by Ron Whitehurst
The author is co-owner of Rincon-Vitova Insectaries and Chair of the Board of Ventura Food Coop
Fire is a natural primal element, but the devastation was man made. Our First Peoples burned brush every couple of years to manage nutrients, soil microbes, and improve the ecology for deer and acorns. How do we learn to use fire as a tool, and build homes and landscapes that resist fires? Here are some observations of permaculture designers, Connor Jones and Leif Skogberg.
Re-establish small water cycles – slow, spread and sink water where it falls, to grow food-producing perennial plants, ideally in mixed culture – many different kinds of plants together, or polyculture. These practices will restore water in the landscape that moderates temperature extremes and reduces drought. See Michal Kravcik’s New Water Paradigm videos on YouTube.
Learn to build with earth, cob, and adobe materials that are literally dirt cheap and readily available. An adobe-plastered straw bale house at Ojai Foundation came through the fire intact, where conventional structures burned. Cover exposed timbers and flammable roof materials so they won’t burn. Also cover eaves and vents to stop fire entering the house. Earth sheltered homes – partially buried – offer protection from fire and extremes of hot and cold, and, coupled with passive solar, reduce heating and cooling bills.
Tops of ridges are hard to protect from fires that race up slopes, doubling in speed with every 10 degrees of slope. Buildings in valleys are safer, but hot dry gusty winds will spread fire rapidly in any terrain.
Oaks (and even eucalyptus) and irrigated orchards of avocado, citrus, olive serve as a fire break. Trees spaced 30 to 100 feet apart don’t burn as long as there is no brush (ladder fuel) between them. Cacti, succulents and agave are great water thrifty landscape plants that do not burn. But, palms and arundo send burning fibers on the wind.
Ponds, pools, dams and tanks slow the fire and if you have a pump that can be powered when the electricity is off, you can use the water for fire protection.
Neighbors who we know from working on projects together are our best assets in emergencies. Join NextDoor.com, it’s like Facebook for neighborhoods, and connect for cleaning up a path or creek, planting a garden, or sharing garden fruits and vegies.
Let’s work to create healthy and just communities embracing a low carbon future. Support Community Choice Energy that focuses on building microgrids and other net zero community energy from sun, wind, and wave. Locally produced power is not affected when power poles burn. With rooftop solar and power walls charging EVs we are freed from gas stations and polluted air. A price on carbon can speed the transition to a clean energy future. See CitizensClimateLobby.org.