Fire Safe San Mateo News

Wildfire Safety Blog and News from Fire Safe San Mateo.

Hardening Your Home Against Wildfire

A wildfire-safe home must be an ember-ignition-resistant home, so that even if the flames do not reach your home, it will be able to withstand exposure to embers that may have been blown a mile or more in front of a wildfire.  To provide maximum wildfire protection for your home, a combination of near-home vegetation management, appropriate building materials, and related design features must be used. These points are summarized the excellent Univesity of California publication, "Home Survival in Wildfire-Prone Areas: Building Materials and Design Considerations."

Preparing and maintaining adequate defensible space will guard against flame contact and radiant exposures from nearby vegetation—but because of the likely ember exposure to your home during a wildfire, you cannot ignore building material and design considerations. Similarly, if you ignore your defensible space (i.e., you do not have it or do not maintain it), the wildfire will produce maximum ember, flame, and radiant exposures to your home.  It is very unlikely that even hardened buildings can survive such exposure, as a weak link will likely exist somewhere in the building enclosure. 

There is a direct link between home survival, the vegetation management required in developing adequate defensible space around the home, and the building materials and design used to construct the home. The area where your vegetation should be managed (i.e., your defensible space) will depend on the particular topography and siting of the home on the property. Information included in this publication is focused on the home and is intended to provide information to help you make “fire wise” decisions regarding material choices and design decisions, whether you are building a new home or retrofitting your existing house. A considerable amount of information has been published in recent years on defensible space and vegetation management. Check with your local cooperative extension office or fire department for information appropriate to your area.

Read more about hardening Your Home against wildfire...

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Be Fire Safe, Even When Clearing Defensible Space!

Hundreds of fires are started each year by power tools.   If you live in a wildland area, use extreme caution during fire season.  Lawn mowers, string trimmers, chain saws, grinders, welders, and tractors can all start fires if not used properly.

Mowing:  Striking  rocks can create sparks  and start fireas in dry grass. Use caution, mow only early in the day (before 10AM, when the weather is calm, cool, and moist). 

Spark Arresters:  In wildland areas, spark arresters are required on all portable, gasoline-powered equipment. This includes  tractors, harvesters, chainsaws, weed-trimmers and mowers.

Keep the exhaust system, spark arresters  and mower in proper working order and free  of carbon buildup.  Use the recommended grade of fuel, and don’t top it off.

Visit for more information on creating defensible space!

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Designing for Disaster: National Building Museum Highlights Firesafe Building Practices

From earthquakes and hurricanes to flooding and rising sea levels, natural disasters can strike anywhere and at any time. No region of the country is immune from the impacts and rising costs of disaster damage. In light of this stark reality, the National Building Museum presents a multimedia exhibition titled Designing for Disaster, a call-to-action for citizen preparedness—from design professionals and local decision-makers to homeowners and school kids. The exhibition explores strategies local leaders are currently pursuing to reduce their risks and build more disaster-resilient communities. The exhibition will open May 11, 2014 and remain on view through August 2, 2015.

Natural disasters can impact any of us, anywhere, at any time. In 2012, the financial toll in the United States alone exceeded $100 billion, and the loss of life and emotional toll is immeasurable. No region of the country is immune—112 events in 32 states were declared natural disasters in the U.S. during 2012.

The National Building Museum's exhibition, Designing for Disaster, examines how we assess risks from natural hazards and how we can create policies, plans, and designs yielding safer, more disaster-resilient communities.


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"One Less Spark" Weather Forecaster Toolkit

The One Less Spark, One Less Wildfire Weather Forecaster Toolkit with fire weather reporting ideas for all media is available and ready for use.

Components of the Toolkit include:

  • Ideas for newspaper (traditional and on-line) , radio, and television weather reporters to connect forecasts with fire danger
  • Examples of weather reports containing fire safety messages
  • Commonly used terminology to enhance understanding thereby accurately describing terms to the public while forecasting
  • Examples of messages that can be used during weather reporting to help the public understand fire weather terminology
  • Short, simple, and catchy phrases that can be easily inserted into forecasts
  • Links to websites to further enhance wildland fire weather information.

