I'm used to having plants around the buildings, but since moving West, because of fire danger this is discouraged. There must be a happy medium, and I believe this would help more people embrace permaculture.
I'd check in with your local wildland fire department (around here it's CALFIRE, I'm not sure what WA's branch is) and the forest service. Around here (high fire risk) we have all kinds of free workshops to learn about fire resistant landscaping. The USFS has a decent starter with some ideas for firesafe landscaping. If you want plants, keeping them irrigated is a good way to have a fire safe landscape. Moisture rich plants are significantly less likely to catch on fire than 2ft high dry grasses.
The key to all fire resistant landscapes is to create fire breaks and destroy fire ladders. It's a bit more of an art than a strict rule book, which is why when asked for strict rules, fire departments tell people to use gravel/hardscape. Which isn't always a bad thing!
Lots of people here use a combo of hardscapes and succulents like ice plant, especially on hard to reach slopes. I haven't tested it myself, but I have heard that mulch doesn't readily burn compared to say dried out grass. Between a non flammable roofing material and wall surfaces, a less flammable ground covering, plants/shrubs/trees that are well hydrated thanks to water retention in the landscape, and minimizing anything flammable right next to the house where it could burn up into the fascia boards and rafters should help. If you have taller trees with canopy close enough together, you want to ensure there's no ladder fuel at the tree bases that could burn up the tree to the canopy.
I'm not quite a lumberjack, but that's OK, I sleep all night and I dream all day; I'll coppice trees, I'll grow my food, and compost poo and pee! With a well and off-grid solar, it's a permies life for me! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FshU58nI0Ts
At my place in the desert with no irrigation, and only hauled water, my strategy is based on the belief that fire will burn through the place again. The best I can hope for is that it doesn't ignite the buildings on the way through. So I don't allow flammable things to accumulate on top of or next to the buildings. There are no trees near enough to drop leaves onto the roof. A fire on the roof is a bad deal, even on metal roofs. There are no tumbleweed accumulators around the buildings. Buildings are metal roofed, and metal sided. Trees are kept far enough away that when they ignite, hopefully they won't catch the inside curtains on fire. If it wasn't so dangerous, I'd love to burn the place once a year.
Bare dirt works really well for me, for 5-10 feet from the building.
Between 10 to 35 feet, I only allow grasses and very low shrubs.
I focus on removing ladder fuels up to about 100 feet from buildings, and thin trees, so that one canopy on fire is less likely to set fire to the next one over.
And finally remove ladder fuels throughout the more distant landscape.
Watching the news is irritating to me, cause they will show a house that burned up, because it had a dry juniper tree touching the house. AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAaaaaaaargh!
Speaking as an ex smoke jumper, Crown fires whipped by winds above 5 miles an hour can easily start fires as much as 300 yards away from where the embers originated, add higher wind velocities and for every 5 mph of wind speed you can multiply that 300 yard distance by 3.
My crew and I were trapped one time by a 15 mph wind whipped fire, some of the pines were so hot they exploded, we ended up getting a load of retardant dumped on us so we could make it to the only safe way out, a lake at the bottom of a 100ft. cliff, we all made it.
One of the best investments to save a house is a water spray system all around the property line and a second one around the house, these will keep enough wet that embers will get knocked down.
Not much will stop a fire that can get close enough that the heat (sometimes as high as 1800 degrees f) dries out and ignites your fuel source (house), but keeping the structures wet will help protect a home.
On my own farm I have a break line (50 ft.) right at my property line and I wish my two neighbors would put in a break line, but they want the trees.
Sadly that means I'm going to have to put in some water sprays (piped Heavy misters that shoot the water up into the air to knock down embers).
I may even add some rain birds aimed at the neighboring property when I get around to laying the pipes.
I remember a neighbour putting his trees and plants on a huge bonfire, to my horror as someone who is appalled by the lack of green in my area. The next morning, I raked the fire and rescued several yucca trees and aloe veras and agaves that just looked a bit charred. Almost all the yuccas grew again when I replanted them and around half the aloes and agaves. I suspect you could have a forest of yucca in the driest and hottest desert, and they wouldn't burn.
Here's a photo of yucca after a grass fire in January when it was cool. And of the field about a month later. Many of the yucca survived. They have storage tubers which I bet helps wildfire survival, but they also accumulate a lot of duff under them which I'd guess contributes to hotter fires than grass.
I remember my Mother talking about how when she was a little girl in South Georgia, they would rake up the leaves (with a brush broom made from some plant they gathered,) around the house to a distance out at least 40 or 50 feet around. This was to prevent wildfires from burning down the log cabin they lived in. Sandy soil so the yards actually looked nice and neat. Nothing grew in that area except a few tall oak trees, but nothing underneath to catch fire. Most houses back then had an outside kitchen in a separate building, again, to prevent fires burning down the main house. Sometimes the kitchens burned when embers fell out of the cooking stove. How times have changed!
