Fire-Wise Landscaping

Mulch, Flames and Gorillas?

Flying flames apparently take a likin’ to some mulches a lot more than others. For those that are interested, a 2007 study(1) on ignition rates and flame heights came to these love affair conclusions and some recommended physical separation from flammable structures:

  1. Love at first landing: Straw and pine needles caught fire the fastest – less than five seconds. Keep at least 15 feet away.
  2. Totally infatuated: Wood chips and bark nuggets had few fire-proofing characteristics; 15–30 feet separation.          
  3. Can be dangerously flirtatious – keep several feet away.     
    1. Green, closely-mowed sod can provide excellent fire-proofing.  However, when grown more than four inches or dry, it becomes as flammable as pine needles and wheat straw. 
    1. Dense, finely ground/screened materials such as garden compost and shredded bark had strong fire-proofing characteristics, however, with enough time could possibly cause other materials to ignite.
  4. But, flames can’t stand inorganic mulches! Decomposed granite, gravel and rocks are the motherlode for superior fire-proofing, especially for cozying up to flammable structures.  Only concern is  regularly removing flammable, windblown debris.

Since this was an Arizona study, we asked local landscaping expert Greg Rubin (2) for his opinion.  Here’s what he said: 

“These results seem very consistent with our experience and measurements.  Except that when the mulch is consolidated with overhead watering (within months) or naturally (years), the flame height drops to around ~2″ (consolidation limits oxygenation). A local fire marshall ran ignition tests on our gorilla hair and came back asking, ‘What kind of fire retardant are you putting in this stuff?’.  Of course, we can never guarantee a yard or home won’t burn in a firestorm, but at least these results so far have been pretty good.”

We’d never heard of gorilla hair – maybe you all are familiar with it. For those who aren’t, it’s finely-shredded redwood and western cedar tree bark, that looks remarkably like the backs of Jane Goodall’s best friends.(3) 

Let’s hope none of us ever have to deal with any romance between flying flames and our mulch!

  1. Check out the full study here:                
  2. Mr. Rubin, the 2018 San Diego Horticulturist of the Year, recently completed a five-year Navy research project on fire-resistant native landscapes. He has published two popular books on California native landscaping and his company has installed over 700+ landscapes.
Fire Safe News

Flammable Brush Pile Removed

The large brush pile left behind from the 2019 Fairmount Canyon fire has been removed. KFS board VP Ken Burkhart took the lead in coordinating the removal with the San Diego Fire Department and San Diego Parks and Recreation. We are grateful to all of you for your GET IT DONE attitude and SO relieved that the dangerous, highly flammable, brush pile is gone. Fairmount Canyon is a safer place because of YOU.

Fire Safe News

Please Complete Our Survey

Do you have a moment to fill out our survey? It only takes a few minutes and we’d really appreciate hearing from you. Take the survey by clicking here.

Fire Safe News

2019 Fairmont Canyon Fire, A Neighbor’s Account

Thank you, Alina Talbott, for sharing your photos of the 2019 Fairmont Canyon Fire.

Alina sent us the following: “Here are some photos of the 2019 Fairmont Canyon fire that were taken from our back yard. The final photo looking across Fairmont towards our home (the yellow, lowest one in the middle), shows we’ve done a ton of clearing for fire safety, and it takes the efforts of all Canyon homeowners to achieve fire safety for all.

On the day of the fire we prepared for evacuation, but what we weren’t prepared for was the gathering of people outside our home eager to see what was happening. 

I first had trouble reaching my house fast enough because of cars slowly trolling our street to find an advantage spot to watch the fire. The fire was just across Aldine and threatening an easy leap to our back yard if the wind shifted at all. My husband was inside trying to gather our valuables and animals by himself. We quickly realized we couldn’t safely pack our car with our valuables and leave it unattended as we went in for more because there were dozens of random people loitering out front. We were torn between having the car loaded with our “go gear and valuables” and possibly saving the home by hosing down the roof and backyard. We called on a nearby friend to stand guard at the car while we secured the yard and home. Randoms were actually trying to get through our yard (without permission) to get a better view of the fire behind us and take pictures. It was unsettling on so many levels. 

Another lesson I learned was that I cannot be trusted to pack reasonable attire in a “go bag” under stress. I’m really glad we didn’t actually end up displaced! We were very lucky. 

The next week I took dozens of “thank you” cookies to the local fire fighters that defended our homes.”

Fire Safe News

2020 Annual Report

Happy Fire Safe New Year!

