Fire Wise Landscape Design
Larry Rugoff is a licensed landscape contractor and earned his degree in Landscape Architecture from the University of California, Berkeley.
Larry has designed, built and landscaped custom homes for more than a decade. Engaged in fire wise landscaping and forest management in California prior to the recent major fires, Larry has contributed to the survival of several large properties and has trained with CASSP, the California Archaeological Site Stewardship Program.
Larry started Fire Wise Landscaping after the devastating Lake County Fires in 2015. The need for residential fire wise landscaping was painfully obvious. Larry's goal is to design functional, beautiful and ecologically sensitive landscapes that reflect his client’s personal vision and practical concerns. Fire Wise Landscaping is committed to enhancing and protecting homes and outdoor environments.
* Fire Wise Landscape practices cannot guarantee complete fire safety. However, Fire Wise Landscaping can greatly increase a home's chances of survival if a wildfire occurs.
An interview with Fire Prevention Landscape Contractor and Forest manager, Larry Rugoff.
Homeowner: Please share some of your background as a Fire Prevention Specialist
Larry: I am the Grounds Manager for a 915 acre Retreat Center on Cobb Mountain. I got involved in fire prevention some six years ago before the Valley Fire. Our forest goes from four-foot diameter Ponderosa Pines to Scrub Oaks. I then implemented a prescribed burn - intentionally putting fire on the ground to burn the under story plants just as the native Americans did for thousands of years. We removed underbrush, shrubs, underneath trees, cut lower branches, and cut dead shrubs and trees. We set fire to the ground in a controlled way. The Valley fire hit and burned about 700 of the 915 acres from large trees to scrub oak. I am proud to share that we were able to save seven neighbors' homes and the retreat center.
Homeowner: What is one important piece of advice for our neighbors?
Larry: What I learned is that it is so much harder to create a healthy forest after a fire than if you do simple healthy fuel reduction practices before a fire comes through.
Homeowner: What steps should people consider in fire prevention around the home?
Larry: The main practice is to clear everything within a 5 five feet radius of your home and any structures. The next 30 feet you can have some shrubs and trees, and the CalFire zoning maps show how close they can be. As you go further away from the house, within a minimum of 100 feet, you need to remove lower branches and dead trees and vegetation.
There are many practical things you can do for the home to make it more fire resilient, such as moving anything that can burn around the house, and removing lawn furniture and outdoor carpets. Some plants will burn intensely and immediately, almost exploding, others are very hard to catch on fire. Plants such as Rosemary and Juniper burn easily. A burning ember can travel two miles or more and easily catch fire to a juniper bush. You need to remove vegetation that is highly flammable. The volatile oils in these plants and the dead wood in and around can practically explode in a wildfire.
You can find lists of plants that are recommended to be planted around homes, and don’t burn so easily. Usually, deciduous plants and one of my favorite Rock Rose, of which there are 15 different varieties, are less likely to catch fire.
One of my favorite sources for information about fire resistant plants is a publication from a Pacific Northwest Extension called, Fire-Resistant Plants for Home Landscaping.
When you have land, especially around your house, I recommend that you do proper fuel reduction following CalFire zoning maps on how to have your house and landscape potentially survive a severe wildfire.
There is a popular ground cover that flowers yellow in the springtime called Hypericum - it will burn in a second. As a test, I set an area of Hypericum on fire. The flames exploded immediately and jumped five feet in the air. On the other hand, a ground cover called Vinca is hard to light on fire.
Homeowner: Do you have any suggestions for safeguarding our homes?
Larry: There are simple things you can do like making sure your gutters are clean and that woodpiles for wood-burning stoves are at least 30 feet away from the house.
Homeowner: What advice can you share regarding prescribed burns?
Larry: Prescribed burns are for larger properties and they need to be professionally managed. Any burning that you do requires a burn permit. Contact CalFire to let them know you are burning. However, if you have the acreage required you can burn the debris from your property. Cutting down trees, especially large dead trees, is extremely hazardous.
Homeowner: What is some important knowledge that homeowners may not have considered?
Larry: If you know a wildfire is likely, CalFire will assess the homes in your area. If you have done preparation for your home and property, the fire fighters will be more likely try to save your house. They attempt to save homes that have done fire prevention and may pass over homes that have done no fire prevention. This is what I am observing.
Homeowner: Do you have any financial advice?
Larry: It is tragic to lose your home. It is hard to rebuild after a fire because the costs are so much higher. Be sure to keep the replacement value of your home in your insurance policy up to date. Regarding your property, after a wildfire catastrophe, the work involving reforestation is a huge expense. . . Larry offers free reviews to come out and look at your house and make suggestions.
Homeowner: Please speak about post-fire restoration.
Larry: It takes many years to bring back a healthy forest. As part of the renewal and restoration process, you have to determine which trees are dead. In a well managed forest you can see through the trees for a distance. THERE IS NO "NATURAL" CONDITION OF A FOREST. When you don’t manage your land, you get too many shrubs and too many trees per acre. Too many shrubs and trees make the area too dense and create fuel for another wildfire in the future.
If you leave all the burned matter and let the forest grow around it, you have a worse fire hazard. You want to keep fire from going into the tree canopy and going from one tree to another. Ladder fuel is the name for shrubs or vines that grow under and up trees. Anything that takes the fire up the tree is ladder fuel and needs to be removed.
After a forest burns, you can’t leave all the dead material there. When things grow back, you can’t leave it, or the dead material catches on fire again. The major cost is to cut down the majority of dead material, then plant seedlings. To create a healthy forest after the forest burns is many, many times more costly and heartbreaking.
Homeowner: You spoke to me about a healthy fire. Can you describe it?
Larry: A healthy fire, prescribed or naturally occurring is one in which the fire moves along the ground, and the trees don’t catch on fire. That is the goal. If the trees catch on fire then there it is a much greater chance for your house to catch on fire. When trees burn, that is how you get a catastrophic fire.