Time for a Little Brush-Fire Prevention : Residents in High-Risk Valley Areas Should Follow a Few Simple Rules When Planting

It's time for a public service editorial. The audience we seek includes residents in the mountain fire district and fire buffer zones of Woodland Hills, Chatsworth, Granada Hills, Encino, Tarzana, Studio City, Sherman Oaks and Sylmar.

We hate to say it, but it's time to swap some earthquake recovery stories for the kind of effort that might help prevent a repeat of last year's devastating wildfires.

This past week, a few dozen members of the Los Angeles Fire Department's Brush Task Force began their annual, two-monthlong inspections for the kinds of vegetation that can fuel conflagrations of the type that occurred last year. Those inspections will continue through the end of the year as local fire departments take over responsibility for this work.

Folks who live in those areas will be required to remove all hazardous native brush, weeds, grass and vegetation . . . even dead trees. The need for this is obvious when one considers the fact that fire brands or flying embers can easily travel up to half a mile from an actual flame front.

Well, why not start now?

Here are a few rules of thumb involving plants. So-called "pyrophytes" are definitely out. Junipers, conifers such as pines and cedars, eucalyptus, peppers, bamboo, pampas grass and palms can all be explosive fire fodder.

Fire departments also prefer that no trees or tall shrubs be within 30 feet of a house in fire-prone areas. Ten feet is the minimum. And soon, it will be time to cut back those weedy annual grasses, and time to prune and clear out dead plants.

For landscaping purposes, the most fire-resistant (and low water usage) options include native coast live oak, mahogany and western redbud trees. Also preferable are rosea or white trailing ice plant, cape weed, snow in summer, ivy, geraniums, yarow, dwarf rosemary, and the like.

Follow these rules of thumb and you're going to see a lot of relieved and pleased fire inspectors in the coming months. You might even save a few of those hard-earned tax dollars you've shelled out for extinguishing brush fires.

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