Preparedness Corner
September 2003
By Paul Vircsik

Hi Neighbors,

I know this subject has been written about and talked about around many a campfire.  While on the ranch in August I noticed several of my neighbors had very recently cut down pine trees and limbs during bug season.  Where bugs eat, an ensuing fire will be much more volatile.  So I think that this subject should be revisited if only from a fire hazard standpoint.  Here is an excerpt from the August California Fire Service magazine.  Does it sound familiar?  I think it does and in some cases we are doing it to ourselves.

Southern Californiaís bark beetle infestation
Every wildland firefighter knows that standing dead trees will burn hotter, and faster than green ones.  Some describe them as ďRoman candlesĒ when they catch fire.  Fighting fire among thousands of dead trees is extraordinarily dangerous.  And that is exactly what firefighters are facing this year in San Diego, San Bernardino and Riverside counties.

Four years of drought have weakened the trees.  That left them vulnerable to attack by bark beetles.  More than 500,000 acres (we have 14,000) that were once green and beautiful now have standing dead or dying trees everywhere.  This drought combined with fire, disease, and man made stress, allow the beetles to kill the tree in a matter of days to weeks.  And of course, scattered among those dry trees are hundreds of houses.  Combine all of that with narrow, winding roads and thousands of people trying to escape from a wildfire, and you have the nightmare that haunts those who plan fire response in this area.

Mean while, CDF has taken immediate steps to ensure the safety of the public by clearing evacuation routes, establishing fire safe evacuation centers, removing infested trees in the three counties and providing forest stewardship assistance to local communities.  The Governorís office is projecting the possibility of 125 million dollars spent in this effort that threatens mountain and rural communities.

These brutal conditions normally last several years and are stopped when the cycle is broken by sufficient moisture, natural predators, sanitation control measures and lesser tree density.  These elements all serve to increase the forestís health.

As we all should know from information already published, under normal conditions the beetle populationís damage is held in check with healthy trees defending themselves by pushing them out with sap.  Cut trees and limbs on the ground canít do this.  They only send out scent to the bugs like driving by a good restaurant when they light off the grill.  Then we encourage them further by leaving the bleeding wood on the ground.  Why not leave out plates, knives and forks.  ďOh Garcon, forest for thousands, no waiting.Ē Then next year we wonder why the trees around us look like kindling.

Many of us moved here without the skills to take care of our land.  Then we bought chain saws and tractors and ďhad at itĒ.  Maybe a better approach would be to learn about the forest we live in, its habits, strengths and weaknesses first.  The information is out there, most of it within our web site.  Then with that knowledge in hand, go out and hit the hillsides.

If you canít wait because your home and the approach to it are not fire safe, go ahead and cut the oak brush and the weeds.  Wait until the freezing temps arrive before touching anything ďpine likeĒ.  I was told that the cedar is also ok to cut all year, but check with those in the know first.  Carol, CK, and the local forestry service are all excellent sources.  If there isnít any under story to burn as a fire passes through, you wonít have to worry about limbing the trees.  Remove the ladder fuels (grass to bush to tree) underneath the trees now and island out around them.  But leave the pines alone!!! Wait till winter.

If you have cut your pines, or know a neighbor who has, sign off the pc and pick up the phone.  In a polite way, offer to help remove the downed bait. Then follow the recommended methods for protecting your live trees.  I cannot express to you how disheartened I feel when I see trees felled this time of year when owners know about the beetles.  You can see the dead patches all over the ranch and neighboring developments when owners cut at the wrong time.  We do not need the standing kindling that just adds to our already volatile forest conditions.  If you arenít preparing your 35 acres for an upcoming fire, and to keep it healthy donít worry.  The coming fire will do it for you.  And prepare the whole piece, donít stop at just the house.  Good forest management is your responsibility because this is private land.  Your forest, your fire.  Small or huge, you make the decision.

Lastly, if you are, or hear about one of your neighbors, planning to build, talk to them and persuade them to prepare for the pad in the cold months.  Contact the Emergency Services Committee or call, write, or email me and talk to us about your location choice so you can understand the possible dangers of where you are building.  You can build at anytime, but clear the trees when the bugs arenít driving the bulldozers.

See you all soon,

Meet the author: Read about Paul Vircsik's background