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Forest Fire Mitigation Strategies (Mediterranean Climate)?  RSS feed

 
pollinator
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As another epic wildfire season in California draws to a close, I realize I need a much better way to protect my house.  
I have 20 (mostly) steep, South-facing acres in Mediterranean climate with a mix of chaparral and live oaks in Northern California.
Before I get into specifics, I thought it would be good to ask what are some good general strategy advice and plan from there.

I wanted to share some info I have found so far:

Bill Mollison's Permaculture for Fire Control
The idea of using trees as a heat radiation barrier seemed interesting, but I'm skeptical that this could work.  Does anyone have examples of this working.
- I assume any tree that could help stop would require summer irrigation to be wet enough.  Maybe the irrigation system doubles as a fire suppression sprinkler?  Maybe the irrigated orchard is located as a fire break?
- Any suggestions on fire retardant trees?
- I have heard prickly pear may be a good choice?
- The other ideas on house sprinklers seemed useful.

Cal Fire Defensible Space
Trying to use these guidelines for defensible space and planting trees in silvio pasture way to create fire breaks between the rows.

Goats
- I've heard goats used for brush control make poor milking goats and well bred milking goats are expensive?  
- Is it possible/recommended to have a larger group of random goats from a livestock auction for eating brush and a few special dairy goat managed separately?  They would need to be kept seperate since the auction goats probably have CAE and wouldn't get access to the better feed.  This seems like it would double my work?
- How about mixing sheep (or chickens) with the goats to keep brush down?
- Best way to protect mature tee trunks from goats? will wire mesh work?

What are the best ways to employ these strategies?  
What other strategies are people employing to manage wildfires?
Thank you.

Edit: I should add - I've had 4 goats before and when they weren't making a mockery of my fence, they were standing on my car or breaking into the chicken coop to steal chicken feed.  I was unimpressed with the land clearing, but they might have been spoiled goats in too big a paddock - normally they just wait until I came home to lure them back to their hutch with fresh hay.  I have a catch-22 that I need the goats to clear the land to put in fences, but I need fences to put in the goats to clear the land??? Cows maybe?

Regards,
Patrick
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Posts: 113
Location: San Diego, California
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Here's a thread that may be of help (different source topic, but we drift into forest fire mitigation):

advice-regenerating-pine-eucalyptus-plantation

brush-fed goats "make poor milking goats" because certain brush can make the milk taste weird, and the brambles can cut and tear their udders - it doesn't affect the health or the quality of the goat itself, in general (certain wild plants can cause miscarriage though).

i think mixing goats and sheep to clear non-native grasses and thick brush sounds about right; good luck to you sir!
 
Posts: 54
Location: Winters, California
dog greening the desert tiny house
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I'm also in NorCal so I will be watching this thread. At the moment the only thing I can contribute is a thought on this:

I was unimpressed with the land clearing, but they might have been spoiled goats in too big a paddock


The East Bay Parks district and other management agencies around the east bay frequently use goats to clear brush. I'm also seeing this method used to clear fields up by Fairfield/Vacaville (where I currently live). The way they do it is to put in electric fencing and then a LOT of goats - enough that they can't be picky about what they're eating, but will nibble everything down to the ground. (There's usually also a live stock guarding dog in with them.) They move the fencing once the current area is mowed down. This is also mostly done in open fields, so few trees for the goats to destroy.
 
Posts: 90
Location: Oakland, CA
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I have been thinking about a lot of these concepts as well.  I have been reading Tending the Wild by Kat Anderson, and what I will reference is that the book provides a lot of evidence of the management of land by indigenous/native Californians creating an environment with open views, such that early western accounts of California describe it as being very "Park-like".  I have had goats and they help with clearing but they do not remove brush and you need to clear areas for fencing, even electric fencing.  I am hoping to get approval through the city of Oakland, adopt a spot, to do some removal of scotch broom and clearing of brush into hugel like mounds in a nearby park that had burnt 3 times in the mid 1900s.  Thornless noples (prickly pear) and some agaves are all I think will stick before the buried wood mounds are ready to plant.  Live oaks and chaparral plants are tolerant of some fire or fire adapted.  The book talks about the native Californian managed fires as being slow moving and close to the ground with isolated more intense fire, which served a very positive purpose.  Imagining keeping a landscape in a way where a fire would behave this way is a more positive vision to work toward which I think is helpful
 
Patrick Freeburger
pollinator
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I did read that goats are best at eating new foliage and dislike the older, tougher stuff.  So my 20-50 years of material will need some work to get through.

I found a few old threads I didn't see before that have some good info:
https://permies.com/t/24169/Wildfires-permaculture#275212
https://permies.com/t/8869/Fire-undergrowth-places-dry-season

Patrick
 
pollinator
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Location: SF Bay Area
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We had an interesting discussion with some friends from eastern Washington. They do not want to stay up there for fire and other reasons. But whereas here in California we hear about defensible space, their term is the green zone. So irrigation is used to keep areas around your house green, and it's been working sometimes.

