worst public hazards. Response times may be 5 to 20 minutes, and each district will have specific qualifications and limited equipment. May provide mutual assistance to other emergency services, including rural fire districts.
In rural districts, the goal may be "do what we can," and to get eyes on the ground quickly to asses options and call for support. Response times can be 10 minutes to over 1 hour, and districts may be limited in both personnel and equipment. In rural areas, property owners are much more responsible for maintaining defensible property, and may be more involved in fire prevention, firefighting, and assisting local departments (e.g. a local might offer the use of tractors, bulldozers, water tanks, or other farm equipment to help in firefighting efforts).

What this all adds up to is: if you are a permie, and you want to move out into the wilderness and start managing your own little oasis, be prepared to do your own firefighting and emergency prevention much more than you might expect in the cities.

I think a lot of permies imagine turning a patch of bare ground into a little oasis: in that respect, we're kind of the vanguard of the suburbs.
I would like to see more of a community sense of the aggregate effects of all this moving-out-into-the-wild.
Rather than trying to homestead additional acres of increasingly-scarce wilderness, we might do well to get involved with regional land-use planning, establish model villages with good wildlife corridors nearby, and not necessarily built from scratch: rehabilitate areas of urban blight, suburban isolation, or even recent wildfire damage, and rebuild them into communities with good overall design and infrastructure for supporting human, livestock, and wildlife.

Firefighting is a response to an emergency. Like doctoring an injured animal, or watering a wilting crop.
Fire prevention, and fire planning, are design responses to a pattern of predictable effects. Like knowing the needs of the animals so they can stay healthy, or laying out your contours and crop placement so that it doesn't need irrigation.
Controlled burning and fuels removal might be analogous to good breeding by culling the herd, or selective harvesting for drought resistance.
 
Michael Cox
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Erica Wisner wrote:
Firefighting is a response to an emergency. Like doctoring an injured animal, or watering a wilting crop.
Fire prevention, and fire planning, are design responses to a pattern of predictable effects. Like knowing the needs of the animals so they can stay healthy, or laying out your contours and crop placement so that it doesn't need irrigation.
Controlled burning and fuels removal might be analogous to good breeding by culling the herd, or selective harvesting for drought resistance.


This. Spot on.

I would view permaculture fire safety as being what we would do differently from everyone else. Everyone could benefit from a portable fire engine if they live in a fire prone region... but a permaculturist designs their landscape to reduce the impact of fire in the first place.
 
Will Meginley
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Erica Wisner wrote:
After the Black Belt categories:
I: Red Card: Has basic firefighting training, either wildlands or structural
II: Has firefighting experience on 2 or more fires
III: Has squad or task boss experience (several years on active fires), and is qualified to train others as firefighters
IV: Experience may include IC of fire incidents, local fire chief or department officer, managing teams of firefighters and civilians; special conditions or equipment training.
V: Is qualified to manage extensive firefighting efforts, issue fire-weather warnings, revise training materials, etc.
VI: All that and still improving... beyond my comprehension.


First, to preface this response I'll start by explaining my background. At this stage of my life, permaculture is just a hobby for me, a way to make my life more sustainable and wholesome. I have no intention of ever even attempting to make a living at this, other than maybe a subsistence living after retiring. My "day job" is wildland firefighting. Been doing it for ten years now. Will probably continue doing it until I'm forced to retire. To put what I'm about to say into perspective: among my peers, ten years in means I'm just about now getting to the point where I kinda sorta know what I'm talking about and can probably be trusted on my own. Maybe even supervise a few other people.

I think the items in the section of Erica's post that I've quoted belong exactly where she placed them - BEYOND the scope of this forum. She's made an excellent start describing many aspects of fire-resilient landscape design and in the absence of anyone more qualified I would be happy to expand on those concepts where I can if people would find it interesting. But I am not, under ANY circumstances, comfortable teaching anyone on here "how to fight fire," nor will I encourage you to do so in any way other than to suggest that you join your local volunteer department or prescribed fire council and receive proper training.

