PLANNING FOR FIRE
Recently I’ve had conversations about what MWHA is doing to deal with fire hazards, what can be done to “harden” homes to prevent fires and what to do in case of a fire. Living in a Very High Fire Severity Hazard Zone, the highest risk, makes all of these issues critical to life on the hill.
WHAT MWHA DOES TO ADDRESS FIRE HAZARDS
First, MWHA is continuing to educate realtors and builders about the need to include road improvements as part of their building project. Builders are required by law to provide at least a 20 foot wide along their property (often referred to as the minimum adjacent roadway improvement). Unfortunately, builders seek waivers of that requirement and those waivers are sometimes granted.
It is critical that neighbors attend hearings and/or submit written statements so that the laws are enforced and roads are improved. MWHA will speak up too, but it is up to individual neighbors to stand up for their neighborhood in order to get the laws enforced.
MWHA is also working to have the road improvements done at the beginning of construction, not at the end of construction. When this has been done, it has facilitated two-way traffic and minimized congestion during construction—both fire safety issues.
Why are road improvements so important? Emergency vehicles need access and residents need to be able to evacuate. The only way our roads will be improved is incrementally as new construction is done. Enforcing the law on road improvements benefits not only the residents of the new construction but the community as a whole and subsequent generations.
· HOW YOU CAN HARDEN YOUR HOME TO PREVENT FIRE
CAL Fire and LAFD both publish booklets helping you plan ahead to protect your homes and community. See, https://fire.lacounty.gov/wp-content/uploads/2023/03/Defensible-Space-booklet-32023_.pdf and https://www.paperturn-view.com/cal-fire-communications/cal-fire-ready-set-go-brochure-final-files-v4-print?pid=MjU252417&v=2%3F .
Both stress that it is important to plan your landscaping to prevent fire from spreading:
1. Trees touching/overhanging structure: Remove limbs within five feet of any structure, and within 10 feet from any chimney outlet. Trim trees up to six feet or one third their height.
2. Vines and climbing plants: Remove from all structures.
3. Hedges and screens between homes: Reduce and maintain to a height of no greater than eight feet.
4. Large shrubs under windows: Maintain 12-inch separation under windows.
5. Ground cover: Maintain at 18-inch maximum height.
6. Dead vegetation: Remove all dead material within 100 feet of structures.
Specific Plants That are Common and are Fire Hazards:
1. Italian Cypress: Remove if center of trunk is within 10 feet of any structure.
2. Junipers: Remove within 10 feet of any structure.
3. Bougainvillea: Remove from all structures.
4. Wisteria/Trumpet Vines/Creeping Fig, etc.: Remove from all structures.
5. Palms: All palm trees should be free of dead or dying fronds. Consider removing unmaintained trees.
6. Pines: Maintain all pines free of dead material.
THIS DOES NOT MEAN DESTROYING NATIVE AND PROTECTED TREES. Our community contains some of the last black walnut groves (a protected species) as well as numerous other protected trees and shrubs. The urban/ woodland interface is part of what makes the community unique.
Native and significant trees and shrubs are protected by law-- Removing or damaging protected trees and shrubs (such as “topping” them) without permits is illegal.
The protected species include:
Black Walnut trees
Sycamore trees, and
California Bay trees
Removing or damaging these trees and shrubs without the proper permits, even on land you own, will result in fines and penalties. Removing or damaging trees on public property, such as “topping” trees to improve your view, is considered destruction of public property with the attendant potential criminal liability. Topping your neighbors’ trees exposes you to civil liability.
WHAT TO DO IN CASE OF A FIRE
Having evacuated the Elyria Canyon fire with two young children, I now keep a “go box” or small fireproof box. It contains thumb drives with sentimental family photos, and our passports, birth certificates and other papers that might be hard to replace.
LAFD suggests that you:
Bring in flammable items (patio furniture, mats, toys, trash cans, etc.)
Turn off propane tanks and move portable tanks away from structures
Connect garden hoses to outside water valves for firefighters to use
Fill buckets with water and place them around the outside of the house
Turn off sprinklers to save neighborhood/property water pressure
Turn on lights outside and inside for firefighter visibility in smoke or darkness
Shut windows and doors, but leave them unlocked
Remove lightweight curtains and flammable window shades
Move flammable furniture away from windows and doors
Shut off gas at the meter; turn off pilot lights
Shut off A/C and ventilation systems
Place ladders to the corner of your roof for firefighters to quickly gain access
Back your vehicle into the driveway for quick departure