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Garden Talk: Wildfire is Real; Protect Your Property

wildfire in forest next to dirt road
Photo courtesy of Andrew J. Baril

By Andrew J. Baril

The beginning of November, I wrote to you about the 2016 drought.  Apart from last night’s rain, not much has changed.  It will take months of rain to break the drought.  At the beginning of November, 10% of Alabama was classified as a D4 drought.  I believe with the release of the new numbers tomorrow, 40% of the state will be classified D4.  Please conserve water.  The growing season is over, do not water your plants.  Please do not wash your car.  It is a badge of honor to travel in a dirty car during a drought.  Besides conserving water, I would like to remind our readers not to conduct any outside burning.  The entire state is under a burn ban.  Absolutely no outdoor burning is allowed.  My friends with the Alabama Forestry Commission are out fighting wildfires every day.  The US Forest Service is trying to save the city of Gatlinburg, TN as I write.  With fire on my mind, I would like to write to you about how to protect your property from wildfires.

For a fire to burn it must have three things: air, fuel, and heat.  Those of us in natural resource management call this the fire triangle.  If any of those sides to the triangle are broken – the fire goes out.  It is hard to do anything about the air side of the triangle and we typically don’t think about the heat until a time such as this, but we can do something about the fuel side of the triangle.  If you want to protect your property from wildfire remove the fuel from around your homes.  This is the take home message from the federal educational program, “FireWise” http://www.firewise.org.  Fires cannot burn if there is nothing to burn.  Many of us live in the county, maybe even in the woods.  If you do not reduce or remove the leaf litter around your house it could burn to the ground.

Many of you know my wife and I live in the Talladega Mountains.  We live so far back in the woods that the only landscaping plant that survives our summer shade is hosta.  Each fall I go through the same routine to protect our house and loved ones from wildfire.  First I cut the pasture grass on the west side of our property ‘very short’.  Long dead grass burns hotter and faster than short dead grass.  With the prevailing winds coming out of the west, our home is in a danger zone on the east side of a sixty-acre pasture.  The grass inside our fence is one-inch tall, and should the fire burn ban be lifted I will burn off our grass during the winter.  Behind our short grass is our driveway.  Our drive is a quarter of a mile long coming off a gravel road.  Our driveway is a fire break.  Throughout the dormant season, I will keep leaves and pine straw off the driveway.  Between the driveway and the short grass, I just protected our house from any fire coming from the west.  The east, north, and south sides of our house are protected by numerous raked hiking trails.  The idea is a military concept; protecting an outpost in a war zone.  On our little five-acre lot we have one mile of trail.  The outer trail is on the property line.  Inside of that perimeter trail, we have a middle and lower trail with connector trails linking all of the trails into a system.  Because we daily walk the trails for exercise, the trails are easily seen and cleared.  Not only do we keep the trails cleared, but the space between the trails is burned off on a rotating schedule.  Should a fire come through the woods with the wind from any direction, we could easily stop it at any of the trails.  If trails like this been constructed around the buildings in the woods surrounding Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge, the buildings could be easily protected.  Don’t wait for the next drought.  Begin planning today to protect your property.

Garden Talk is written by Andrew J. Baril of the Alabama Cooperative Extension System, C. Beaty Hanna Horticulture & Environmental Center, which is based at the Birmingham Botanical Gardens.  This column includes research-based information from land-grant universities around the country, including Alabama A&M and Auburn Universities.  Email questions to ajb0012@auburn.edu, or call 205 879-6964. Learn more about what is going on in Jefferson County by visiting the ACES website, www.aces.edu/Jefferson or checking us on Facebook and Twitter.  The Alabama Cooperative Extension System (Alabama A&M and Auburn Universities), is an equal opportunity employer and educator.  Everyone is welcome!