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CA Fire Lessons: Bigger is Better

June 30, 2008

Sacramento, CA – As firefighters continue to mount a heroic effort against raging wildfires, California residents are being urged to take action to protect their homes. Rich Fairbanks, fire specialist with The Wilderness Society, says homeowners need not feel helpless, even while catastrophic fires burn. He recommends maintaining the biggest trees in your yard, and increasing the distance between the ground and the lowest branches to prevent fires from "crowning" (jumping from the ground to the top of the tree).

"I fought fire for many years, and this is what happens. Once the fire crowns, there's very little you can do. You can have all the firefighters in the world in front of your house and they really can't do much with a crown fire."

Fairbanks says removing natural kindling can protect private property, whether it's in forest areas or desert shrub and grass zones.

"Needles, twigs, little shrubs -- you should mow it, rake it and chip it. The point is, you need to reduce that small-diameter stuff as much as possible."

Some homeowners have trouble physically doing the work, or don't have money to pay someone else to do it. Fairbanks says every county in the state has a program to get fire prevention jobs like these done for people in these situations.

Since many property-damaging fires start on federal or state land, firefighters say similar prevention needs to take place on public property. Congress is considering legislation, called the FLAME Act, that would provide money for large-scale fire prevention treatments.

More fire prevention tips are available online at

Deborah Smith/Steve Powers, Public News Service - CA