Descanso Seminar on Fire-Safe Landscapes Draws a Crowd

Clearing vegetation around the house and proper plant selection were among the recommendations for creating fire-safe landscapes at a seminar on Saturday hosted by Descanso Gardens.
The two-part program, titled “Designing for Danger,” had a sold-out crowd of about 50 people, said Cassy Aoyagi, president of FormLA Landscaping.
Attendees David and Darlene Spence said they have lived in LCF for more than 30 years and wanted to learn more about the topic.
“We’re not horticulturists,” Darlene Spence said. “We’re not hobby gardeners. We hire someone to cut the grass … so we are not particularly knowledgeable about native anything.”
Spence said she wanted to have her trees safely managed but hiring an arborist — which the panel recommended — might not be financially feasible.
She said that even a regular tree trimmer charges her $1,000 per tree.
Nonetheless, the couple said they learned a lot from the seminar.
J. Lopez, an assistant chief in the Los Angeles County Fire Department’s Prevention Services Bureau, was asked what climate change means for California’s fire danger.
“In the last three years we have had a significant fire every month of the year in California,” Lopez said.
This change, which includes the massive fires seen in the past 10 years, can be attributed to climate change, he said.
“That’s how we see it,” Lopez said. The assistant chief added that people should not postpone thinking about fire safety because the fire season is year-round.
“We need to be prepared,” he said.
Panelists noted how important it is to choose plants wisely and maintain them well when they grow close to the house.
Homeowners must “keep them cleaned up to reduce their flammability,” said Kitty Connolly, executive director of the Theodore Payne Foundation for Native Plants. By doing this, you maximize the beauty and the habitat but also maximize your safety, she said.
Defensible space, where there’s at least a 100-foot radius of cleared vegetation around the home, is recommended.
“We’re all in this together,” Lopez said. “I see a bunch of bougainvilleas out there that I’m sure were little three years ago, but now they are huge,” Lopez said to laughter from the audience.
“But,” he warned, “everything burns in the right conditions. Nothing is meant to stop a fire. It’s meant to reduce the fire impact to the home.”
Connolly recommended such plants as lemonade berry, ceanothus and laurel sumac.
“In general, what you’re looking for are plants with thick, evergreen leaves,” she said. “They don’t create a lot of waste material throughout the year. Fluffy seeds are OK if you clean them up, but you really don’t want to have material out there. You don’t want to create fuel.”
Also, a plant is much less likely to burn if it’s hydrated and there’s water in its cells, she said.
“Native plants take very little water to remain hydrated,” Connolly said. “The plants have adapted to high temperatures and dry out more slowly.”
Attendees went home with “Ready! Set! Go!” brochures from the L.A. County Fire Department that give examples of a wildfire action plan. A brochure from the Theodore Payne Foundation lists the safest wildflowers and native plants to use.

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