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Living in Southern California, wildfires are a perpetual threat during our Fall months. According to the Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, more than 1.1 million structures in California are within the highest fire risk zone, or in laments terms, 1 in 10 structures.
As a Real Estate Project Manager with a background in Landscape Architecture & Urban Design, I cannot help but ask the question, how can wildfires be prevented through design strategy. As human population rises and development expands into nature, it is critical to incorporate fire safety into our built environment.
Below are a few strategies I believe can mitigate wildfire impact in communities:
1: Understanding Defensible Space & Maintenance:
Law in California requires home and business owners to conform to a series of brush laws to create a “defensible space” buffer of at least 100 feet around a structure. Defensible Space guidelines are a free resource for how property owners can design and maintain their land to prevent the spread of fire. Understanding these guidelines are critical, as they specify maintenance requirements between your home to the nearest natural or man-made structures by distance.
2: Fire Resistant Materials:
Fire resistant materials are mandated in Southern California, but many properties are not kept to code. Employing ignition resistant materials can prevent your structure from burning down as quickly in a wildfire emergency. Homeowners should consider renovating roofing, soffits, walls, decks and fencing to a fireproof material as a priority. Additionally, buildings in wildfire risk zones should always consider longer-lasting materials such as brick, stone and concrete that can withstand higher heat tolerances.
3: Fire Safe Landscaping:
Landscaping needs to not only be well maintained but designed for fire safety. This can be achieved using fire-resistant and drought tolerant plantings such as cactus and succulents. Additionally, the vertical and horizontal spacing of grass, shrubs and trees is critical to preventing the quick spread of a wildfire.
4: Smart Street Design
Many of our fire-risk neighborhoods in Los Angeles are built along topographic hillsides with narrow, winding roadways. This results in roadways not having enough right-of-way for emergency vehicles. As we re-design our roadways, having at least 20’ for firetruck access (in addition to parking buffers) on hillside roads is imperative. Additionally, providing “fire truck safety routing” within planned communities is crucial for firefighters in reaching their targets.
These four points can truly alter the course of a wildfire. To develop responsibly we must keep in mind the hazards of our environment.
-Ashlee Cohen, Associate Project Manager with Watchdog Real Estate Project Management