To be blunt, yet as diplomatic as possible, 98 out of 100 people who attempt to fight fire without proper training are more of a hindrance than a help and run the very real risk of killing themselves or someone else. As Erica is beginning to find out, the amount of stuff you need to know about to do this job with even a moderate degree of safety is huge, and even "trained" firefighters with two or three YEARS of experience still require near-constant babysitting to make up for the things that they miss or haven't learned yet. Trained professionals die all the time doing wildland firefighting. Thirty a year on average, just in the US alone. If you can't put it out in less than thirty seconds using an extinguisher or a shovel, then you need to get out of there and away to a safe area while you still have the capability to do so. For me to tell you anything else would be irresponsible, in my opinion. You would be far better served to have a safe zone on your property where you can stand and watch the fire go past and point out all your handy water storage features and access roads to the firefighters as they come in. If you designed your landscape right, there should be no need for you (or even us) to stand between your house and a wildfire with a hose.

And don't even get me started on house fires. Even WE aren't THAT crazy!
 
Will Meginley
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Erica Wisner wrote:

Green Belt:
- Reads and makes use of local info sources about fire prevention, fire-wise landscaping, burn bans, etc.
- Spends at least a few hours per week making the house and yard more fire-safe, even if it's just tidying up.
- Has put out campfires with and without water
- Can estimate how long it will take for a fire to burn out in a given setting.
- Has working fire alarms in home - near bedroom doors, near top of stairwell, and on each floor.
- Has already taken care of any valuables or pets that might cause a temptation to run back into the house: fire-resistant storage or duplicate copies for important papers, bug-out bag for key valuables, pet escape door(s), etc.


Brown Belt:
- Follows weather, burn bans, fire-danger warnings; knows when not to use a chainsaw after 1 pm, etc.
- Knows how to put out an electrical fire. Has a suitable extinguisher to do so. Is almost certain that due to careful, better-than-code maintenance of all electrical wiring, vehicles, and appliances, will never need to do so.
- Can identify location and hazards of any special materials or chemicals in home, and has them stored as safely as possible to prevent fire.
- Has escape routes and meeting points planned - both for home fire, and for evacuation in case of wild fire.
- Has multiple resources for fire info: local fire dept. non-emergency, local weather and fire weather warnings, an online site for emergency info, apps or text alerts.
- Discusses fire-prevention strategies with others in community; supports local firefighting, prevention, and land-use management efforts.



IMHO, the items I've bolded in this quote probably ought to be with the white belt competencies. Just my two cents.
 
Will Meginley
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Cross posting this here from the permaculture fire suppression thread, because I thought it relevant to this discussion.

Will Meginley wrote:Firewise.org is a really good resource and the "gold standard" I would use, personally. Not at all unfriendly to permaculture if you put some thought and common sense into it. I wouldn't recommend deviating from the advice listed without a solid understanding of fire behavior and the combustion process.

On that front, Erica Wisner made a very good post in the fire safety PEP1 thread a few months back. I've been meaning to add more to that discussion for a while now, but have been rather busy on several fronts this summer. When I do add stuff it will probably be to that thread, because it would take me forever just to catch this thread up with that one - let alone add to it. For what follows, this simple mini-lesson will suffice:

The combustion process requires three inputs to begin and sustain itself: oxygen, heat, and fuel. Take away any one of these three things and the process stops. All forms of firefighting are methods of removing one or more of them. Spraying water on a fire removes heat. Digging or bulldozing firelines around a fire removes fuel. Aerial fire retardant removes both if applied correctly. Oxygen removal really isn't effective except in confined spaces that can be closed off. (And woe be unto you if you are caught therein!) Halon fire extinguishers inside aircraft engine compartments are one such system. As a permaculturist, you have the most control over heat and fuel. (Through irrigation and design/"yard hygiene," respectively.)

elle sagenev wrote:Anyway, the question is, how would you protect your property from fire in a permaculture way?


