The Nature of Wildfires
In response to the increase of these devastating fires, Mountains Restoration Trust developed the Flora and Fire outreach program to provide education and resources on what can be done to reduce the risk of property and life loss in a wildfire while also helping to sustain the native ecosystem.
Wildfires are a natural occurrence on southern California’s chaparral, a special plant community that is shaped by a Mediterranean-type climate (summer drought, winter rain). Despite popular belief, chaparral does not burn often to regenerate itself. Its natural fire cycle has been on the order of about 30 to 150 years, therefore, the land along with its inhabitants are now being threatened by too many wildfires.
The increase of devastating wildfires mostly occur in the wildland urban interface (WUI)—the land and communities adjacent to and surrounded by wildlands at risk of wildfires—because of population growth into these areas. With the state increasingly subjected to prolonged droughts and more people living in high-risk areas, the wildfires are burning hotter, faster, and more frequently. Embers from ignited homes and yards can travel for miles!
The Santa Monica Mountains are a high-risk fire region and recent wildfires have destroyed property.* As with earthquakes and floods, wildfires can’t be prevented but you can take steps to reduce the damage when they arrive.
*In the last five years, fires resulting in evacuations and destroyed property in the Santa Monica Mountains were the May 2013 Springs Fire in Camarillo, the June 2016 Old Fire; and the December 2017 Skirball Fire.
You can reduce the risk of wildfires by adapting a lifestyle more compatible with our special Mediterranean climate. Better cohabitation practices are essential in wildland urban interfaces to protect lives and property. One of the easiest, most affordable ways to protect your home and prevent the rapid spread of wildfires is with fire-inhibiting native plants.
- California native plants have adapted to the fire regime of this climate.
- Certain CA native plants are able to hold hot embers for a longer length of time, preventing fires from spreading quickly.
- Dry, exotic grasses create fast-traveling fuel for fire.
There are other benefits to planting native. They are adapted to dry conditions and require less water after establishment. A California native plant garden will also require less maintenance than a traditional lawn garden, and don’t require pesticides or fertilizers either, keeping the garden healthy and safe for your family to enjoy.
Ready to garden with a native thumb? Click here for a list of native plants! If you live on a hillside or need assistance in plant selection, soils, etc., a professional landscaper can help you with a fire defensive layout design suited to your location—check out our list of references for more help!
Embrace Natives, not Embers! Fire Defensive Landscaping
Your yard can become your best defense in a wildfire! In the past, it was conventionally believed clearing away as much vegetation as possible from homes was the best way to protect it. But, recent wildfire show that removing all vegetation from around a home, too far out of a defensible zone, can create open space that will use your structure as the first strike zone. Following the defensible space landscaping guideline can maximize a home’s chance for survival.
- Select native plants and trees that help absorb embers and prevent flames from reaching your home.
- Maintain garden plants and clean up excessive debris.
- Get advice from an expert in fire-safe practices (like the fire department or a fire ecologist) to help customize the spacing in your yard for your specific location. Check out our references for more help!
- To learn more about how to space plantings for fire-safe design, check out this factsheet from UC Berkeley click here and info-graphic from CALFIRE.
Community is Key
The most devastating fires are often caused by humans. And, when a fire occurs, it just takes one home igniting to threaten an entire neighborhood. In high-risk fire areas, communities working together to reduce fuel load is an important preventative measure.
- The most effective way to protect communities is to create a proactive fire safety council. Several have been organized through mountain communities. The list is provided here. If you would like more information on forming a council, visit The ForEverGreen Forestry Santa Monica Mountains Community Wildlife Protection Plan and the California Fire Safe Council.
- Identify flammable materials surrounding homes and encourage removal.
- Create easy access for firefighters around perimeters of all homes.
- Encourage your neighbors to perform general home maintenance that not only saves their homes but also helps protect your entire community from the threat of wildfire destruction.
- Set an example! Once you create your own native landscaped yard, help educate neighbors on fire safe landscaping and home maintenance. You can make a difference!