Blog module icon

MMWD Blog: Think Blue Marin

Welcome to our blog! Written by staff at MMWD, “Think Blue Marin” explores all things water in south and central Marin—water supplies, conservation, new projects, watershed management, and more.

Need Help?
For tips on subscribing, searching, and commenting, please visit our blog FAQ page.

View All Posts

Nov 16


Posted on November 16, 2018 at 11:46 AM by Ann Vallee

by Charlene Burgi

Let’s be honest: Some topics that are important to cover in a gardening blog are more difficult to approach. This week is one of those difficult times. 

Under the current circumstances of wildfire devastation in our Golden State, I’m experiencing some writer’s block, as my thoughts go to friends and family members facing losses. Yet, I really want to share what those “Red Flag Warnings” mean as they appear in the news, on information boards in front of our fire stations, and on many websites including MMWD’s. They are not just words or predictions to dismiss. These words of warning are based on scientific data shared by the National Weather Service (NWS) that carry a special meaning to our firefighters. These words speak to the importance of being extremely careful, as just the tiniest spark can take off before your eyes due to dry vegetation combined with high winds and low humidity—the high-fire-danger conditions identified by the NWS forecasts.

Clearly we cannot control the weather, but we can control and curtail some of our activities that could inadvertently cause ignition. For example, weed eating sounds ominous enough, but a spark can occur if metal hits a rock lodged within dry grasses. Outdoor fire pits are the rage these days, but these marshmallow-toasting ambiance entertainers could be hazardous even if sporting spark arrestors. 

Agastache: prune it back in late autumn
As gardeners, we must take on the responsibility to reduce the fire fuel on our properties. The low humidity means our plants can and will become dehydrated unless we provide moisture to compensate for the dryness in the air or the effect of drying winds. Keep them hydrated or you could lose them—and more. Additionally, to exacerbate the drying conditions that accompany Red Flag Warnings, at this time of year many of our plants are going dormant. This means many ornamental grasses need to be cut back to within inches of the ground—that foliage is dead and the plant energy is now stored in the roots for a long winter’s nap. As I gaze around my own garden, Agastache is telling me the same story. It is done for the season, and the dried foliage could make for some dangerous tinder should it encounter flames. 

Our trees are no exception. I’ve written in the past about limbing up trees to a minimum of six feet. This can help prevent a ground fire from becoming a much-harder-to-manage crown fire. Clean up the slash from tree trimmings. For that matter, don’t stop there, but clean out leaf accumulations in gutters, sweep off needles gathered on rooftops, and store flammables in a safe and well-protected environment.

As I write, the calendar speaks of Thanksgiving next week. The thought of deep-fried turkeys comes to mind. The combination of open fires and oil in the midst of Red Flag Warning days is not a pretty picture. Is there consideration for another option this year? 

Be safe. Give thanks to those fighting the consequences of these fires. And have a blessed Thanksgiving.


Scott Stokes
November 16, 2018 at 2:40 PM
I've been working on installing Vulcan Vents that stop blowing embers from getting into a vented crawl space and they automatically close at 300 degrees C to stop flames from entering. A must when it is windy!

Leave your comment

You may log in before leaving your comment,
or submit anonymously