The best way for you to protect your property from fire the permaculture way is to design your landscape in such a way that NO ONE has to do ANYTHING to protect it, except check in on it every once in a while to make sure nothing is going wrong. You cannot depend on anyone being home and , frankly, if you are not a trained firefighter we don't WANT you home. I said it in the other thread and I will re-emphasize it here. Firefighting is NOT (underlined five times in blood-red ink) a DIYer-friendly activity. If you want to help fight fire on your own land join your local VFD or prescribed fire council and get the proper training. Otherwise grab your emergency bag and GO. If you don't, at minimum you waste our time convincing you to leave and/or babysitting you. At worst you do something stupid and get yourself killed before we even show up. If you followed the firewise guidelines your land will pretty much defend itself - that's what they were designed for. The fact that so many people don't follow them is what makes our job increasingly difficult with each passing year.

Others have already given you suggestions on how to design your landscape. Everything listed here so far has been solid advice for the most part. Most of Alder's suggestions are very similar to the firewise recommendations. I wouldn't be surprised if that's where they came from.

elle sagenev wrote:Our land is quite settled. I suppose the good thing is that our driveway is on the wind side of our house. So there is that for fire protection. I think we were wondering if there was a way to protect the whole property. Like a road or moat or something clear around. Plus if we got a moat I'd probably become quite fabulous, or insane, it's up in the air.


First, a question. Do you need to defend the whole property, or just the buildings and gardens? What type of fuels do you have? (short grass, tall grass, brush, forest? How much dead, woody material is lying around?)

Depending on the fuels, a simple dirt foot path 18 - 36 inches wide might be sufficient to stop a ground fire. Wind-blown embers won't even waste the time to laugh at that, which is where irrigating the zone immediately around the home, "yard hygiene," and building materials come into play.

elle sagenev wrote:I laughed at pines and such being a bad tree choice. It's the main one for tree lines around these parts and ours is 4 lines deep in pines. Bugger it all!


Pines in and of themselves are not bad at all. Nor are other conifers like spruce and fir. The key is not to have them too close to the house, and - more importantly - not to have any branches lower than 8ft from the ground. They ARE more apt to cause severe fire behavior if fire gets into the crown than most broadleaf trees, which I think was Alder's point.

Alder Burns wrote:I think that statistically, more structures are lost to ember fallout and wind-driven embers than to the actual direct spread of flames.


Correct. The biggest culprits are firewood stacks, leaves in gutters, seat cushions on patio furniture, and door mats. If you're following the firewise guidelines, your house should never receive direct flame contact. If you aren't, one of these things will catch on fire and then your house WILL receive direct flame contact - but not from the wildfire.

Dale Hodgins wrote:A roof covered in soil, could prevent much of the damage that occur each year. Adobe houses present very few opportunities for fire to damage them.


A living roof will burn like any other field of grass, but the underlying soil would insulate most of the rest of the house from the heat. I'd still be worried about wind eddying embers down from the roof against the walls, onto the patio, or into open windows. Adobe and other masonry materials are indeed about as safe as you can get, from a fire protection standpoint. And for the love of all things holy, don't use wood shingle siding/roofing in a fire prone area unless you're comfortable with the idea of a "disposable house" - because that's what you're creating. Hell, even asphalt tiles would be better than wood shingles. (One of the few reasons I would ever have for saying so)

Dale Hodgins wrote:Areas overrun with sage brush are particularly flammable.


Agreed. Under the right conditions, I've seen 3ft sage brush fields produce 200+ ft flame lengths. Chaparral and palmetto thickets are other deceptively flammable areas. Which reminds me of one suggestion that might not readily occur to most permaculturists. I know it's very convenient to have the herbs close to the kitchen door. However, most herbs from the Mediterranean region come from VERY fire prone areas. The oils/chemicals that make them so aromatic and flavorful also make them highly flammable. Think of them as the sage brush of southern Italy. If you keep them near the house, keep them at least 10-15 ft from the house on the downwind side - preferably on the other side of a stone patio - and keep them trimmed well back.
 
