With the recent upticks in temperature, summers are getting hotter and dryer in the Pacific Northwest. This means more frequent forest fires are also causing greater damage. Fire is one natural process of clearing out the dead debris on a forest floor. Some species of trees and insects actually require fire to reproduce and propagate. But what does a forest fire mean for you and your yard? While no large-scale forest fires have swept through the Portland, Oregon, city limits, here are four important tips to keep in mind this fire season.
First, if you hear about a wildfire nearby, make sure to take care of you and your family.
There are many, many, many resources online, all with great ideas about fire prevention around your home and preparedness if you have to leave. Make a plan with your family and review it before every fire season so that everyone is clear on what to do should a fire spark nearby and if you are evacuated.
Air quality will also decline, whether the fire is close by or the smoke is carried by the wind from elsewhere. With the smoke comes fine particulates and more carbon dioxide and carbon monoxide, among other trace minerals and organic compounds. Not everyone will suffer pronounced health effects from poor air quality, but if you or any of your family members have asthma or other breathing problems, it might be a good idea to limit your time outside until the air clears.
Make sure that all doors and windows are closed as well. You can use HEPA air filters inside and reduce your outdoor activity while the air is unhealthy. These are the most effective methods of keeping out of poor air quality. If being outside is completely unavoidable, you might consider using a respirator or face mask. Keep an inhaler on hand if you require one as well. For folks who might be more affected by poor air quality—such as pregnant women, the elderly, or anyone with a chronic heart or lung issue—check the Air Quality Index before spending time outside.
One way to protect your landscaping is to provide less fuel for the fire.
Prune away dead limbs on your trees, keep your grass cut, and clear up fallen leaves and needles every so often so that it doesn’t pile up. If an ember lands on one of these piles, it could smolder up to an hour before lighting into a visible fire.
It’s best to do this type of cleanup in the springtime. Not only is it easier to see potential problems before the trees leaf out, some fires have been sparked due to overheated engines or exhausts, or by a spark started when metal struck metal. If you do have to use gas-powered machinery in the summer, try to use it early in the day before the weather gets warm, and keep either a hose or a fire extinguisher on hand.
With hotter summers in recent years, trees have been losing their leaves earlier or in midsummer rather than in fall. Experts have called this phenomenon “summer branch drop.” Make sure to clean up this dropped debris as well. A tree may jettison whole branches and/or the extra burden of leaves early as a defense mechanism. It saves energy and water for the tree—though it may lose a limb, the overall life of the tree might be saved by dropping it early. If this is happening to your tree, make sure it’s getting enough water.
Some other thoughts that have helped prevent fires in the past:
- Create a 30-foot perimeter around your house that is free of combustible materials.
- Remove flammable plants and consider replacing with fire-resistant plants.
- If you have a woodpile, move it beyond your 30-foot perimeter during the fire season.
- Clear your driveway. If you have to call the fire professionals, better access to your home makes their job easier. They can also concentrate on the important things first: getting to the fire and putting it out.
Depending on your tree’s age and type, it may need an average of one inch of water per week in the height of hot, dry summer weather. Water two or three times a week—deeper, less frequent watering helps promote strong root growth, as opposed to more frequent, light watering.
If your tree is young or newly planted, its roots likely haven’t spread out yet from the root ball. Water the base of the tree until the soil is wet but not soggy. Make sure to note, though, that for older, more-established trees, watering only in this area could promote disease and rotting. Instead, move farther out, past the canopy of the tree to the drip line, or where rain would drip off the leaves. This is where it’s best to water because the tips of the roots extend at least that far. Water just until you start to see runoff; this means the soil is saturated. The water in the soil displaces the air, and a tree has to breathe too!
Don’t start fires if you don’t have to.
If you have yard waste or other compost, dispose of it rather than burning it. Not many studies have been completed about burning yard waste. However, it can be a major source of concern as a health and safety hazard, especially inside city limits. If there’s no alternative, here are some guidelines:
- Clear a 10-foot area around the fire, free of combustibles
- Check the weather—if it’s windy, maybe forego roasting that marshmallow today
- Never use gasoline to start your fire
- Only burn yard debris
- Never leave a fire unattended
- Keep a hose or a fire extinguisher nearby
- Make sure the fire is completely out when you’re done
The smokers out there are sick of hearing this, but it bears repeating: remember to dispose of your cigarette butts properly. Even one smoldering butt can have massive effects in hot and dry weather in the summer. It’s also worth noting here that while some forest fires are sparked by lightning strikes, most fires are caused by us humans, through accidents like an unfortunate butt left out or by losing control of a barbecue or a teenager playing with a firework.
Need advice on trees that look dry as kindling? Want a quote on pruning trees? Contact us at Mr. Tree. We can answer your questions!