The National Fire Protection Association’s (NFPA) Firewise USA® program teaches people how to adapt to living with wildfire and encourages neighbors to work together and take action to help make their community more firesafe.
The Oakland Firesafe Council/OCP&R is encouraging Oakland neighborhood groups to join the growing network of more than 1,500 Firewise USA® sites from across the nation by taking ownership in preparing and protecting their homes and communities against the threat of wildfire.
WHY GET FIREWISE RECOGNIZED?
- Greatly reduces your wildfire risk
- Makes your home more resilient should a wildfire strike
- Makes our neighborhoods wildfire resistant
- May help obtain/retain insurance
- Some insurance companies give a discount
4 EASY STEPS:
- ORGANIZE: form small committee
- PLAN: perform assessment and create action plan
- DO: complete those actions
- SHARE: celebrate your success and report efforts back to Firewise USA®
READ ABOUT OAKLAND’S FIREWISE RECOGNIZED SITES
LEARN MORE IN OUR TOWN HALL RECORDING
View this recording of OFSC’s town hall, “Know the Way to Firewise USA®”, to learn more.
Refer to this PDF of Macy M. Cornell’s presentation for clickable links.
Creating defensible space and following fire-smart landscaping principles can greatly improve your home’s chance of surviving a wildfire (see our Guide Defensible Space & Fire-Smart Landscaping). The overall approach is aimed at the reduction and separation of combustibles in order to protect structures from three types of ignitions: embers, radiant heat, and direct flames.
For the best protection against wildfire, fire-smart landscaping should be performed in conjunction with home hardening measures (see our Guide Home Hardening for Wildfire).
What is Firescaping?
Firescaping is landscaping to reduce fire hazard, and includes the use of proper plant selection, placement and maintenance around homes and surroundings to reduce their vulnerability to wildfire. Firescaping incorporates design principles to harden your home against wildfire while also accomplishing other traditional landscaping goals such as privacy, shade, screening and beautification.
A carefully Firescaped design will
- reduce the chance of ignition
- lower a fire’s intensity to help your home survive
- slow the spread of fire and give you more time to safely escape if necessary
In addition to reducing fire hazard, a fire-smart yard can conserve water, encourage pollinators/wildlife, increase property value, and beautify your home and surroundings.
Where to Start?
Firescaping does not require that you spend a lot of money or remove all of your existing plants. Start with what is already in place and make strategic modifications according to recommended fire-smart principles. Remember that planning, placement, and maintenance are key.
The overall approach is aimed at the reduction and separation of combustibles, especially focusing on Zone 0 (the area 0-5′ around structures). For example,
- Use non-flammable hardscaping such as rocks and bricks for walls and paths
- Create open areas to provide a buffer to help prevent flames from spreading
- Understand that fire-smart plant selection is influenced by multiple factors (see next section)
- maintain, maintain, maintain
- Firescape: Landscaping to Reduce Fire Hazard, EBMUD
- Reducing the Vulnerability of Buildings to Wildfire/ Vegetation and Landscaping Guidance, UCANR
- Firescaping: Protecting Your Home with a Fire-Resistant Landscape, Douglas Kent 2nd Ed. 2019
- “A Brief Overview of Firescaping” PDF of presentation by Marilyn Saarni, UC Master Gardener volunteer from Contra Costa County, and certified by Rescape in “Sustainable Firescaping”
- Sustainable Defensible Space & Resilient Landscapes, Pacific Horticulture
- “Defensible Space & Landscaping” section of CNPS Fire Recovery Guide, CA Native Plant Society
LOOKING FOR SOME HELP? check out our “Find a Fire-Smart Contractor” below
There is no such thing as a fireproof plant or tree – any vegetation can burn when exposed to high enough temperatures and flames, especially if it is allowed to dry out. A plant’s ability to resist fire is strongly influenced by arrangement, spacing, density and dryness of the vegetation, as well as the type of plant.
Still, many plants and trees are much more fire-resistant than others and there are “fire-smarter” options. Start with these references to help you make selections appropriate for your situation:
- our Guide Firesafe Planting Checklist
- Fire Safe Marin’s Picture Gallery of Fire-Smart Plants
- Gardening with Native Plants, Friends of Sausal Creek
- FireSafe(r) Plant List 2021, Sheryl Drinkwater
- Plant lists and more , City of Oakland, Vegetation Management for Creeks
- Fire Safe(r) Illustrated Plant List, CalFlora
- SelecTree, UFEI CalPoly
- Fire Performance of Common Plants, Diablo Firesafe Council
- Safer Gardens Plant Flammability & Planning for Fire, Lesley Corbett, a “citizen science” guide with over 500 plants assessed, based on fire research from around the world
- Plant in Harmony with the Montclair Railroad Trail, Friends of the Montclair Railroad Trail
- Firewise Landscaping With Succulents, Debra Lee Baldwin
Firescaping Services & Tools
Interested in Firescaping and hardening your home against wildfire, but unsure of where to start? Need help finding a contractor that is knowledgable about Fire-Smart landscaping and management practices? Oakland Firesafe Council offers a listing of landscapers, contractors, and other service providers to help Oakland residents protect their homes against wildfire.
