Stuck at home? Practice fire safety

MARCH 21, 2020

By the Bluff Volunteer Fire Department

As the coronavirus outbreak nears San Juan County, residents are being asked to practice social distancing and stay in their homes. The Bluff Fire Department is asking locals to take this opportunity to reduce fire hazards. The pandemic will likely strain our rural area’s volunteer EMS services, and any preventative measures that can be taken to lower fire risk is critical to ensuring the safety of the entire community in this difficult time.

Courtesy of the Utah State University Forestry Extension.

Firewise Landscaping

The key to firewise landscaping is to keep flammable material and vegetation away from all structures by creating a nonflammable break of gravel, dirt or cement. Check the perimeter of your home, business and/or outbuildings to make sure vegetation has not crept up since the last maintenance cycle. Even dry grass can create an dangerous risk.

Michael Kuhns, Extension Forestry Specialist at Utah State University, offers 11 tips to firewise landscaping in the West.

  1. Cut tall grass near structures. A fire in dry grass burns quickly and is very difficult to control.
  2. Remove excess brush and small trees from at least 30 feet around buildings. Dense brush burns quickly and can provide a “ladder” for low flames to reach up into larger trees. Widely spaced trees and shrubs can be left in the landscape for shade and esthetics.
  3. On larger lots, maintain a fuel break of low-growing plants 30 to 70 feet out from buildings. Such fuel breaks act as a buffer between the manicured landscape near the home and the adjacent wildlands.
  4. Rake up leaves and twigs. Remove plant litter (dead leaves, twigs, etc.) that accumulates under trees and shrubs to reduce fuel loads. Tree litter that accumulates on roofs and in gutters should also be removed regularly. Large amounts of litter can accumulate on lower branches of trees and shrubs and should be removed. Removal of heavy litter accumulations in adjacent wildland areas also should be done if possible. Removed litter should be placed in an approved landfill. It should not be piled on the property or in adjacent woodlands.
  5. Prune tree branches. Prune branches up to ten to twenty feet above the ground on large trees to prevent low fires from reaching the tree crowns.
  6. Thin dense tree groups. Though the grouping of trees is normally a good landscaping technique, in fire-prone areas it can be hazardous. Thinning these groups will slow the spread of fire.
  7. Remove firewood and other combustible materials from around buildings. Firewood should be stored on the outside edge of your defensible space.
  8. Make sure firefighters can reach all parts of your property. Place fences, trees, retaining walls, etc. so that they don’t restrict firefighting equipment access.
  9. Choose landscape plants that are less flammable. All plants will burn if a fire is severe enough. Some plants are more fire-prone than others, however. Conifers such as pines and spruces tend to be fairly flammable, while many broadleaved trees are fairly fire resistant.
  10. Cooperate with neighbors to provide large defensible spaces. A thirty foot wide clear space around a home may not be adequate in a severe fire, especially if neighboring properties have not been well-designed or maintained. Neighbors should cooperate to reduce fire risk by having good defensible spaces that join one another.
  11. Check your landscape monthly. Maintenance is a never-ending task. Inspect landscapes monthly and attend to problem situations before they become serious hazards.

And there’s a bonus benefit for your local firefighters. The time you spend making your home safer and getting rid of flammable vegetation can be counted toward Bluff’s in-kind donation for state fire support. Please email or text (435) 459-0704 with your hours. Thanks!

Burn Piles

So you’ve trimmed back vegetation and have a pile of cut material. Now what? If you choose to create a burn pile, exercise utmost caution and follow these tips from Bluff Fire Department Chief Anthony Lott.

  • Please keep burn piles small enough that you can extinguish them easily if needed.
  • It is better to add your fuel to the fire bit-by-bit than to add fire to a large pile of yard trimmings.
  • Keep a bucket of water and a charged garden hose nearby when you burn.
  • Don’t burn underneath power lines; the electricity can arc through the smoke.
  • In open burning season please let the Bluff Fire Department know in advance that you intend to burn: (435) 459-0704 or (774) 454-3011
  • Please call the San Juan Dispatch center at (435) 587-2237 on the day you are ready to burn. As a courtesy, let the Recapture Lodge know as well: (435) 672-2281
  • Burn in the early morning hours so that you can be finished before late morning winds pick up. Be mindful of the potential for wind to send embers into the light grasses left over from last season. These light fuels will burn dramatically.
  • Extinguish your burn pile thoroughly before leaving it.

If you’re ever unsure about safety, reach out to the Bluff Fire Department.

Thank you for reading and stay safe!