Sponsors include:  California Wildfire Coordinating Group Prevention Subcommittee. Member agencies of the CWCG include; US Forest Service, CAL FIRE, US Fish and Wildlife Service, Bureau of Indian Affairs, Cal OES, Caltrans, CAL Fire Safe Councils, Bureau of Land Management and National Park Service . 

The Toolkit is attached and can also be downloaded from:    http:/ Please give us feedback about your thoughts and use of the Toolkit.

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Wildfire Preparedness: FIRESCAPING


Appropriate manipulation of the landscape can make a significant contribution towards wildfire survival.  Firescaping integrates traditional landscape functions and needs into a design that reduces the threat from wildfire.

In addition to meeting a homeowner’s aesthetic desires and functional needs, firescaping includes vegetation modification techniques, planting for fire safety, defensible space principles, and use of fire safety zones.

Three factors determine wildfire intensity:  topography, weather and fuels (vegetation).  Property owners can control the fuel component through proper selection, placement, and maintenance of vegetation.  Careful planning and firescape design can diminish the possibility of ignition, lower fire intensity, and reduce how quickly a fire spreads – all factors which will increase a home’s survivability during a wildfire.  

In firescaping, plant selection is primarily determined by a plant’s ability to reduce the wildfire threat.  Other considerations may be important such as appearance, ability to hold the soil in place, and wildlife habitat value.

Minimize use of evergreen shrubs and trees within 30 feet of a structure, because junipers, other conifers, and broadleaf evergreens contain oils, resins, and waxes that make these plants burn with great intensity.  

Choose “fire smart” plants - typically plants with a high moisture content, larger leaves, low growing, with stems and leaves that are not resinous, oily or waxy.  Deciduous trees are generally more fire resistant than evergreens because they have a higher moisture content when in leaf, and a lower fuel volume when dormant.  

Placement and maintenance of trees and shrubs is as important as actual plant selection.  When planning tree placement remember their size at maturity. Keep tree limbs at least 10 feet from chimneys, power lines and structures, and separate canopies so no trees touch.  Do not plant shrubs beneath trees.

Firescape design uses driveways, lawns, walkways, patios, parking areas, areas with inorganic mulches, and fences constructed of nonflammable materials such as rock, brick, or concrete to reduce fuel loads and create fuel breaks. Fuel breaks are a vital component in firescape design.  While bare ground can not burn, it is not promoted as a firescape element due to aesthetic and soil erosion concerns.

When designing a firesafe landscape, remember that less is better.  Simplify visual lines and groupings.  A firesafe landscape lets plants and garden elements reveal their innate beauty by leaving space between plants and groups of plants.   In firescaping, open spaces are as important as the plants.

Learn more about firescaping here...

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Colorado Conference Explores the True Cost of Wildfires

Adapted from

A recent conference in Glenwood Springs, Colorado explored The True Cost of Wildfire.

Usually the costs we hear associated with wildfires are what firefighters run up during the suppression phase.  The National Incident Management Situation Report provides those numbers daily for most ongoing large fires. But other costs may be many times the cost of suppression, including the value of structures burned, crops and pastures ruined, economic losses from decreased tourism, medical treatment for the effects of smoke, salaries of law enforcement and highway maintenance personnel, counseling for victims, costs incurred by evacuees, infrastructure damage and shutdowns, rehabilitation of watersheds, forests, flood and debris flow prevention, and repairing damage to reservoirs filled with silt.  And of course there can not be a value placed on the lives that are lost in wildfires.  In Colorado alone, fires since 2000 have killed 8 residents and 12 firefighters.