- Oakland Tool Lending Library
- Friends of Sausal Creek (FOSC) maintains a Native Plant Demonstration Garden in Dimond Park and has a Native Plant Nursery
- Designing for Fire — Homeowner Guidelines and Considerations for Native Planting, California Native Grasslands Association
- Wildfire Home Hardening Workshop for Building Industry Professionals and Architects, Fire Safe Marin
- Firescaping Qualification Course, ReScape
- ReScape Plant (De)Selection & FireScaping Presentation, Scott Sherman
- A UC Master Gardener Webinar: Firewise Landscaping – Preparing Your Home and Property for Wildfire:
- FireSmart BC Landscaping Guide PDF from BC FireSmart
- How to create Fire-Smart Landscaping w/ UC Marin Master Gardeners, Fire Safe Marin
- Firescaping – class taught by Douglas Kent hosted by LYNGSO, 2021
- Fire Smart Landscaping, CAL FIRE
Red Flag Warning periods are a time to be extremely cautious and alert!
A Red Flag Warning (RFW) is issued by the National Weather Service (NWS) when predicted weather conditions may result in extreme wildfire danger within 12 – 24 hours. Strong winds, low humidity, dry vegetation and potential lightning are the main factors. A Red Flag Warning is the highest alert as a single spark can cause a major wildfire.
View the National Weather Service’s Bay Area page for local RFW notices and weather alerts and information.
- SIGN UP for AC Alert
- KNOW YOUR ZONE with Zonehaven
- Understand Notifications and Warnings
- Have an emergency and evacuation plan in-place, including an out-of-area contact Emergency Planning
- Prepare Go-Bags for every member of the household (including pets) Evacuation and Go-Bag Checklists
- Review recommended Evacuation Guidelines
- Know what to do if you have to evacuate, including all possible ways out Emergency Evacuations
- Harden your home against wildfire Home Hardening for Wildfire
- Prepare for possible Power Outages (planned or unplanned)
- Give some thought to finding a safer location out of the area to stay until the RFW is lifted
How Will I Know When an RFW Has Been Issued?
Local radio, TV and weather stations should broadcast when a Red Flag Warning is in effect, and an AC Alert may be sent out. RFWs should also be posted on the NWS Twitter account (@NWSBayArea) and the OFD Twitter account (@OaklandFireCA) as well as on Nextdoor. Fire Stations will fly a red flag outside. Civilian emergency radio organizations may also monitor and report at this time, including the GENOAK 2-way radio network. Learn about these and other ways of being notified.
An RFW Has Been Issued. What Should I Do Now?
Take all Red Flag Warnings very seriously!
Sometimes the weather forecast isn’t accurate, but most often it is. Unfortunately, multiple RFWs during fire season can lead to “alert fatigue“.
Don’t ignore an RFW because the last one didn’t (thankfully) result in a wildfire. The next one very well could.
LEAVE EARLY if you ever feel unsafe. When in doubt, get out!
DURING a Red Flag Warning
- Review your evacuation plan and be ready to evacuate at a moment’s notice
- If feasible, consider going to a pre-planned, safer location until the RFW has been lifted
- Know your Zonehaven evacuation Zone name
- Verify that your Go-Bag is packed and accessible, review your evacuation checklist
- If you have a vehicle, make sure that it is ready to go with a full tank of gas (or full charge), parked outside (not in garage), and pointed facing the street
- Ensure your cell phone is charged, on and with you at all times, charge back-up batteries
- Remain alert, monitor conditions outside and listen for AC Alerts and other notifications
- Clear anything highly combustible outside your home, especially within 5’ of the structure
- Don’t smoke or use power tools, grills or any potential source of heat or spark outside
- City and/or Regional Parks may be closed – if so, do not enter these parks
- Prepare for possible Public Safety Power Shutoffs (PSPS)
Red Flag Warnings and 5 Minute Evacuation Plans PSAs
“Evacuation orders mean that you have to leave right away. During a Red Flag Warning you should be ready to leave your house in five minutes. When you have to evacuate, five minutes can make all the difference.” ~ California Fire Foundation
What is Red Flag Warning vs Fire Weather Watch?
