by   Suzanne Baird  , ASLA  Perennial Designs , Westlake Village APLD Greater Los Angeles Advocacy Chair

by Suzanne Baird, ASLA
Perennial Designs, Westlake Village
APLD Greater Los Angeles Advocacy Chair

Having just finished a fuel modification plan for a client who lost their home during the Thomas fire, it was unsettling to find myself a few days later packing our valuables and evacuating from our home of more than 25 years. The fires came close, charring the hillsides and open space surrounding us, but our neighborhood was spared. We were lucky.

As Governor Jerry Brown recently stated, the devastating fires we experienced are no longer the exception but the new norm for California. The combination of drought, urban sprawl into native wilderness, and the unpredictability of fire itself has created a volatile situation. As we saw first-hand with the Woolsey fires, our communities are vulnerable and we need to be better prepared to protect ourselves and limit the spread of the wildfires.

Unfortunately, it sometimes takes a catastrophe to recognize that more work needs to be done to prepare ourselves for fire events. Current fuel modification regulations primarily address new construction and larger landscape renovation projects. Most existing landscapes, unless located in a high fire hazard severity zone, are not subject to review. Add to that a confusing and often conflicting set of rules between fire departments, City MWELO requirements, and even some of the sustainability practices we use and it’s not surprising that we are not better prepared.

As design professionals, we must take a leadership role to educate our clients and ourselves about fire and ways to reduce fuel loads. We don’t need to wait for new regulations to start designing with fire safety in mind. Through our efforts, we have made significant advances in promoting the need for sustainable, water-wise, and climate appropriate landscapes. I believe there is room to add the planning of defensible space under the sustainability umbrella without sacrificing good design. With a little effort on our parts, we can truly make our world a more beautiful and safer place to live.

Open space by 3 Springs Park.jpg
The hills near Suzanne’s house. Photos courtesy of Suzanne.

The hills near Suzanne’s house.
Photos courtesy of Suzanne.