Will Meginley
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Another cross post.

Will Meginley wrote:
Alder Burns wrote:I can see the point about evacuating from a regional fire, where there is advance warning, but my main danger here is from the road not far from the house. A fire from that sector (a cigarette butt, a trailer chain dragging sparks, etc.) will be up the bank and in our front yard in a heartbeat.....way faster than the fire department can get here and perhaps even faster than we could get the car out. So the main gardens and the fruit trees are out there, and the woodchip pile and wood shed even further out, sprinklers on the roof, and a generator...


If you water your gardens and lawn they will not burn readily. (The water in the plants must be boiled off before they will combust, which reduces heat.) If you practice good yard hygiene there will be little to burn. If you maintain a 3ft buffer of bare soil, gravel, or pavement that is free of weeds around it, your wood chip pile and woodshed are safe from anything except blowing embers. And really, how expensive is it to replace a pile of wood chips? Certainly less expensive than pretty much any medical bill, I would think. A layer of gravel in the 3ft immediately adjacent to the house and other structures would also be good practice.

This brings up another good point, however. You may not be able to get out. Perhaps the fire is blocking the only road out of your neighborhood, or even your driveway. For such an eventuality you also need at least one (more is better) "safety zone," which is an area where a human being can survive the passage of a fire without the aid of protective devices or clothing. Ideally this would be somewhere free of fuel but that seldom ever happens, so somewhere open with short grass or other stuff that burns mildly and doesn't give off much residual heat afterwards will work. Meadows and flood plains work very well. Rock screes and avalanche chutes can also be possibilities. The exact size these zones need to be is highly variable, based on the local fuels and weather. The textbook answer is that, at minimum, if you're standing in the middle of the safety zone the distance between you and the edge of the safety zone should be 4x the expected flame height. That's for flat ground. If you're on a slope you need even more distance on the downhill side to protect against convective heat. Obviously, to know the expected flame height you have to have a pretty good understanding of fire behavior. Your best bet would be to contact your local fire authorities and find out what they would recommend. This area doesn't necessarily need to be on your property, but you have to be able to get to it quickly. On foot. Having a backup safety zone is also good, because nothing guarantees the route to your primary safety zone won't be blocked, either. (Particularly if it's down the road on a neighbor's land)

Either way, my advice still stands: If you can't put it out within the first 2-3 minutes with a shovel and a garden hose GO SOMEWHERE ELSE. To a safety zone, out of the neighborhood, wherever. It's just stuff. People might be worth dying for, but no stuff will ever be. And if there are little people in the house worth dying for, drop the hose and take them to the safety zone - because they won't be smart enough to go there themselves when you get burned over.
 
Erica Wisner
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Will - just revisiting this thread, and wanted to say Thank You for adding and cross-linking to it.

Good points about some of the stuff I pegged as "green" or "brown" being white-belt stuff.
A bit hard on the ego to realize how far I still have to go; even with FF2 training, I'm still working on a few things in the "white belt" category.

As legally the same person as Ernie, maybe I can claim some of his experience at second-hand ... Ernie put in about 12 years as a seasonal wild-land firefighter, and also trained on special materials and space-to-space firefighting during his maritime work.

I figure it's worth posting this stuff for discussion anyway, even if I'm guaranteed to get some of it wrong. I may notice things worth pointing out to lay-people, that a more experienced person would take for granted.
In a few years, a lot of stuff I don't know yet will begin to seem like a "no-brainer."
For example if you own a chainsaw, you should know where to look for the current industrial precautions level. It's criminal foolishness to set the woods on fire, or even your own hay field on fire, by operating equipment in unsafe fire weather.
(I currently have to call someone else in the department when I update the sign outside the fire hall, because I don't know where to look it up, myself. There's got to be an app for that.)