Most of the properties that we have been looking at in southern Oregon have had at least some fuel reduction done, though I'm not sure what that means from a legal standpoint. I suspect it's according to some local program.

In the bay area, goats are available for rent for brush clearing, not just the Regional Parks. Many homes in the hills use them. I suspect how thorough they are depends on how bad it's gotten, most people do it yearly so the brush doesn't get too high or out of control.
 
Posts: 227
Location: Australia, New South Wales. Köppen: Cfa (Humid Subtropical), USDA: 10/11
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Fire is a constant threat here whether it’s summer, autumn, winter spring. The State Authorities typically have excellent suggestions for property owners to enact fire management plans – our fire services are HIGHLY respected in the community.

Suggest visiting this site for non-Permie ‘Fact Sheet’ suggestions:

Rural Fire Service Fact Sheets

The ‘Guide to FarmWise’ is highly recommended.


In regards to ‘The Permie Way’, most food tree species will perish or be substantially damaged in a bush fire. A Food Forest in a high fire risk zone would need very careful planning to ensure it doesn’t become another fuel source for a fire which would then threaten lives and property.

In these areas, a Food Forest could sit by itself like an island surrounded by a clear zone of grasses that are regularly machine cut or grazed by animals – that will reduce the grass fire potential.

The clear zone would also provide back-burning opportunities and access for fire fighting needs – gates and fences designed accordingly.

However, embers are the major issue in all fires and they usually drop miles in advance of a fire front. Since most permaculture/Food Forest gardens are made up of evergreen and deciduous sappy perennials, low herbs, ground covers and the like; and, probably have a regular water supply, they’re less likely to ignite (more likely to wither) if they are only exposed for a short period of time. Not many edible plants have combustible, resinous sap or oil like pines and eucalypts.

With a forest fire, it burns and moves with intensity – a clear zone acts like a fire break. Similarly, clearing undergrowth loading (leaves, fallen timber, vines, etc) and perhaps thinning the forest itself, will lower the intensity.

Embers are also the major cause of houses being lost. In a high risk zone in Australia new houses need to be compliant with certain design Standards e.g. metal shutters on windows and doors, metal flyscreens, non-combustible curtains, enclosed roofline, no combustible exterior structures (timber pergola’s, decking, awnings), have enclosed rooflines, metal sheet roofing, etc. Any plants near the fire exposed sides of a house need to be either fire tolerant or sacrificial.

Sometimes properties owners are encouraged to provide an on-site water supply (dam, swimming pool) so fire fighters can use it - mains water may not exist or be insufficient/not functional when needed.



 
pollinator
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Location: Redwood Country, Zone 9, 60" rain/yr,
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Manzanita are the native firebreak trees of the west. That’s why I understand it to be a 30,000$ fine for cutting them. Feel their bark and it’s cold on 100F days. They do not require irrigation. In fact any fire resistant tree would require less or no irrigation, though a dam/pond and swale that you could flood a hillside would be a key fire strategy.
 
Posts: 34
Location: Central Coast, CA
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Great post, this is definitely a highly applicable topic for us California folks at the moment (and many other folks around the world).

We just published two out of three blog posts on our website (third coming shortly) that are specifically about proper design in a fire ecology.  Centuries of poor planning and design, of trying to eliminate fire rather than coexist with it's natural cycle in these areas, has caught up to us.  We are hoping these blogs posts are a good resource for home/land owners in any fire ecology. The first two are linked below, I'll update this thread with the third when we publish shortly.  Looking forward to hearing what you all think!

Living With Fire Part 1 - Personal Responsibility, Basic Fire Science, and Site Selection

Living With Fire Part 2 - Regenerative Firescaping: Protect Your Home with Good Design
 
Stacy Witscher
pollinator
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Wes - lots of good information in the blog posts. Thank you. One of the issues that I seem to have is that designing a homestead for fire resilience vs. one for comfort. While I can see the value of limiting eaves and trees close to the home, these things make temperature control of the home much easier. I think that I'm going to try to balance these issues, as much as I can. I see no value in a home that survives a fire, but is miserable to live in.
 
Posts: 149
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We live in one of the most extreme wildfire danger areas in the US. Outside our front door is 10,000+ acres of open land so we built a highly fire resistant house that we can defend ourselves.



No attic, no attic vents, no wood  eaves, no wood fascia, no wood trim, no wood siding, no wood framed windows, no wood steps, no wood decks, no wood fences, and a double noncombustable roof of tile with silicone underneath. Embers are the biggest danger. Our house can be covered with them and not catch fire.

The Woolsey Fire was the latest. It burned 150 square miles and even though evacuation was mandatory we stayed so we could take care of our house if the fire burned through. We have masks goggles and helmets and a basement where we can hole up while the flame front passes through. Then after it passes we can put out the spot fires.

It was a "pioneer adventure" living without electricity for two days and without phone or internet for a week. We got a chance to use our survival contingencies to find out how well they work in a real life situation. Wood stove, kerosene lamps, hand water pump, hand crank AM radio to keep up on the latest fire information. I went to the local market and got bags of ice before their freezers melted and we turned our refrigerator into an old fashioned ice box. It worked great and none of the food spoiled.
 