RED FLAG WARNING
Weather events predicted to occur within 12 – 24 hours that may result in extreme fire behavior. The highest alert!
FIRE WEATHER WATCH
Critical Fire Conditions: strong winds, low relative humidity, dry vegetation, possibility of dry lightning strikes. Could exist in the next 24 – 72 hours.
- Red Flag Warning, City of Oakland
- Recursos en Español, CAL FIRE
- Radio PSAs in multiple languages, California Fire Foundation
- Red flag warnings: What they are and why they matter, The Oaklandside – 8/31/21
Please share this flyer
What’s the big deal about embers?
Burning embers and firebrands cause the most house fires during a wildfire or firestorm.
Flying embers that land on any combustible material on, around or in your home can start a fire.
But you don’t live in a “high risk zone” for wildfire?
Embers can fly a mile or more and potentially ignite homes far from a main wildfire.
Rain gutters could offer a bed of fuel for rogue embers. Embers could get into open areas such as vents and ignite combustibles inside your home. Embers landing on roofs or near the foundation can start burns there, too.
So, what can be done?
Don’t give embers a chance!
Leave nothing for insidious embers to ignite and feed on.
- Perform an assessment of your home using this home assessment checklist
- Based on your assessment, take the necessary steps to harden your home
- In addition to implementing home hardening measures, creating defensible space and following fire-smart landscaping (firescaping) principles will greatly improve your home’s chance of surviving a wildfire.
The area 5 feet around your home is especially key to keep clear of readily combustible materials.
- Remove dried out or dead vegetation
- Rake up leaves, pine needles, etc
- Avoid fine wood mulch, instead spread gravel or decomposed granite, or use bricks or pavers.
- Don’t allow vegetation to grow right next to the siding, especially if it is wood or vinyl. Small, short and well-watered plants or bushes may be ok, just be sure to maintain them.
Don’t offer embers a buffet!
We can’t control weather. We can’t control topography. But we can control the amount of combustible fuels available to hungry embers.
- Recursos en Español, CAL Fire
- En Sus Marcas, Listos, Fuera! video (Ready, Set, Go! National Video, Spanish Edition)
- Be Ember Aware! 10 Tips to Help You Prepare
- Research Studies – Ember Characteristics
- Research Article – Factors influencing ember accumulation near a building, Journal of the International Association of Wildland Fire
- Video – How Do Homes Burn in a Wildfire?, National Fire Protection Association
ALERTCalifornia Local Live Feed Cameras
- Be able to receive emergency alerts and notifications
- Be aware of what’s going on around you, called “Situational Awareness.” See flames, smoke, etc? Hear sirens, loudspeakers, helicopters? Smell smoke? Then tune in to alert systems such as AC Alert, AM/FM radio, Zonehaven, etc.
- Monitor local ridge-top cameras during Red Flag Warning/high wildfire danger periods: ALERTCalifornia
- Form a community wildfire watch team during Red Flag Warning/high wildfire danger periods. Read about an East Bay example, Wildcat Watch, in this article.
- Use GENOAK 2-way radio network to communicate with others during Red Flag Warning/high wildfire danger periods
- Use applications and websites to be aware of local fires, smoke, wind and weather events, etc:
- AlertCalifornia cameras
- Wildfire Forecast & Threat Intelligence Integration Center
- National Interagency Fire Center
- FIRMS (NASA’s Fire Information for Resource Management System)
- Satellite (VIIRS) Thermal Hotspots and Fire Activity
- CAL FIRE Emergency Incidents
- RAWS (Remote Automated Weather Stations)
- National Weather Service Bay Area
- Twitter – AC Alert, Oakland Fire, Alameda County Fire, CAL FIRE
Additional reference: Citizen’s Guide to Fire Suppression Monitoring
- If you see flames/wildfire or rising smoke, immediately call 911 or Oakland Fire Dept direct at (510) 444-1616
- To report fire within an East Bay Regional Park, call EBRPD Fire/Police Dispatch at (510) 881-1833
- Report as much of the following information as you can (use your best estimates) to the operator/dispatcher, plus any additional information they request:
- your location and the approximate location of the wildfire or rising smoke
- approximate size of the fire in square feet or acres (1 football field equals about 1 acre)
- direction(s) the fire is moving in
- fuel type – grass, brush, trees, buildings
- exposures – are any persons, animals or buildings threatened?
- wind – approximate speed and direction
- slope – flat, moderate, steep
- rate of spread – slow, moderate, rapid
- hazards – e.g., electrical wires down, hazardous materials present, etc.