I would also second Will's point about joining a local VFD (volunteer fire district).
This might be green-belt or brown-belt level, rather than black, now that I think about it.
In rural areas, there is not really "somebody else" whose job it is to protect you and your neighbors. In sparsely populated areas, it takes a much higher percentage of the population to be trained up and provide effective fire protection.
If you're able-bodied, you are eligible. Half our department are folks over 50, who are retired or semi-retired, and have time to volunteer. There is almost always free training available, so you get up-to-date first aid, CPR, and other useful training (like how to mark a landing zone for a MedEvac helicopter, in one memorable case).

I said 36 hours of training like it was impressive (hubris) - you can do it at home with a study course on CD, or probably online, if you don't have time for a local weekend course.

The fire department is the community's first line of defence in other ways too - we get called out for physical assistance, car wrecks, or any time when the local ambulance might need someone there in less than 40 minutes, or a local guide to find a backwoods incident. The thing is, we are able to help in these ways because we are trained, background-checked, and have our cell phone numbers and radios on the appropriate channels. We can be reached by other emergency responders when needed.

I agree it is scary when untrained people want to stick around during fire-fighting efforts; especially as a novice fire fighter, I don't have the expertise to judge whether my neighbor is actually a trained ex-firefighter, or how out of date his military training might be, or if he's just feeding me a line of bull so I will stop bothering him. The range of capacity, or incapacity, or just plain wooly-headed ideas about what might be helpful, is amazing. I've seen very good assistance from farmers who had prior fire fighting training, or invaluable local info about the location and best access to a recent lightning strike. But I've also heard an anecdote about one resident who told the fire department, "I'm sorry that our access road is so overgrown with weeds, I know it's a fire hazard, but we haven't been able to get to it. However, if you hear there is a fire in the area, give me a call, and I will have my boy come mow it right away."
(If this does not strike you as either funny or outrageous, please do not move into my neighborhood.)

If you are able bodied, and you live in a fire-prone climate, and you are expecting someone else to get the training and handle the fire fighting for you, then you had darn well better leave it to them when the SHTF.

If you are too busy to attend a couple of trainings a month to learn fire fighting, consider supporting the local district in other ways.
A lot of volunteer departments can use help with non-fire-fighting tasks, like paperwork, secretarial, changing the oil on the trucks, winterizing the plumbing and pumps in ice-prone districts.
And of course, it's easier to bridge the gaps with more money.

Folks who retire to the country may expect the same structural fire fighting and rescue services that were provided when they lived in cities or suburbs. Our little rural district's tax budget just about keeps the lights on and the insurance paid up. Or, if we closed down the station, the same dollar amount would just about cover training and equipment for 2 people to become structural fire-fighters. Legally, we would need to have at least 3 people trained and equipped, to become officially capable of going into the building for structural fire fighting or fire rescue. So we are currently wild-lands certified, and if we want to upgrade, it means leveraging existing equipment and resources to earn enough money to pay for additional equipement and training. (We can be paid by other agencies if we respond to requests outside our district, at our chief's discretion to maintain enough coverage for the district.)

The nearest structural-trained district to our homes is in town, about 40 minutes away (5 minutes to station response, 35 minutes to drive up here). I'm told modern homes, with their plastic and paper detailing, can become un-survivable in under 3 minutes.

So really, get out and stay out.
Smoke inhalation will make you drowsy and stupid, and kill you in your sleep if you let it.
During a fire is not the time to be figuring out how to respond - you will be less capable at that time than at any other time in your waking life.
Have a plan, a pre-arranged meeting point, and practice it, etc.

I will leave off the extra confessions about my own shortcomings.
And I will rant only briefly about people who surround themselves in flammable plastic, expired ammunition, ill-maintained and jury-rigged equipment powered by volatile chemicals and nightmarish electrical tangles, and Constitutional Rights signs forbidding government agents to enter their domain - and then expect the tax-supported local volunteers to save their property (while charitably warning us to stay within 50 feet from the house on account of the booby traps).

True freedom comes with freedom to take the consequences.