Kensington Fire Safe Soundbite #2-2021 – 2020 Annual Report

Under Beverly Barrett’s able direction and a team of conscientious volunteers, seven grant-funded, fire-fuel-filled (say that twice) dumpsters left our canyons a lot less dense this past October.  Then, after many years of tireless work, Bev passed the FSC virtual fire hose to us, Amy Dyson and Judy Harrington.  Here’s what we’ve been up to:

  • Getting our feet on the ground:
    • Bev connected us to the FSC of SD County zooms to learn about other FSCs’s projects and fundraising and we won’t miss future ones –  way too valuable!
    • We also zoomed with FSC of SDC leadership to clarify how to stay an official FSC, like developing a “CWPP” – Community Wildfire Prevention Plan. It’s on our 2021 to do list.
    • We’ve contacted the San Diego Fire Rescue Department regarding zooming with our local Fire Station to learn more about how we can support them – date TBD.  
    • Meanwhile, we delivered a basket full of goodies donated by area residents and two boxes of fresh produce from Staley’s.   Firefighters were much appreciative and we really appreciated all the donations!
  • Non-Profit Push
    • Based on these learnings and additional research, we decided to incorporate and seek non-profit tax status.  This will enhance our ability to secure additional grants and manage our finances. 
    • We formed a starting board of directors and re-named the organization “Kensington Fire Safe” (KFS) as one council incorporating the former five.  
    • Our filed Articles of Incorporation were approved December 5.  We’ve also set up an accounting system to keep track of all those grants we hope to secure.
    • We’ve written bylaws and a conflict of Interest policy, and our next step is applying for a non-profit Employer Identification Number.
  • Communications…
    • Using our newly designed logo, we established our own website and social media presence:   and
    • We published the first of these “Safety Soundbites” to keep you informed of our efforts and get community feedback.
    • Our resident surveys, announced through Nextdoor, were completed by 12 residents and provided some great ideas, as well as potential volunteers.  
  • Projects: the tricky part…what to actually DO to increase safety!) 
    • #1 is continuing the October Dumpathon!  Survey says: THIS IS IMPORTANT!  Some suggested more dumpsters and/or twice a year – good possibilities if we can find ways to raise the funds. 
    • Also suggested: clearing the canyons of non-native palms and other fire-prone trees. Using helicopters, SD Canyonlands and the San Diego River Conservancy have done this in two urban canyons; very expensive. They hope to find funding for efforts in other canyons and Board member Ken Burkhart is staying in touch with them on our behalf.
    • Searchable FAQ:  One resident suggested developing a searchable list of well-thought-out, frequently-asked-questions and equally well-thought-out answers.  We’ll see if one already exists, and if not – any volunteers to help do this?

There are other good suggestions, but we’re hoping to get a few more responses, and then we’ll do a full report.  Please fill one out if you haven’t already: Meanwhile…thanks for everyone’s help so far!  If we keep it up, hopefully we can all look forward to a fire safe 2021!

Fire Safe News

Kensington Fire Safe Delivers A Christmas Treat To Our Fire Fighters

We’ve been working for weeks collecting treats and goodies from our generous Kensington neighbors to fill up an enormous gift basket for our local fire fighters. Stehly’s Grocery generously donated two large boxes of fresh produce to add to the gift.

Last night we drove to the fire station to drop off the presents. Fire fighters DJ, Darrell and Neil were very happy and grateful to receive the gifts and were honestly moved by the gesture. Kensington Fire Safe members were pleased to find a way to honor our local heroes who do so much to protect our community.

We hope that this is a sweet start to a beautiful partnership between Fire Station 18 and Kensington Fire Safe! Kensington Fire Safe wants to thank Stehly’s Grocery, Martha and Rus Fuller, Bill and Nancy Bamberger, Janie and Dave Ellis, Judy and Bill Harrington, Brian and Amy Dyson, and so many other neighbors for their generosity.


Board of Directors

Click here to meet Kensington Fire Safe’s board of directors.

Fire Safe News

Fairmount Canyon Fire

We are grateful to Kensington Fire Safe Council member Ken Burkhart for documenting the Fairmount Canyon fire before, during and after the blaze. These photos should serve as a reminder to us of how quickly a blaze can erupt.

This blaze started on October 15, 2019 presumably in a homeless encampment. Some of our canyons are privately owned, but this fire started in a part of the canyon that is owned by the city. The neglected and over-grown Mexican Fan palms went up quickly and embers flew.

The winds blew east, towards Talmadge and away from Kensington. Thanks to the heroic efforts of our firefighters no homes were damaged. Kudos to the Talmadge residents for diligently clearing their canyons, keeping their homes safe.

Here’s how the canyon looked before the fire:

Here’s the heart-stopping moment as the fire raged:

And here is the aftermath. Notice the charred Mexican Fan palms.

We encourage all Kensington residents to clear brush regularly to protect our community.

Fire Safe News

Fire Safety Handouts

Check out these two brochures for guidance on how to get your home fire safe:

Fire Safe News

Change in Leadership

Beverley Barrett has left some pretty big shoes for the new co-chairs, Judy Harrington and Amy Dyson, to fill.

Judy and Amy plan to keep Bev’s “Dumpathon,” where dumpsters are provided free of charge around the neighborhood and neighbors are encouraged to clear their canyons and yards before the start of fire season. This project is funded by a grant from our parent organization, Fire Safe Council of San Diego County.

The new chairs are also planning to provide fire safety education, build a relationship with our local fire station, and create an online presence.

Judy and Amy hope to connect with our Kensington neighbors soon. They are so grateful to Bev for founding this incredibly important organization.