Fire Safe News Fire-Wise Landscaping

MetroView March-April 2023 Edition: Fire-ey Questions …from Your Neighbors

Coif Your Canyon to Reduce Erosion and Flammability
By Judy Beust Harrington, Co-Chair, Kensington Fire Safe
Photo Credit (Above): Lucy Warren

This column is your fire safe council’s effort to share answers to questions we get from community members. Send your fire-related questions to and we’ll do our best to find the answer!

Q: From Loren, an Alder Circle resident: “What should I plant in my shaded, bare dirt canyon area, to reduce fire and erosion risk?”

A: There was a house on Alder they called the sliding shame… I’m told the back room went right down the canyon decades ago in a heavy rain, probably like ones we witnessed this past winter. This neighbor’s question is timely!

Lists of online drought and fire-resistant plants seem overwhelming, so I reached out to Kensington resident and UC Cooperative Extension Master Gardener, DeLayne Harmon, and she reached out to fellow MGer, Lucy Warren, a southern California sustainable landscaping expert and writer. (Check out her excellent “California Native Plants” video at:

Lucy’s advice? “My personal one-plant response for slopes: Baccharis ‘Pigeon Point’ mixed with at least four other species.”
“Coyote Bush” – as it is also called – is a favorite of your fire safe council! Not only is it fast-growing, drought-tolerant and slope-stabilizing, it also is said to emit a mild flame retardant when faced with a fire. And, while it prefers sun, it can grow in mostly shade too.

DeLayne clarified that Pigeon Point ground cover – Baccharis pilularis spp pilularis – is a specific coyote bush hybrid with smaller leaves that only grows to about two feet. You can often find it at City Farmers Nursery (3110 Euclid) or Hunter’s Nursery (3110 Sweetwater Road, Lemon Grove). More info at‘Pigeon-Point’-(Pigeon-Point-Coyote-Brush)?srchcr=sc5e39ba57165f9

Be a Diversity Diva

What about that “four other species” advice? Check out Lucy’s co-author and popular local landscaper, Greg Rubin’s website on the role of native landscaping in fire suppression. Greg has landscaped homes that came out relatively unharmed while nearby houses were destroyed in wildfires. His years of research for the U.S Navy established that lightly hydrated evergreen, perennial native plants assist in fire suppression as well or better than succulent plants. And diversity can help fight diseases too. More info at Greg’s CalOwn website:
The local chapter of the California Native Plant Society ( ) has a great pamphlet which lists native plants for area landscapes. And you can narrow info down to your specific needs at

Plant water!

Another way you might increase your canyon’s erosion and fire resistance is to capture some of the mountains of water that run off your house, with rain barrels and “swales” to safely catch the barrel’s overflow during our rainy season. Swales are basically flat ditches or gutters, which can be filled with rocks, compost, and plants to safely increase your ground water and keep established plants healthy. They can slow a fire’s spread toward your house and keep your trees alive if the day ever comes when we’re prohibited from using scarce water for gardens. Much swale how-to info is available online or search for “mini-swales in an urban backyard.” (

Bottom line for fire and erosion resistance: no to any dry woody stems, like ice plant, no to invasives like Pampas grass or leaving the ground bare. Yes to harvesting barrels of rainfall to support oodles of attractive native plant diversity! Matchy-matchy is out in jewelry and gardens!

Community Presentations Fire Safe News

Home Owner Insurance Presentation

It was standing room only at KFS’s February 11, 2023 home owner insurance presentation by Scott Caraveo.  The crowd had great questions about the challenges of finding coverage in California!

Here’s an iPhone video of Scott’s talk in two parts.

View part 1.

View part 2.

If you have additional questions – please send them to us at (along with suggestions for future presentations or other fire-related questions you may have for us).

Community Recognition Fire Safe News

KFS Awarded $8000 SAFE Grant for Dumpathon

(Photo: Pictured above from left is Penny Newell, Senior Communications Manager for SDG&E, who has been extremely helpful in securing funding for KFS, along with KFS board members, Amy Dyson, Vicki Pinkus and Judy Harrington.)

