Despite beating the drum on a message of preparedness, Cloverdale Fire Chief Thad Olsen is still seeing homes in his district that can’t be defended from wildfire.

He said it two years ago, in the wake of fires that took three homes in his district — and the message is the same today: “We aren’t going to commit firefighters to houses that are not defensible. Basically, what we’re asking is, give us a fighting chance.”

Olsen told The Nugget last week that the two major factors are overgrown trees and shrubs that block fire engine access and trees and shrubs growing too close to structures.

“A lot of times, it’s stuff that was good 10 years ago, but it’s now overgrown,” he said. “A lot of it’s just maintenance stuff.”

A juniper tree growing right up against a structure can go up like a torch and take the house with it.

Creating defensible space around your home means creating an area of at least 30 feet around the home where combustibles are kept cleared away, trees limbed back and landscaping crafted with plants that don’t readily ignite and carry fire.

Steps to create defensible space and tips on fire-resistant landscaping may be found at www.firefree.org. Additionally, products are available to spray on your home that can enhance its resistance to fire. Those have to be applied well before any crisis develops and should be part of a program of defensibility and not a substitute for defensible space.

fire truck access

Another critical element in giving firefighters a fighting chance is making sure they can get into and out of your property safely.

Firefighters have to be able to drive in to a property and have to be able to turn an engine around so they can escape quickly. If a property doesn’t allow for that, a fire chief won’t send firefighters in — because they would be risking their lives.

That continues to be a problem in the Cloverdale Fire District.

Chief Olsen said that in his neighborhood alone, “I’ve got six driveways where I know we can’t get a fire truck to their house.”

Property owners are advised to limb trees back to make sure a fire truck can get in and turn around — and that work should be done before fire season gets underway. Also, it is important to make sure that fire-numbers are readily visible so that emergency personnel can identify where homes are.

Sgt. Garibay says, “There are places in this county where you could drive past a house and not know there was a house there.”