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Planting the seeds of fire prevention

July 10, 2005|Jennifer Lisle | Special to The Times

The time to start thinking about fire prevention is when homeowners first landscape their properties, according to Paul Terris, fire inspector for the Los Angeles Fire Department. Before planting fire-fueling pine and eucalyptus trees, Terris recommends hillside homeowners consult the department's list of fire-retardant plants and trees.

"People like to plant native plants and trees," Terris said, but they too can be hazardous when it comes to fire.

Some indigenous trees and plants push oil out to their leaves as a defense mechanism against drought and to encourage fire, which, in some cases, forces their seed pods to open.

Castor bean plants also create hazards, Terris said, because the smoke they produce can be toxic for firefighters.

Examples of restricted plants for residents in Los Angeles' high fire-severity zone (an area that includes Mount Washington, Laurel Canyon, Roscomare Valley and other areas throughout the Hollywood Hills and Santa Monica Mountains) are:

* Trees: All conifer trees including fir, cypress and pine.

* Shrubs and ground cover: All native soft chaparral, including chamise or greasewood, buckwheat, salvia or sage and all junipers.

* Other hazardous native brush: Spanish broom, mountain mahogany, Southern honeysuckle, poison oak.

Recommended fire-retardant and erosion-control plants:

* Succulents: all ice plants.

* Plants: cape weed, creeping Australian sagebrush, Carmel creeper, snow in summer, rockrose, trailing gazania, Algerian ivy, English ivy, sunrose, Aaron's beard, trailing South African daisy, ivy geranium, dwarf rosemary, gray lavender cotton, germander, dwarf running myrtle.

* Acceptable evergreens for zone planting: maple, strawberry tree, madrone, bottle brush, Moreton Bay chestnut, carob, St. John's bread, citrus, Cryptocarya rubra, ficus (ornamental flag), hakea, toyon, New Zealand lacebark, sweetshade, holly, primrose tree, glossy privet, tanbark oak, Luma apiculata, magnolia, mayten tree, olive, pittosporum, prune, coast live oak, California laurel, Oregon bay, pepperwood.

Additional fire-prevention tips, brush-clearance guidelines and clearance companies can be found at www.lafd.org/brush.

Homeowners who live in the high fire-severity zone should receive brush-clearance notices from the L.A. Fire Department every April.

Those who are unsure of their status can contact the city's brush-clearance department at (818) 374-1111.

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