KFS is proud to announce we were awarded an $8,000 SAFE grant by the Fire Safe Council of SD County, for our dumpster program, and our co-chairs were recognized with a volunteer of the year award! FSC-SDC programs is funded by the San Diego River Conservancy, United States Forest Service, SDG&E, and the Resource Conservation District of Greater San Diego County as well as donations from private individuals.

Fire Safe News

Memorial Day Parade 2022

The Kensington Memorial Day Parade was a roaring success! We were Entry #3 right behind “our” Fire Station 18 fire truck. “Our Firefighters” say howdy and thanks to all!

 Although the photos don’t show the very large crowds that were just a couple of blocks south of Ridgeway on Marlborough Drive, thanks to my amazing early teen “helpers,” Aliana and Nikki, we gave out 98 beautiful Dumpathon flyers to very interested onlookers in just 5 blocks. 

Dozens and dozens of onlookers cheered us on, and I shouted out our website to many parade onlookers.

We may have been the “smallest” entry in the Parade but we certainly were a wee hit!

-Vicki Pinkus, Vice President, KFS Board of Directors

Fire Safe News

1/8″ Screens Placed in Vents and Eaves Can Protect Your Home from Flying Embers

This short video shows how screens can be placed in the spaces under tile roofs to keep out burning embers and protect your home from wildfire.

Please note, 1/8″ screening is recommended, but if you can’t find it, here’s how to protect your home using 1/4″:

In the video the handyman uses TWO 1/4″ screens placed on top of each other at an angle. 1/4″ is a bit too large to block out the embers, but if you use two layers of quarter inch offset from one another you can form a tighter barrier and you’ll be ok.

If you use 1/8″ screen material you should only need one layer.

Fire Safe News Fire-Wise Landscaping

What to do if a neighbor doesn’t trim trees or brush that may be a fire hazard

1. Understand when brush is a potential fire hazard

Check out the “City of San Diego Guide to Fire Safety and Brush Management for Private Property”. It is very specific about a homeowner’s responsibilities for keeping their property free of fire hazards. There are also other resources available on the resource page of our website.

2. Share information

Obviously the first step is to try to talk to you neighbor about the potential danger.  If you think it will help, we can supply you with a hard copy of the guide mentioned above for your neighbor. 

3. Offer to help

Sometimes neighbors will offer to help trim or share the cost of trimming as just the price of also making their own house safer. 

4. Last resort: report

If nothing else works, take a picture, and report the situation on San Diego’s Get It Done site, and/or call the San Diego Fire Hazard Advisor at 619-533-4444.  Complaints are private and not shared or discussed with either party. 

They can send out an inspector, although there may be a wait because there’s a limited number of inspectors serving the whole city.  If they find brush management violations, they will advise the homeowner on corrective action needed and give them time to correct the problems.  If the owner does not correct the violations within the specified time period, the city can issue a citation with fines, and potentially “forced abatement” costing hundreds of dollars.  More info:

If electrical wires are involved, contact SDGE at 1-800-411-7343.  If possible, get the “pole number” which is stamped on a silver marker on each pole. This will give them a precise location.  They have professional arborists who can assess the situation and decide if the tree or tree limbs pose a hazard.  If necessary, they will then arrange for pruning or, if a tree needs to be removed, they can recommend replacement options that won’t interfere with wires as they grow.  They even have a tree replacement program. More info at:

Fire hazards put us all at risk, not just a single homeowner.  By taking action, you are being a responsible citizen and trying to make us all safer.  

On behalf of everyone in our community, thank you for your efforts!

Fire Safe News

Dumpathon – Feb. 17 – 24

We will continually update this blog throughout the Dumpathon.

Funding and support for this project is provided by a grant to the Fire Safe Council of San Diego County from the San Diego River Conservancy.

For information about dumpster locations and remaining capacity click here to visit our Dumpathon page.

Wednesday, February 23, 2022: We’ve had a very successful Dumpathon and estimate we’ve removed 17 tons of flammable green waste from Kensington!

In fact, we were so successful that two of our five dumpsters were completely full before the event even ended, so we had them hauled away early.

A total of four dumpsters were 100% full and one large dumpster was 90% full.

We are so grateful to YOU, our community, for doing your part to keep Kensington safe from wildfires. We’re also grateful for our dumpster-minders for hosting our five dumpsters. And we are especially grateful for our sponsors, The Fire Safe Council of San Diego County and the San Diego River Conservancy.