The total cost of a wildfire can be mitigated by fire-adaptive communities, hazard fuel mitigation, fire prevention campaigns, and prompt and aggressive initial attack of new fires with overwhelming force by ground and air resources. Investments in these areas can save large sums of money. And, it can save lives, something we don’t hear about very often when it comes to wildfire prevention and mitigation; or spending money on adequate fire suppression resources.Below are some excerpts from a report on the conference that appeared in the Grand Junction Sentinel:

[Fire ecologist Robert] Gray said the 2000 Cerro Grande Fire in New Mexico ended up having a total estimated cost of $906 million, of which suppression accounted for only 3 percent.Creede Mayor Eric Grossman said the [West Fork Complex] in the vicinity of that town last summer didn’t damage one structure other than a pumphouse. But the damage to its tourism-based economy was immense.“We’re a three-, four-month (seasonal tourism) economy and once that fire started everybody left, and rightfully so, but the problem was they didn’t come back,” he said.
A lot of the consequences can play out over years or even decades, Gray said.He cited a damaging wildfire in Slave Lake, in Alberta, Canada, where post-traumatic stress disorder in children didn’t surface until a year afterward. Yet thanks to the damage to homes from the fire there were fewer medical professionals still available in the town to treat them.“You’re dealing with a grieving process” in the case of landowners who have lost homes, said Carol Ekarius, who as executive director of the Coalition for the Upper South Platte has dealt with watershed and other issues in the wake of the 2002 Hayman Fire and other Front Range fires.
The Hayman Fire was well over 100,000 acres in size and Ekarius has estimated its total costs at more than $2,000 an acre. That’s partly due to denuded slopes that were vulnerable to flooding, led to silt getting in reservoirs and required rehabilitation work.“With big fires always come big floods and big debris flows,” Ekarius said.Gray said measures such as mitigating fire danger through more forest thinning can reduce the risks.
The 2013 Rim Fire in California caused $1.8 billion in environmental and property damage, or $7,800 an acre, he said.“We can do an awful lot of treatment at $7,800 an acre and actually save money,” he said.Bill Hahnenberg, who has served as incident commander on several fires, said many destructive fires are human-caused because humans live in the wildland-urban interface.“That’s why I think we should maybe pay more attention to fire prevention,” he said.
Just how large the potential consequences of fire can be was demonstrated in Glenwood Springs’ Coal Seam Fire. In that case the incident commander was close to evacuating the entire town, Hahnenberg said. “How would that play (out)?” he said. “I’m not just picking on Glenwood, it’s a question for many communities. How would you do that?” He suggested it’s a scenario communities would do well to prepare for in advance.

The chart below from shows that federal spending per wildfire has exceeded $100,000 on an annual basis several times since 2002. Since 2008 the cost per acre has varied between $500 and $1,000. These numbers do not include most of the other associated costs we listed above.


Cost per wildfire acre

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Drought Reinforces Need for Defensible Space

CAL FIRE is asking homeowners to prepare earlier in creating Defensible Space due to California's current drought conditions.

A few helpful reminders and safety tips include: 
  • Never mow or trim dry grass on a Red Flag Warning Day. (Mow before 10 a.m. on a day when it’s not hot and windy).
  • Never use lawn mowers in dry vegetation.
  • Spark arresters are required in wildland areas on all portable gasoline powered equipment.
  • Before starting a campfire, make sure you have a campfire permit and that they are permitted on the land you are visiting.
  • Afterwards, ensure that your campfire is properly extinguished.
4. Vehicle
  • Never pull over in dry grass.
  • Ensure trailer chains don't drag on the ground.
  • Make sure your vehicle is properly maintained. 
  • Have proper tire pressure to avoid driving on wheel rim.
  • Never let your brake pads wear too thin.
  5. Other
  • Make sure cigarette butts are properly extinguished.
  • Never burn landscape debris like leaves or branches on NO Burn Days or when it's windy or areas where not allowed.
  • Target shoot only in approved areas, use lead ammunition only, and never at metal targets.
  • Report any suspicious activities to prevent arson.

