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The First 5 Feet

Oak Hill Area residents that are hardening their home
Alice & Lester: The First Article in a 3 Part Series

Oak Hill area homeowners, Lester and Alice, have been working hard this past year to improve the fire resilience of their home.  They expect the project to take at least another year.  This is the first chapter of their story that tells how they tackled the all-important first 5 feet.  They plan to publish at least two more articles to tell the rest of their story.

Like many homes, Lester and Alice had "foundation" plants next to the house.  A flammable juniper and spruce had been removed long ago.  They decided to remove the rest after they reviewed recent studies about how homes ignite in a wild fire.

Planter box near Front Door
Planter Near Side Door

The Beloved Kumquat Tree

One of the hardest plants to deal with was a very productive and beloved 8-foot high kumquat. It rose in a prominent planter box next to the side door.  They knew that citrus trees with their lush green leaves are less flammable than most vegetation.  But any plant can burn and here it was, right against the wall with its top branches reaching into the eaves.

Blowing embers from a wild fire could ignite it and its flames could ignite their home. They decided to move the plant 75 feet away.

Kumquat tree moved away from home
Kumquat's New Home

Before the move, they trimmed out the taller branches, dug and watered the new hole, and kept track of which side had been facing south. Digging it out was HARD.

They had to saw through two long tap roots but were able to carefully remove almost all the surface roots which they covered in wet burlap. They hefted it out of the planter and into a wheel barrow.  The tree has been in its new spot for a month and seems to be doing fine.

Alice monitors it daily, slowly reducing the shade she has given it. She waters it lightly every other day so the surface roots don't dry out.

Other Flammables Near the House

Lester and Alice had wooden structures right against the house -- more "fuses" ready to be lit by blowing embers.  They:

May contain: housing, building, house, and cottage
Wood Deck and Patio
  • removed 10 feet of a wood deck to reveal an older concrete patio between the remaining deck and the house;
  • moved the gas barbeque 30 feet away onto a concrete pad left over from a torn down shed;
  • replaced a wooden porch swing with a metal one and now they bring the cushions inside during red flag warnings and when they go on vacation; and
  • tossed the flammable door mats along with all flammable outdoor decorations, including two pinecone wreaths hanging on the wall by the front door.

Some of these things were hard to remove because of sentimental value. But Lester and Alice have come a long way.  Their home is less likely to ignite in a wildfire and they feel safer.  But there is more to do.

They promise another article in which they install fireproof roof vents and gutter guards.  So tune in soon to get the rest of the story.