Posts: 11
Location: Santa Cruz, CA
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Stacy Witscher wrote:While I can see the value of limiting eaves and trees close to the home, these things make temperature control of the home much easier. I think that I'm going to try to balance these issues, as much as I can. I see no value in a home that survives a fire, but is miserable to live in.



Hi Stacy,

I agree that trees next to the home are critical from a livability perspective. One things we've done with an umbrella shaped Engelmann Oak on the East side of my folk's place (growing literally 8' from the back door) is to do substantial trimming/limbing/cleaning of the entire sub-canopy zone, all the way up to the apex canopy. This has left the tree's shape intact (and thus it's shade providing and climate moderating benefits) while reducing the ability of any fire to climb into the crown, which does overhang the house. It's also really beautiful to be underneath it and see all of its structure without the clutter of dead branches. We've trimmed low branches that were close to contacting the roof, but haven't limited the tree's shade profile at all.

One thing I'd like to add should my folks be amenable to it is installing a WEEDS fire sprinkler system, as part of which we could actually plumb a small 1/4" line or two up the trunk(s) of this oak and actually have a subcanopy mister (or several) capable of wetting the tree from the inside out, which in addition to it's already present ember trap effect, would increase the fire resistance of the tree and house, I believe even more so than if the tree weren't there at all. The trunks would be moist, the canopy dripping onto the roof and surrounding ground near the house, and would require that much more heat energy to ignite.

Just a thought on how we can turn trees that are critical to a home's livability and beauty into fire risk-mitigation assets instead of liabilities.
 
Greg Mamishian
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The Camp Fire in Northern California burned so fast on the ground it passed by trees without burning them. It consumed one football field every second. It wasn't the fire itself that burned the houses. It was embers blowing along the ground driven by 50 mile an hour winds.



 
Stacy Witscher
pollinator
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Casey - I'm thinking that a WEEDS system is going to be necessary for me, as I don't like direct sunlight, so eaves and/or trees are necessary. Only planning for one issue seems to be a recurrent theme in life. Looking at home placement issues, the positives for fire are often negatives for flood. And typically after wild fires, floods with all the ash are an issue.
 
gardener
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Location: Cache Valley, zone 4b, Irrigated, 9" rain in badlands.
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My strategy is that fire is going to burn through my place. Therefore, I want it to burn right on through quickly, and with low intensity. For me, that means no trees or brush close to the house.
 
Greg Mamishian
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Joseph Lofthouse wrote:My strategy is that fire is going to burn through my place. Therefore, I want it to burn right on through quickly, and with low intensity. For me, that means no trees or brush close to the house.



Yes, Joseph. Keeping the house clear is also our approach. One of our criteria for defensibility is to be able to walk completely around the perimeter of the house with one hand continuously touching the surface.

A fast moving wildfire can be a blessing as a cleared house is exposed to less radiated heat for a shorter period of time. The conclusion drawn from the Camp Fire in Northern California was that embers burned more houses than the actual fire itself. This fact makes ember resistance the highest priority, and is why we intentionally built a house completely lacking in the features (vents, attic, eaves, wood, etc) which are the most vulnerable to ember entry. The result made for a kind of strangely non traditional looking house, but for us, appearance is secondary to the utility of fire resistance.

In California wildfires were a totally natural 5 to 25 year cycle before humans ever inhabited it. If the state land management bureaucracy was smart they'd do controlled burns in order to preserve that natural cycle. But they're stupid. Their efforts to "protect and preserve a pristine environment" are like stretching a rubber band. There are unburned areas which have been storing up fuel for 85 years, so when that rubber band inevitably snaps...

...it's a disaster.
 
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Hi,

another animal which I saw working to clear brush was donkeys. They are easier to manage than goats, and clear stuff quite well. It is used in an area in mediterranean Europe to clear the brush and grasses around houses. The donkeys are kept in the area permanentely to eat down everything, and moved to pastures or fed from time to time.

About fire resistant or tolerant trees: they are usually slow growing trees. The cork oak is as well one of them. And besides that, the cork oak has huge acorns, with most really sweet like chestnuts...

 
Posts: 24
Location: Qld Australia
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Cactus like prickly pear is excellent, I have not tested other cacti but I assume most would be fire retardant. Prickly pear would be better at blocking embers than most other cacti I think. Carob is supposed to be good, but grows slow, which seems to be a common theme as mentioned above. Lemon grass is surprisingly hard to burn even when completely dead, although I'm not sure if it only specific types. You can find lists of fire retardant plants fairly easily by searching the net. I have a heap of links on an old computer that only works occasionally.

Completely eliminate eucalyptus (maybe pollard them if you use wood for fuel) and pines near anything you don't want burnt. Keep all leaves out of gutters and preferably make them accumulate in one spot eg. a swale or manually moved into compost or much in limited areas.

I have some more links and info that is more Australian focused, but there are many similarities to Cali. I have no idea what native species are better over there, but there are a few good Aussie species, not sure if you can or want to import that sort of stuff though.
 
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