Prep Now for Fire Season

Wildfires spread by a combination of a moving flaming fire “front” and airborne embers that are carried by smoke and wind. Houses catch fire during wildfires due to one or more of three basic exposures:

  • Embers (also called firebrands)
  • Radiant heat (when an adjacent structure gets so hot it catches the next structure on fire)
  • Direct flame contact

Is your home safe from the threat of wildfire? Now is the time to learn what it takes to create defensible space and take action to make your home and property more fire resilient.

Defensible Space

This is the buffer you create between a building on your property and the grass, trees, shrubs or any wildland areas that surround it. This space may slow or stop the spread of wildfire, and it helps protect your home from catching fire. It is also important for the protection of the firefighters who may defend your home. California law requires homeowners to maintain 100 feet of defensible space around homes and structures.

Where to Start?

The Fire Safe Council of Santa Cruz County provides an excellent guide to wildfire threat mitigation, Prepared, Not Scared, which identifies four zones of defensible space.

  • Zone 0 covers from 0 – 5 feet around structures
  • Zone 1 covers 5 – 30 feet
  • Zone 2 covers 30 – 100 feet
  • Zone 3 covers the driveway and frontage

LizAnne Jensen, who serves as vice president of the Fire Safe Council and spearheaded the creation of Prepared, Not Scared, recommends starting with Zone 0. “Start close to your house and work out,” she says. “The 0 to 5-foot zone is crucial. You can have a beautifully manicured property 100 feet out but if something as small as a straw mat at your front door catches fire, you have fire right up against your house. Of course, it’s important to do all the work, but that’s where I would start.”

Did you know that 60-90 percent of homes destroyed by wildfires are ignited from tiny embers, not the actual flames? These embers can be carried for miles from the fire, and they will ignite any combustible material they land on.

In this short video entitled Wildfire Defensible Space: Zone Zero Todd Lando, coordinator with FIRESafe Marin, highlights the importance of protecting your home’s most vulnerable exterior space from wildfire embers. He describes the zone from 0 to 5 feet of any structures as Zone Zero and explains that “zero” means zero combustibles. Nothing that can ignite should be placed, planted or allowed to accumulate on, against or near the home. And “zero” also means ground zero for homes to ignite during a wildfire.

Fortunately, many of the things you can do to protect your home from embers are simple, inexpensive or even free. During wildfires embers tend to collect near the base of exterior walls and will ignite anything that burns. This is the first place to look for vulnerabilities, such as wood siding that comes within six inches of the ground, mulch, plants, and leaves, or even a watering hose. It is recommended that you remove anything that can burn from this area. And remember, all plants burn. Where you plant is more important than what you plant!

Within 5 feet of any part of your home you should use inorganic mulches like gravel or stone, as well as hardscape pathways of materials such as cobblestone or concrete. Even these materials need to be cleaned regularly. Any leaves or debris that collect can be ignited by embers. This area should not be used to store things such as firewood, garbage and recycling cans, or furniture. And be sure never to store anything combustible under decks or overhangs! Outdoor furniture and accessories on your deck or patio may also act as kindling and ignite your home during a wildfire. Wood or plastic furniture, as well as shades, screens, umbrellas, and even doormats, can all ignite easily from embers. Choose accessories made from non-combustible materials, such as cast-aluminum furniture.

And don’t forget to keep your roof and gutters clean to prevent embers from igniting your home.

Prepared, Not Scared!

Zone Zero is a good place to start, but you will want to create defensible space for your entire property. You’ll also want to be sure you receive emergency notices, and that you and your family have Go Bags and are ready get out quickly and safely if necessary.

In this small but mighty guide, the Fire Safe Council of Santa Cruz County provides comprehensive information and checklists to prepare yourself and your family and protect your home and property. It also features an Emergency Evacuation guide, including what to take, where to go, and how to stay in communication. Click here to download!

Get Ready for Public Safety Power Shutoffs

Under extreme weather or wildfire conditions, energy companies (PG&E for most of Santa Cruz County) may need to turn off power. We have been through several of these Public Safety Power Shutoffs (PSPS), and can expect them again, especially during the summer and fall. We should all have personal and family emergency plans in place and updated, and we urge everyone to include preparations for power shutoffs, whether implemented as a public safety measure, or caused by other events.

PG&E is working to reduce the impact of shutoffs by finding ways to make these events smaller in size and shorter in length, as well as to harden and improve the electric system, and perform enhanced vegetation management.

Click here for more information from PG&E about what to expect and how to prepare.

Resources and Links

How Will You Get Emergency Alerts and Warnings?


CodeRed: SCR 9-1-1 encourages all of Santa Cruz and San Benito county residents to register their cell phones and VOIP phones with CodeRED. CodeRED is the alerting system used for public safety events in both counties. If you need to be told to evacuate, shelter in place, or prepare for an event, CodeRED is how the message is delivered.

Step 1: Go to to register. Once completed add 866-419-5000 to your contacts so you know when SCR9-1-1 is calling you.

Step 2: Download the CodeRED app to your smart phone. If an event occurs in proximity to your smart phone, you will be notified through the app. Be sure to "always allow" your location to be known for this app.

The CodeRED Mobile Alert app provides advanced, real-time, location-specific alerts to keep residents and visitors informed and safe as they travel across the United States and Canada. Messages can include text and audio and feature a map with the location of the warning area.
Click here to download the CodeRED Mobile Alert app for either iOS or Android.

Nixle is a free notification service that keeps you up-to-date about emergency weather events, road closings, public safety advisories, disasters, and other relevant information from public safety departments and schools. Click here to sign up for alerts from local agencies. If you live or work in different counties, or if you have relatives or friends in other areas from which you want to receive information, you can sign up for alerts in other areas.

READY, SET, GO Campaign
CAL FIRE has developed a communications program called “Ready, Set, Go!” that breaks down the actions needed to be ready for wildfire or any emergency.

Download the app and you can create a plan right from your phone or computer.