For more fire prevention tips visit or

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Forest Service Researchers Develop WUI Risk Management Framework

Recent wildfire events throughout the world have highlighted the consequences of residential development in the wildland-urban interface (WUI) including hundreds to thousands of homes burned during a single wildfire to, more tragically, firefighter and homeowner fatalities. Despite substantial investments in modifying wildland fuels near populated areas, losses appear to be increasing. In this article, US Forest Service Researchers examine the conditions under which WUI wildfire disasters occur and introduce a wildfire risk assessment framework. By using this framework, the authors examine how prefire mitigation activities failed to prevent significant structure loss during the Fourmile Canyon fire outside Boulder, CO. In light of these results, the authors suggest the need to reevaluate and restructure wildfire mitigation programs aimed at reducing residential losses from wildfire.


Recent fire seasons in the western United States are some of the most damaging and costly on record. Wildfires in the wildland-urban interface on the Colorado Front Range, resulting in thousands of homes burned and civilian fatalities, although devastating, are not without historical reference. These fires are consistent with the characteristics of large, damaging, interface fires that threaten communities across much of the western United States. Wildfires are inevitable, but the destruction of homes, ecosystems, and lives is not. We propose the principles of risk analysis to provide land management agencies, first responders, and affected communities who face the inevitability of wildfires the ability to reduce the potential for loss. Overcoming perceptions of wildland-urban interface fire disasters as a wildfire control problem rather than a home ignition problem, determined by home ignition conditions, will reduce home loss.

“If our problem statement is defined a keeping wildfires out of the WUI, it is unobtainable, and large wildfires and residential disasters will continue, and likely increase.  Fuel treatments do not stop fires (just change behavior), and treatment alone without Home Ignition Zone [HIZ] treatment means that the inevitable wildfire exposure will result in structure loss……..By contrast, if the problem is identified as a home ignition, mitigation of the HIZ is the most cost-effective investment for reducing home destruction, and this can be augmented with other investments.”

 (Calkin etal, 2013 p 5-6).

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MidPen Approves 40 Year Vision Plan With Fire Risk Reduction Components

Tthe MidPeninsula Regional Open Space District Board of Directors approved a new 40-year Vision Plan January 29, 2014.  Among the Vision Plan's priorities are Fire Management, Fire Risk Reduction, and Fire Risk Reduction on open space properties in San Mateo County.

The Vision Plan includes a slate of 25 tier-one regional open space projects ranging from opening preserves and building trail connections to improving water quality, protecting the coastline, restoring forestlands, and creating wildlife corridors in an increasingly urbanized region.

A complete list of the approved Vision Plan Priority Actions can be found at

Fire Safe San Mateo County is proud of its strong working relationship with "MidPen" and looks forward to a continued partership in reducing the risk of wildfire on MidPen lands and the adjacent San Mateo County communities.


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Fire Safe San Mateo Awarded Grant for Fuel Reduction and Education

Today the California Fire Safe Council announced grants for 38 projects spanning 30 counties in California and Nevada that support CFSC’s efforts to support fire risk reduction activities by landowners and residents in at-risk communities. CFSC received 84 applications, and awarded 38 grants.

Fire Safe San Mateo County was awarded $58,580 with a match of $65,200 for education and fuel reduction. The grant will help fund and expand an existing chipper program, providing additional vegetation removal and chipping county wide, and will fund a variety of related print and web based communication tools. No other proposals in San Mateo County were funded

California Fire Safe Council (CFSC) is pleased to announce its 2014 Grants Clearinghouse Awards. Executive Director Margaret Grayson announced grants for 38 projects spanning 30 counties in California that support CFSC’s efforts to support fire risk reduction activities by landowners and residents in at-risk communities in California and Nevada. The decisions that have been made are preliminary funding decisions at this time based on funding and the next steps in the Clearinghouse.

CFSC received 84 applications totaling $8 million in grant requests and over $10 million in matching dollars. The projects are being funded by grants from the Cooperative Fire Program of the U.S. Forest Service, Department of Agriculture, Pacific Southwest Region, through the California Fire Safe Council.

Click here to view the grant summary report on the 2014 Grant Awards and the list of preliminary funded projects.

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