Take a look at our very full dumpsters:

Thursday, February 17, 2022: The dumpsters arrived today! Board members Vicki Pinkus and Judy Harrington attached our signs to the dumpsters.

This is the first time we’ve held a Dumpathon in February. We’re hoping neighbors will take advantage of the cooler weather to do the hard work of clearing flammable brush from their canyons and yards and dump it in our dumpsters free of charge.

We will continue to hold our Fall Dumpathon this September or October.

Community Recognition Fire Safe News

Councilman Elo-Rivera Awards Kensington Fire Safe

KFS co-chairs Judy Harrington and Amy Dyson, were recognized at The State of the District event on February 12, 2022 for their work making Kensington and the surrounding neighborhoods safer from wildfire. Sean Elo-Rivera, City Council President and Ninth District Councilman, presented them with a Volunteer of the Year award.

“This recognition really belongs to our Kensington residents, who take our message of fire preparedness to heart and take measurable steps to keep their homes and our communities safe,” Amy said.  “They’re the real heroes.” Judy added, “We also couldn’t do what we do without the incredible support of our board who contribute so much time and talent.”

Kensington Fire Safe is grateful for this recognition. Clearly the Kensington Fire Safe mission aligns with the Ninth District community members and has the full support of Councilman Sean Elo-Rivera and his team.

Community Presentations Fire Safe News Fire-Wise Landscaping

CANYONLANDS: Brush Management Guide and Video Presentation

San Diego Canyonlands: Brush Management Training for Canyon Communities

Click here to download San Diego Canyonland’s “Brush Management + Native Landscaping Resources.”

Fire Safe News


If you make improvements to your home so it is less likely to be seriously damaged or destroyed in a wildfire, it’s only fair that your insurance costs should reflect that reduced risk…or at the very least, you should be able to find and keep affordable home insurance.

United Policyholders

Has Your Big Rate Increase Arrived? Mine Did!

Or, a home insurance cancellation notice like some neighbors? Consumer advocacy group, United Policyholders (UP), is tackling this through their Wildfire Risk Reduction and Asset Protection Project (“WRAP”). Along with the CA Insurance Department, insurers, Fire Safe Councils and a host of other agencies, WRAP hopes to establish for the first time:

1. Uniform, scientifically based, industry-accepted home hardening standards

2. Standardized home inspection and certification programs

3. Insurance incentives for California homeowners to meet standards — CA Dept. of Insurance has draft regulations to do just this.

The industry’s research group, the Insurance Institute for Business and Home Safety, is developing a “Wildfire Prepared Home” designation, which our insurers could use to provide discounts or other incentives – details at the link below but basically, requirements under discussion are:

1. Class A fire-rated roof

2. Ember-resistant vents – 1/8 inch

3. 6-inch vertical non-combustible clearance at the base of walls – could be siding, or other non-combustible material from the ground up six inches

4. No combustible siding

5. No combustible materials within 5 feet of the house “home ignition zone”

6. No materials in vents

7. Attached decks that are enclosed, and no combustible materials underneath.

8. Any fence touching or within five feet of house is non- combustible

9. No combustible outbuildings near home

10.Yard is clear of debris.

“Wildfire Prepared Home” designations may start this summer in California. So, if you’re considering some home renovations, you might save future insurance dollars as well as help protect your home, and your neighbors by implementing these target requirements now.

Another good reason to take advantage of the KFS February 17-24 Dumpathon! Free dumpsters for your green fuel waste at: 4312 Ridgeway Drive, 4345 Middlesex Drive, 4308 Alder Drive, 4362 Argos Drive and 4870 Sussex Drive. We are grateful to the Fire Safe Council of San Diego County and the San Diego River Conservancy for supporting this project! More info at: Insurance info: and

Judy Harrington

Note: Several insurance companies offer discounts already for fire-hardened homes, mostly for “Fire Wise Communities” that meet specific wildfire damage-resistance criteria. Obtaining this designation requires a lot of volunteer efforts and homeowner cooperation, but already hardened homes as well as having a Fire Safe Council is a help! Kensington’s not a FWC.