- Do not put yourself into any danger and make sure that you know your escape/evacuation routes away from the fire
Are you parking safely for yourself, neighbors and first responders?
DID YOU KNOW that a fire engine needs a road width of 20 FEET* to assure access in an emergency?
Many streets in our area aren’t 20 feet wide, so when you’re parking be sure to leave room for emergency vehicles. It could be YOUR life at stake.
* From CA Fire Code 503.2.1:
“Fire apparatus access roads shall have an unobstructed width of not less than 20 feet (6096 mm), exclusive of shoulders, except for approved security gates in accordance with Section 503.6, and an unobstructed vertical clearance of not less than 13 feet 6 inches.”
NEED MORE CONVINCING?
Take a look at this home video by Janice Gatlin and imagine YOUR family is waiting while the fire engines thread the needle through parked cars.
DANGEROUSLY PARKED CAR?
Print this NOTICE to leave on the windshield (there are 2 per page).
THANKING the Piedmont Pines Neighborhood Association for initially creating this program
A fire hydrant covered by vegetation, or half-buried in leaves and soil, or missing its blue Bott’s Dot street markers, can be difficult for firefighters to locate in an emergency, when seconds count.
CHECK FIRE HYDRANTS IN YOUR COMMUNITY
- Clear around hydrants so that they are visible from the street.
- Report to OAK 311 if they appear to be damaged, leaking, etc.
- Verify that at least one blue Bott’s Dot is affixed in the centerline of the street adjacent to the hydrant. Report if it is missing.
- Perform these checks at least a couple times a year.
- Be safe! Place safety cones in the street to warn motorists, wear a reflective vest and have an assistant to alert you for vehicles.
- Use only hand tools to clear around hydrants. Be careful not to cause sparks!
- DO NOT paint over or alter the color of the hydrant–the caps are color coded and the white body is uniform and recognized by firefighters, and easier to see at night.
Parking in front of or within 15 feet of a hydrant carries a $100 fine per CA State Vehicle Code 22514
A LITTLE MORE ON HYDRANTS
- EBMUD maintains hydrants and OFD/311 reports issues to them to fix
- Fire engines/trucks do have electronic maps to help geolocate hydrants
- Hydrant top caps that are blue, green or white signify a good flow rate is available. A hydrant with an orange or red cap signifies a lower flow rate; contact your local Fire Station for more information.
- Hydrant side outlet caps that are green or white signify high pressure is available. Orange side outlet caps signify normal pressure and red needs to be pumped.
- Fire hydrants are not to be covered by signs, billboards, posters or any other notice per Oakland City Ordinance 5.06.020
- A little local hydrant history
- Don’t park in front of fire hydrants or THIS could happen (see photo)
GENOAK is a neighborhood-to-neighborhood emergency 2-way radio communications network for Oakland and nearby areas.
In the event of a large-scale emergency, individuals and neighborhood/CERT groups may need to depend on information and assistance from other nearby communities. Cellular, Internet and landline phone communications may be overloaded or disrupted at this time and GENOAK can provide an alternate means to communicate.
Oakland Firesafe Council’s town hall series covers topics related to disaster readiness, focusing on practical knowledge to help you to make good judgments and to take actionable steps towards emergency preparedness.
Oakland Hills Vegetation Inspections 2023
Adam Ball, Fire Inspection Supervisor with Oakland’s Vegetation Management Unit, explains the process for the annual wildfire vegetation inspections for 2023 that take place in the Very High Fire Hazard Severity Zones in Oakland, California, starting in early June.
SERIES 2 (2022) – “Savvy & Prepared Communities”: this 4-part virtual town hall series (January through May 2022) is focused on working together and preparing as a community. For session topics and schedule, see EVENTS page. Recordings of sessions will be posted here when they come available.
SESSION 1: Whatever the Weather
SESSION 2: Know the Way to Firewise USA® , Presentation PDF
SESSION 3: Reducing Fire Risks As A Community
SESSION 4: If You Gotta Go
SERIES 1 (2021) – The “Savvy Homeowner/Renter in Our Disaster-Prone Area”: this 5-part virtual town hall series featured Oakland City staff and other experts providing in-depth information on how residents can protect their loved ones and property and be more resilient following a disaster.
SESSION 1: The City of Oakland Prepares for the 2021 Fire Season
SESSION 2: Remember the Ember – Hardening Your Home Against Wildfire
SESSION 3: All About Defensible Space
SESSION 4: Not a Matter of If, But When–Earthquake Preparedness
SESSION 5: Insurance Matters