Fire lessons learned

Our Thomas Fire experience revealed that water-smart and fire-smart are 2 peas in a pod. These past few years we implemented recommendations distilled from expert sources on how to protect your home from wildfire. But that was all in the abstract. Reality struck at daybreak on December 16, 2017 when what firefighters called a ‘fire cyclone’ whipped up by 65-mph winds raced down our lane.

On the next day’s ABC World News Tonight, our local fire captain was interviewed standing in front of our home. The 2 houses next door had been overcome by flames, yet ours looked intact. When evacuation was lifted 5 days later, we were stunned to find the fire had ravaged our property and come within 10 to 20′ on all sides of our home. It destroyed most of our gardens, all our mature hedges, many of our old growth trees, and our outlying structures. Ash and debris were everywhere.

Firefighters came by the day we returned and told us that all our fire-protection actions had helped them. Their heroic efforts – and our water wise landscaping – miraculously saved our home and slowed the flames so properties just south of us sustained little damage.

As I canvassed the damage and formulated recovery plans, the trail of destruction clearly showed what had helped and what hurt. These insights go beyond standard fire-protection advice to decrease fuel volume, separate fuel sources, create defensible zones, and select drought-tolerant plants. Future posts will cover:


  • Gravel/stone/hardscape – horizontal & vertical
  • Succulents
  • Plant spacing/density
  • Garden hoses
  • Elevation changes
  • Stucco, slate & non-flammable building materials


  • Rosemary
  • Mulch
  • Cordylines/grasses/acacia
  • Wood