To paraphrase Will:
If you do not have the training and commitment to be a well-prepared helper on the response team, then your most responsible action is:
- prepare your property to the best of your ability, with good design, irrigation and water stores, and regular maintenance (don't wait until fire season);
- if a fire occurs anyway, get out and stay out, and call 911 from your designated safe area
- in fire-prone areas, find out how your local community handles prevention and emergency response; receive and heed evacuation warnings.

It's not that different from living in an earthquake or tsunami zone. You either put Velcro under your pots ahead of time, or they hit you on the head.

So effective fire mitigation strategies, for the permaculture homestead, might come in three separate flavors:
- Physical preparations: Building, landscape, and biological management strategies to create cleared, irrigated, and non-combustible areas. A healthy, thriving, and effective fire-protection zone around critical resources. Reliable water.
- Personal emergency planning: Safe zones, evacuation routes, training/practice, and redundant communications (able to receive and send emergency calls/radio/in-person check-ins even if some or all lines are down)
- Community planning and coordination: Get involved in the planning and support for controversial or resource-intensive methods like prescribed burns, fuels reduction in public forests, emergency communications and management, infrastructure development (safe roads with good access for emergency vehicles, good power and phone lines, safe zones on main roads that are not directly underneath power and phone lines), and volunteering as appropriate for additional training.

It's easy to see how to do physical landscaping "permaculture style." It's harder to swallow that personal emergency planning, and community participation, are part of the permaculture obligations.

To respond to Michael Cox's comment about fire trucks being "not really a permaculture approach":
If you are planning to use any combustion-powered equipment to prepare your permaculture landscape, such as excavators, or an ordinary car or truck, then there is no conflict in supporting fire trucks at least at the community level. They're a bit expensive for the average homesteader ($80K to $250K for big new ones). But it seems like a good idea to have at least a small tank and pump that you can run even if the grid power fails. If you have gravity-fed irrigation, or irrigated swales and contours that defend your home, you may not need the fire truck, but it's not a bad tool for the initial property development phase if you don't have on-site water resources already worked out.

In a few decades, if we power down according to most estimates on the Peak Oil model, running fire trucks may be too resource-expensive to continue at present levels.
What might we have instead? Towns may have gravity-fed tanks, perhaps with wind or animal-powered pumps. Rural areas might cluster into villages which are either non-combustible architecture, or downhill of a gravity-fed irrigation reservoir. That may work until the reservoirs silt up.
I would hope that ambulances and fire trucks, at the community level, would be some of the last vehicles to receive the available gas and diesel.
Long before that time, I would expect the incidents of roadside fires to greatly diminish, as we will see fewer combustion-powered vehicles among all our citizens. There will still be lighting, decrepit equipment, and human folly to cause fires.

I would imagine that in that scenario, many of our urban/wildland interface communities would have to dramatically change, perhaps into villages clustered around bus or trade routes, where you can live without a personal car or truck.
Many of my neighbors don't seem to expect to live that long, or may expect to move into town/assisted living due to physical limitations long before gas prices become a factor.
A few of them already hitch into town when their rigs are not working, or they can't get plowed out.

The amount of infrastructure transformation that would be needed, at the community level, to make our Western lands into viable post-petroleum communities is staggering.
It's not hard to see why it's emotionally difficult for many people to imagine that much change in their lives. Even accepting the premise, it's hard to imagine what that will look like.
It might look like a return to river and coastal population centers for transport and water access - a viable option, despite the hardships of rising seas and unstable coastlines.
It might look like a spooky shadow economy in which vast amounts of money and coercion compel resources to move uphill, to desert cities and wealthy communities that live outside the "livable" zone.
It might look like something out of sci-fi, where strange new practices and resources become the arbiters of survival.
It might look like a patchwork, in which some communities hunker down and try to work out their own game, while others raid and bargain for continued commercial infusions.
But we can definitely expect extensive changes.

It will be interesting to see what they turn out to be.
 
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Video of all the permaculture design course and appropriate technology course (about 177 hours)
https://permies.com/wiki/65386/paul-wheaton/digital-market/Video-PDC-ATC-hours-HD
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