Does Your Area Have a History of Wildfires?
By area, we mean the neighborhood or locale of your home. Southern California is prone to wildfires, but that doesn't mean all cities and areas within that portion of the state are considered high-risk areas. If you live in a Beverly Hills condo and a wildfire is raging 40 miles away in hilly terrain near undeveloped land, your neighborhood is not at risk from that wildfire.
With any confusion regarding "area" cleared up, let's address your area's wildfire history. Have any wildfires occurred nearby? Regardless of how they were started (arson or accidentally), do you know how the fires were spread and under what conditions? Was the weather hot and was it windy?
Do You Live in a Region with Hills, or is it Flat?
Wildfires can occur in any undeveloped area with native vegetation. Fire travels uphill and spreads more rapidly than if it is on flatter land.
Is Your Property Near Any Undeveloped Land?Wildfires start in undeveloped, "wildlands" with native vegetation. But wildfires can quickly spread to developed properties, or neighborhoods. This is what is referred to as the Wildland Urban Interface (WUI).
Are There Any Native Plants in Your Landscape?
If you don't know what plants are native or indigenous to your area, check with a local nursery or the horticulture / landscaping department of a nearby university. Look at the vegetation growing on undeveloped land near your house. The plants growing there are most likely native plants.
Some natives are good to grow in a fire-prone area, and some are not. Again, check with your local nursery or university extension.
Are There Any Tall Trees or Shrubs Growing Near Your House?Trees or shrubs that touch, overhang or are within a few feet of your roof can quickly ignite a house or roof on fire. Wildfires also can rapidly spread up through the branches of taller trees and shrubs farther away on your property.
Do You Store Wood Near Your House?
Walk around your property looking for sources of wood. This can range from obvious piles of firewood to an out-of-sight, out-of-mind wooden patio chair stored in your side yard.
Wood isn't the only pile to worry about. Is there a junk pile, storage area, hay stack anywhere near your structure? Experts recommend positioning these flammable "piles" at least 30 feet from your house or garage. For many property owners, there is no such thing as 30- or 20-foot buffer between wood piles and the house. That may mean you have to make a choice -- no more wood or junk or hay.
Are There Any Fuel Tanks on Your Property?Home oil tanks are used for heating and can be found outdoors buried or above-ground, or sometmes indoors.
Are Your Trees and Shrubs Dry or Dying?The dryer a plant's wood and foilage, the more likely it is to ignite and spread. If your trees, shrubs or other plants are dry, it's time to start watering them regularly. If anything is dying or dead, remove it. Leaving it in the ground presents more harm than good.
What is Your House's Roof Material?
Tile? Good. Shake or shingles? Not so good. If it's not feasible to replace your shake roof with tile, make sure there is extra clearance between trees and brush and your roof or eaves. Check with your local city planning office or fire department for guidelines.