A few years back we had wildfires here in the Western North Carolina Mountains and my farm was trapped between two large fires. I could not get out of the smoke because no matter which way the wind (prevailing westerlies) blew, it covered the farm here. A friend called and said she might have to evacuate and wanted to bring her cows here as shelter, until she found out it was worse here than at her place. I worried about the fire getting my house, but somehow they controlled it before it got that far. I made it through with wet hankerchiefs tied over my face and staying indoors as much as possible, with the air filters running, but it was an anxious time. My goats/cow were outside in it and nothing I could do for them. Now, this year, we've had incessant rains for nearly eight months and lost most of our crops due to excessive water. But I'd rather have rain than fire. Wish we could send some of that to you folks out west who desperately need it!
With appropriate microbes, minerals and organic matter, there is no need for pesticides or herbicides.
I just attended most of a local meeting about the fire danger and "what we can do about it". The pamphlets mostly had the typical North American mindset - "control nature", "defeat nature" rather than what can we do to reverse what's happening. We've got too many monoculture evergreen forests in BC (British Columbia, Canada). The fire experts were all for removing shrubs/trees near buildings, but were less adamant about planting fire resistant ground covers and deciduous trees that can actually be part of the solution because they cool and humidify the air. No one mentioned diverter valves on shower drains so that all that water could spend late spring, summer and fall keeping the shrubs that shade the house well-hydrated. No one was mentioning curb cut-outs with fire resistant plantings so that what little rain falls here in summer doesn't just run off into the sewers. At least one of the "fire resistant plant" documents I read, did have a small asterisked note at the bottom which noted how much more water it takes to keep grass green rather than ground covers/shrubs healthy, and yet all the pictures showed houses surrounded by lawns.
Sooo.... Think Permaculture!!
1. Hold water on your land and recycle water onto plants. In really high risk zones, the sprinklers Joseph mentions make a huge amount of sense.
2. Plant fire-resistant plants and think of both them and hugel beds in terms of redirecting wind and the fire it brings. Covering wood with dirt decreases its fire risk, so even putting dead branches in a hole and covering it with dirt takes it from "problem" to "solution" because as it rots, it acts like a sponge underground to hold that water.
3. "Think Like a Beaver" - swales to hold moisture that can be watered down like a moat if it looks as if fire might be coming your way.
4. Simplify your roof line - simple roofs with no "valleys" or "dormers" as they can trap both embers and tree duff (it's cheaper to build also!)
5. Try to work with you community to get nearby people on board as much as possible.
6. Try to get people to think of their local environment as being part of them. Bring back the concept of "local custom" rather than our countries building cookie-cutter communities that look the same in Mississauga and Fort McMurray. That could start with simple things like starting extra edible, fire-resistant seedlings and gifting them to neighbors as a way to start the discussion.
And yes, Faye, *Please* send some of your rain to BC - we really need it!!
Bill Mollison points out that you find snails and slugs residing and not eating on fire resistant plants (comfrey, canna lillies etc). They can't move away from fire very well so they don't eat the plants that can help protect them from it. Being a snail sanctuary is a good indicator of plant species that hold moisture and resist fire.
This is all just my opinion based on a flawed memory
Faye Corbett wrote:I made it through with wet hankerchiefs tied over my face and staying indoors as much as possible, with the air filters running, but it was an anxious time. My goats/cow were outside in it and nothing I could do for them.
Next time, you might consider bringing them inside with you.
I'm following this thread intently, as we are planning to buy in fire country. From my discussions around the internet, the biggest issue I see is the belief that there's nothing you can do. And while in one sense this might be true. A property with a massive wildfire burning directly on it will not remain unscathed. There are things that one can do to minimize damage and maximize recovery. And I'm interested in all of that. As I am looking at properties, I've seen some that have done a lot, like debris clearing, on-property hydrants, and others that have done nothing. I definitely plan on having appropriate masks on hand. I'm planning on building my home with fire-resistant design principles in mind, but my daughter and grandson will be living in a more conventional home, and I'm interested in ways that we can minimize their risks.
Our current favorite property has a pool, a creek and a helipad, not sure how much each of those will help, but it's interesting to hear others opinions.
Living a life that requires no vacation.
Location: Cache Valley, zone 4b, Irrigated, 9" rain in badlands.
A steel fence will remain intact during a wildfire, to the extend that things like trees don't fall on it. A vinyl fence will feed the inferno. It's little stuff like that, which make a world of difference.
All my fences have steel pipe as strainers, because they do not burn.
In Australia there are products you can simply sit over the roof ridge that hold a sprinkler. they are called Ember Defender.
Sprinkler systems around the house made from copper pipe and brass jets that spray water on every surface of they walls are used as well.
Ember attack can last for some hours here, so if you set up a pump, 20,000L tank and a firehouse, you should be able to save a property.
The pump needs to be in a small shed, with roof sprinkler so the pump and fuel stay cool. A Diesel pump would be better.
Also, the type of clothing you wear is important, no bare skin, glasses do you eyes don't dry out, no nylon clothes, wool is best in Australia.
I hope this helps
John Daley Bendigo, Australia
The Enemy of progress is the hope of a perfect plan