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Creating Defensible Space | the brief 2023-04-01

Welcome to Spring everyone!

Sadly, that also means we are on the cusp of entering fire season.

So, Spring seems like an appropriate time to talk about preparing your property and home for fire safety.

While Ranchos de Placitas is not positioned in a highly forested area, our rural and minimally developed landscape can leave us potentially vulnerable to situations where major state wildfires threaten our properties and dwellings.

At the end of this month’s the brief are some links to resources produced by various NM organizations that provide greater detail about fire safety. But, compiled below are some great tips from “Living with Fire: a Guide for the Homeowner” adapted for New Mexico by The Southwest Area Wildland Fire Prevention and Information Committee about creating what is called a Defensible Space around your Ranchos de Placitas home.

The guide, available for free online, breaks down four areas of protection:

  1. Community Protection
  2. Access
  3. Defensible Space
  4. Built Environment

Last month the brief, by implication, addressed Access. This month, the brief is highlighting what the guide defines as Defensible Space.

“The term defensible space refers to the area between a house and an oncoming wildfire where the vegetation has been managed to reduce the wildfire threat and allow firefighters to safely defend the house.”

One of the things that makes Ranchos de Placitas special is our focus on maintaining and protecting the natural appearance of the landscape. In fact, a specific covenant in each of Units 4-7 covenants outlines “Natural vegetation will be left undisturbed, except for access to property, clearing of building sites, or establishment of lawns and flowers within the immediate vicinity of the dwelling”.

So, as you review the guide and think about creating or maintaining a Defensible Space Zone around your house keep in mind our unique balance between being a residential area and protecting the natural environment.

So, the guide suggests that within the recommended Defensible Space Zone, we should remove:

  • Dead and dying trees.
  • Dead native and ornamental shrubs.
  • Dead branches.
  • Dead leaves, needles and twigs that are still attached to plants, draped on live plants or lying on the ground within 30 feet of the house.
  • Dried grass, weeds and flowers.

The above suggestions are a great, minimal goal for the 2023 Spring season.

Then the Lean, Clean, and Green tips in the guide provide these simple instructions for creating a defensible zone that have direct application for our Ranchos de Placitas area homes:

  • Create a noncombustible area at least 5-feet wide around the base of the house (This could include stacking firewood against your home).
  • Clear all flammable vegetation from within 10 feet of a propane tank.
  • Remove tree limbs that are within 10 feet of the chimney, touching the house or deck, within 6 feet of the roof or encroaching on power lines.

And then there are some instructions that need to be adapted for our natural landscape environment:

  • To, “Select less flammable plants for the home landscape”, we should consider ensuring the selected plants do not depart dramatically from our native foliage.
  • The guide suggests, “Emphasize the use of hard surfaces (concrete, asphalt and brick). Within 30 feet of the house, do not use wood mulches in a widespread manner, and do not use rubber mulches”. If you look around you’ll see minimal use of concrete, asphalt, and brick for landscaping, and virtually no mulches. Some homes use rock to add a little character, but keeping with the covenants would dictate less is more wherever possible. Perhaps using them as accents rather than ground cover is a good approach.
  • Since we don’t want to “remove most or all flammable wildland plants, including sagebrush, bitterbrush, rabbitbrush/chamisa, dry grass, yucca, oak, broom snakeweed, piñon and juniper”, instead consider following the second sentence in that section with more vigor, “make sure they are free of dead wood and leaves, pruned to reduce the amount of fuel and separated from adjacent brush and grass fields”.

In addition to the resources mentioned here in the brief, Eric Masterson, our Sandoval County Fire Chief, has indicated the department is available for a program scheduling a visit to your property to review the fire risk and suggest safety improvements. Contact the Sandoval County Fire Department (see below).

Fire Safety and Emergency Contact Numbers

In an emergency, call 911 on any phone
For non-emergency situations, contact the Sandoval County Fire and Rescue Administration at 505-867-0245
To request an inspection for fire safety: FDservice@sandovalcountynm.gov
Sign up for the CodeRED emergency alert system

Additional Resources

NM Fire Info
Living With Fire: a Guide for the Homeowner
Year Round Wildfire Preparedness