Edit: this post was originally published July 17, 2010, but the concerns are still as real as ever. Broken links have been updated, but the body of this article is, for the most part, left as it originally was over a decade ago.
Since early July, fire danger signs have been out at Belgatos Park in Los Gatos (and I suspect at other parks throughout Santa Clara County too). To the right is the sign at the park’s main entrance. It admonishes the visitors:
“High Fire Danger No Smoking No BBQs”
To anyone who’s lived in Silicon Valley long, this is understood – the fire danger is quite high here in summer. Unlike most of the east coast, it does not rain here in summer (at least not often and not much), and our green grasses and plants of spring turn to kindling very quickly. One stray match, hot cigarette butt or one illegal firework can smolder into a flame which grows fast with the smallest amount of wind to destroy property, animal life and potentially human life, make breathing bad for days and leave a scar on the land.
This sign at the entrance may not feel very compelling to some as the lush green grass in the background would seem to contraindicate restraint. But venture to the park’s side entrance on Bacigalupi Drive (or hike up the trails) and you’ll understand immediately why this is nothing to take lightly.
Except for one little tuft of partially green grass, “cardboard hill” is entirely dry. So is the rest of this beautiful open space.
If you live close to or have open space in San Jose’s Alum Rock, Almaden, or other east foothill areas or the west valley places like Los Gatos, Monte Sereno, Sartoga, Cupertino or anywhere the foothills, your property is likely considered to be in a high risk fire hazard zone. If so, each year you are mailed information from Cal Fire reminding you of your obligation to provide clearance around your home and to cut down the dead brush.
Just outside of the main entrance to the park there’s a large and open lot which has a few trees, some prickly pear, and a lot of grasses and weeds in winter and spring. (It also had a rattlesnake it in by the prickly pear when my daughter walked past with our dog one day a month or two ago.) Below is a pan of two pics I took with my Blackberry and later stitched together – the park entrance is out of sight but is a little to the left of this photo.
These owners have done as needed and disked the field to help prevent fires or the spread of fires.
There are things you can do to “harden” your own home and create defensible space if you live near open space to make it more resistant to fire. Check out the whole list on the Cal Fire site, “Prepare for Wildfire“.