Any time is fire season in Southern California. Take advantage of the
experience of seasoned fire observer Dick Wilson to help prevent a wild
fire from using the vegetation in your yard to spread the fire to your
home. Dick was a Staff Writer for the Santa Barbara News Press in 1977
when the large Sycamore fire consumed numerous homes in the Santa Barbara
REPLANT TO SAVE YOUR HOUSE by Dick Wilson,
Santa Barbara News Press Staff Writer - 1977
Some of the most valuable lessons learned as a result of the Sycamore
Canyon Fire [Santa Barbara 1977] were those pertaining to the resisting
qualities of certain types of vegetation, and those types which
contributed greatly to the advance of the fire.
D.R. Miller, herbarium curator at [Santa Barbara] City College was one of
those who stayed with his home on Nicholas Lane the night of the fire and
succeeded in saving it. Miller said he was amazed at the different ways
plants reacted to the fire. He not only observed the fire's effect on the
plants surrounding his home, but he has this week made a personal survey
of the plants within the burned area of the Sycamore Canyon Fire.
Accompanying this article is his list of the three categories of plants
"which I felt were fire-resistant, heat-resistant and those which were
Those in the first category, the fire-resistant species, are the ones
Miller recommends the most for planting in the high-fire-danger area.
Those in the heat-resistant category are his next highest preferences.
But he discourages the use of those in the third category, the
fire-receptive, because of the way they build up the heat and spread a
"Those in the third class." Miller said, "are among the most popular of the vegetation types that were found surrounding the homes that were burned."
"I didn't see a pine that was worth its salt at all," he emphasized. The real danger he faced at his place was in having some of the pines and junipers too near his home, even growing up under some of the eaves. Miller said he almost lost his home three times because of having the
wrong kind of vegetation near his home.
"The pines burned with an explosive nature, and the flames doubled their height in just a few moments, then would die down. The cones, however,
would continue to burn for a half-hour or longer, then drop off and help
spread the fire in that manner. After witnessing the effect of the fires
on all types of plants of the area, I can say emphatically that I am very
displeased with the pines."
The fire didn't even have to touch the junipers according to Miller.
"When they got sufficiently hot, they would explode into flames."
There were four types of plants that Miller said "actually contributed to saving my home." These he listed as the California pepper, the cape honeysuckle, Myoporum and Pittosporum. The ice plant (Aizoaceae) also was very effective in putting down a fire. "When the fire would get to the ice plant, the fire would just lay down and smoulder," he said.
"I was surprised at the citrus, macadamia and avocado," he added. "Though
terribly scorched, they would still maintain their foliage. The fire
would almost die out at that point of trying to get through those trees."
The stone fruits, however, peach, apple, plum, etc., would add fuel to
the fire and burn with intensity.
Miller emphasized that the native plants he has listed in the
fire-resistant category needed additional explanation.
"In their natural setting," he said, "many of the shrubs are considered
highly flammable, and will explode into a flaming fury when ignited."
"This may be true of these plants in nature where duff build-up is high
and plants are crowded, but when they are occasionally raked around and
watered, as well as planted in a reasonably-spaced landscaped design,
these plants prove to be among the most fire-resistant available."
"Not only do they require a tremendous amount of heat to initiate
burning, but of those that may burn, most will regenerate new growth from
Miller said that other more obvious advantages of the native plants are
their generally vigorous growth, and their ability to afford a much more
natural setting for those who enjoy blending in their surroundings.
For persons interested in replanting to prevent or minimize fire danger
around the home, Miller suggested the following: that families keep large
trees from growing near the eaves of their homes - especially pines which
will quickly incinerate a home. Another suggestion is to provide open
areas around a home to keep back the approach of a wild fire.
"I have a greater appreciation for lawns than I had before," he said, adding that they serve as protective buffers around a home.
And as pretty as the bougainvillea is, Miller discouraged it use near a
home. "Once it goes, it takes everything around it," Miller said. The woody buildup beneath the vine spreads a fire." Miller said he would definitely not espaliar the plant against a house's wall.
In the following list Miller has marked the native [California] plants
with asterisks (*).
He made mention also that all vegetation will burn given enough heat, but
from his observations has determined those with better fire-resistant
|Most Aizoaceae||Moraea iridioides|
|Most Cactaceae||Alnus * |
|Most Portulacaceae||Baccharia pilularis * |
|Myoporum ||Citrus trees (Rutaceae) |
|Pittosporum ||Buxus |
|Schinus ||Feijoa sellowiana |
|Salix *||Chrysanthemum |
|Rhus * ||Avocado (Persea americana )|
|Nerium oleander ||Macadamia |
|Tecomaria capensis |
|Salvia * ||Solanum |
|Rhamnus (marginal) * ||Magnolia grandiflora |
|Ceanothus (marginal) * ||Schefflera actinophylla |
|Heteromeles arbutifolia * ||Hedera |
|Quercus agrifolia * ||Acacia |
|Platanus racemosa * ||Ligustrum|
|Ribes * ||Grewia caffra |
|Prunus ||Callistemon |
|Juglans ||Casimiroa edulis |
|Araucaria heterophylla ||Xylosma |
|Olea europaea |
|Pinus ||Cortaderia selloana |
|Juniperus ||Gelsemium sempervirens|
|Bougainvillea ||Hakea suaveolens |
|Phormium tenax |