BOUNTIFUL — Last week’s fires in southern California may serve as a wake up call to south Davis residents — especially those who live in the urban wild land interface area in the foothills of North Salt Lake, Bountiful and Centerville.
South Davis Metro Fire Agency crews are already preparing for what they fear may be a rough fire season, given the overall drought conditions and the early fires crews have had to battle throughout the west.
“It’s a defensible space issue,” said SDMFA Chief Jeff Bassett. “People living in the foothills often don’t understand the east bench is a wildland interface area,” he said.
And often, people have bought their home because it’s tucked away among oak brush, offering privacy and a sense that they’re living in a canyon setting.
But it’s that oak brush and similar plants that cause problems should a fire break out nearby, Bassett said.
The agency is asking people living in the urban wild land interface to look at their homes and the space around the building, to create a defensible space.
That means creating a fuel-free area within 3-5 feet of the home’s perimeter. From 5 to 30 feet out, homeowners should thin and space vegetation, remove dead leaves and needles, prune shrubs and tree limbs, according to information provided by the National Fire Protection Association.
“One of the smart things to do to ensure that defensible space is to clean out the gutter and clear debris from the roof,” Bassett said.
That advice holds even for homes not in the foothills, Bassett said.
“If your gutter is full of debris and a fire starts nearby, sparks from it can easily start a fire on your roof,” Bassett said.
Firefighters are making a concerted effort to educate those living along the east bench about creating a defensible space.
Typically when firefighters approach a homeowner they hear one of two responses, Bassett said.
“Often they say ‘I didn’t know, I had no idea,’ of the problem” Bassett said. The other response is that they don’t want to revamp their landscaping, that they live where they do because of the oak brush.
“Those homeowners only have to look at the Rockport Fire (a fire that happened in August 2013 in Summit County that destroyed nearly 2,000 acres),” Bassett said. “People with defensible space were able to come back to their homes that were largely undamaged. Those without defensible space suffered damage or a complete loss to their homes.”
This year, firefighters at station 82, 701 E. Eaglewood, in North Salt Lake, will post a sign in front of the station alerting residents as to whether the fire danger is low, medium or high.
“We’re targeting the east bench (with their education efforts), but cleaning around the house to create a defensible space is something everybody should do,” Bassett said.
Another problem this time of year is the cotton fibers that blow off cottonwood trees, Bassett said. He warned homeowners to not let them build up in corners outside a house or garage, because they can create a major fire hazard anywhere there’s a large pile, Bassett said.
“Sweep them up immediately,” he said.
Right now, yards and the hillsides are really green, Bassett said.
“What I worry about is how dry it will be in July and August when all that growth dries out,” Bassett said.
“It’s a two-edge sword. We need the moisture, but as we get into June we’ll have problems if the rain doesn’t continue,” he said.
Bassett also advises families living in urban wildland interface areas have a 72-hour kit ready for each member of the family, including a change of clothes and shoes. They should also consider emergency kits for their pets.
“Think preparedness,” he said.