If there’s a lesson to be learned from those horrible fires that continue to plague the area of Sonoma and Napa counties out in California, it’s that land management needs to be taken more seriously.

I took the camera out on our property Wednesday and shot a few pictures to illustrate a couple of points from the perspective of a “fireman’s son” who has been slowly whacking on the land for a good long while now.

Remember, when we bought this property in 2003, it was virtually all overgrown.  Elaine and I (with the able assistance of my BroInLaw) were able to make slow, but steady progress. But as you look through the pictures that follow, you may find some ideas on how to improve the “fire resistance” of your land if you happen to own some.

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Let’s begin by stating the obvious:  Fire needs three things to work – the Triangle of Fire.  Oxygen, fuel, and a source of ignition.

Even out here, we have unexpected sources of ignition;  About four years ago, to land squatters set fire to their camp in the Outback a couple of farms north of us.

They skedaddled out as soon as the fire broke out, but that left my neighbor up the hill and me – armed with Kubotas with Bush Hogs on them, to try and get a line around the fire.  By the time the Texas Forest Service arrived on scene to finish the job with a D-6 Caterpillar, we had the fire about 60 percent contained.

We both had enough fire savvy to remember that fires like to a) burn up hill and b) in the direction the wind blows it.  So we contained the uphill side.

Still, when comes to putting up a “don’t cross barrier” a D-6 Cat is amazing.  In 15-minutes – maybe 20 – the Cat got done with two pretty good tractors would have taken the rest of the afternoon to do effectively.  The Cat doesn’t have a problem with brush.

The big problem with wild fires is that a fire down low, while dangerous, is a much different animal than a fire which gets up into the dry branches in the “crown” of the tree.  Once the fire starts “crowning” you’re screwed until you can get a BIG line around the fire.

So the first rule of personal land management, so far as we’re concerned, is to make sure there is a big “air gap” between the grass and low brush and the lowest of the branches.  Here’s an area which OM2’s son will be working on this coming week.

This is an area (that boxed X) that needs to be limbed up.

A grass fire will generally burn from the length of the fuel source, to twice it’s length.  4″ dry grass might get flame up 8 to 12-inches.  So if you have brush higher this, the odds of it “climbing up into the crown” is pretty high if there’s a grass fire and you haven’t limbed-up.

There’s a problem in California with environmental regulations.  They love their environment, so when the rains come (as they do, depending on La Nina) the natural processes take over and the land sprouts brush all over the place.  We saw this first hand up in the Angeles National Forest when we were living in Burbank.

Problem is that property owners want to keep the brush cleared up because they know damn good and well that if the brush is big enough to lead to a crowning fire, well, that’s what happens.

Limbing up isn’t that hard:  You simply sight with your eye along a level 6 to 10-feet up, or so:  (and start cutting!)

Get the low stuff whacked down and limbed up.  Then, as time allows, starting from the home and working out, you move up as high as your pole saw (and beer supplies) will allow.

Ideally, we’ll be working at getting the trees around the house limbed-up to about 14-feet, or so.  Where my buddy (the retired major fellow) and I worked on the land a couple of years back, we got up about 10- feet and as you can see, we’ve keep the ground cover cut back so we could have a grass fire go through and it wouldn’t have anywhere to “climb.”

As you can see, there are a few places on the left where it wouldn’t hurt to “get after it” a bit, but those are really moist succulents and even now, they don’t light off.

The other stuff though is nice and low.  Sadly, that includes the well-parched lawn.  With a few rains, it usually fills in – just in time to be covered with leaves.

If there’s a national lesson in the California fires?  Well, here’s a bunch of them.

  • I love the environment and Bambi as much as anyone.  But brush is a problem when it presents a grass fire with a route to become a “crowning” forest fire.  Environmentalism is fine – as long as they’re willing to pay the insurance bills (or forego the wine).  Pay the fire insurance premiums or get out of my pole saw’s way.
  • Limbing up your property will reduce the habitat somewhat.  Therefore, pick a distance out from your home where you want fire safety and then make sure that you have a good (defensible) fire break.  It should be wide enough that anything on the other side of it won’t be able to fall through the crowns on the “safe side” of the break.  A road is often thought of as a “fire break” but once you’ve seen how far a falling tree takes fire?  Width of break should be height of trees…and no, we’re not there yet.
  • Limbing up will get the wind a lot more shade to blow through and your property will be considerably cooler.  Drier, perhaps, but cooler.  In the South?  Bring ‘er on.
  • Places in the woods have pine needles falling like crazy this time of the year.  Our “hand” cleared off 6″ of pine straw from the top of our storage shed a couple of weeks back.  As the weather cools, I’ll be doing more limbing up and brush removal to a big burn pile which will be lit off when we’ve had an inch, or two, maybe three, of rain.
  • Make sure you’ve got combustibles away from the house.
  • We’ve been slowly “armoring” the property.  Concrete “backer board” is cheap – cheaper than a house, anyway, so between that and some metal mobile-home skirting, you can fireproof at least the first 18-24″ of your home.  Then, if you keep the yard trimmed up, whatever fire does come along will have to cross a wide expanse of low lawn, and there shouldn’t be enough fuel for it to “work up” into a structure fire.
  • We have made sure that the two big trees which provide a lot of shade for the house in the afternoon, are surrounded by 10-feet of gravel.  Pea gravel ain’t bad landscaping material and if you blow the leaves off when dry, you won’t catch them in the gravel.
  • We will be having the local power company come out this fall and taking down half a dozen trees, or more.  These are in positions where they could fall on lines.  I know that doesn’t sound too dangerous, but I’ve been to two medium-sized fires within two miles which were caused by rotten trees falling into the lines, causing sparks, and off you go.
  • Grab and go bags ready?  Case of water in the car?  3-days of MRE’s and toilet paper?  Insurance and all paperwork for the house scanned?
  • Got the laptops and the network attached storage ready to go in 10 seconds or less? We have two 4 TB NAS units that are always ready to go.
  • Cash and firearms ready to move out?  Might have to leave some ammo behind (sigh) but arms in the trunk with an ammo box for each plus a cleaning kit.

Speaking of which:  Next time you want to spend $20 on yourself, look at a Ohuhu 28pcs Universal Hand Gun, Rifle & Shot Gun Cleaning Kit with Carrying Case (28 pcs) for the grab and go.  Toss in a bottle of Hoppe’s and can of Royal Purple 10036 Synthetic Gun Oil High Performance Multipurpose Gun Lubricant – 4 oz., and you’re ready for most anything on the horizon.

We assume you have a pole saw like the BLACK+DECKER LPP120 20V Lithium Ion Pole Saw, 8″.  We’ve been abusing the B&D 20 V yard tools a fair bit and they work in spite of us.  A review of them will be along one of these first days…

Last but not least, next year, when you have a choice at the store on which wine to buy?  But the Napa or Sonoma brands.  Support our fellow Americans and their livelihood!  Even if it costs a bit more.  We can afford to help this way, right?

Write when you get rich…


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