Chimney Clearance Must Be Maintained

Modern homes lack old fashioned fireplaces.

Even as autumn weather cools, smoke rising from a simple old fashioned brick chimney is a rare sight nowadays. A smoking stovepipe is rarer. Modern building codes forbid the installation of new fireplaces or wood stoves within most municipalities here. Modern air quality ordinances severely limit the use of existing fireplaces and wood burning stoves.

Furthermore, existing fireplaces and wood stoves are neither as popular nor as common as they had been. After an earthquake, a faulty chimney is likely to justify removal rather than repair. An unused wood stove wastes too much space. Old orchards that generated inexpensive firewood as they relinquished their space to urban development are extinct.

There are a few advantages to these modern trends though. Modern homes consume so much less energy for heating than older homes because of efficient insulation. Insulation of older homes retains heat that fireplaces generate, so that less wood is needed. Almost every surviving chimney has a spark arrestor. Modern roof materials are noncombustible.

Nonetheless, vegetation that gets too near to a chimney that is in use can be hazardous. Even if clearance was adequate last winter, trees, vines and large shrubbery grew since then. It does not take long for such vegetation to overwhelm a chimney, or encroach a bit more than it should. It does not take too much vegetation to be hazardously combustible.

Clinging vines like English ivy and Boston ivy sometimes climb up and then over the top of a chimney. Although not especially combustible, they will burn directly over a fireplace or wood stove. Just like gutters do, vines can accumulate leaves that fall from deciduous trees to become more combustible. Birds or rodents can build combustible nests in them.

Evergreen trees and big shrubbery are similarly combustible over a chimney. Deciduous trees are generally not as hazardous. Conversely, cypress, pine, cedar, eucalyptus, large junipers, and ungroomed palms are very combustible. Eucalyptus foliage will burn while fresh, if it gets hot enough. The other trees tend to accumulate very combustible detritus.

Fire! . . . Again

This article is three years old, but is relevant annually until the end of fire season.

Tony Tomeo

P71018“It’s not nice to fool Mother Nature.” That old margarine commercial was lame back in the 1970s, but the quote is so true. Inadvertent interference with the natural process of wildfires has unfortunately increased the combustibility of the flora of forests and wildlands throughout California. No one really meant to interfere with the process. It is just what happens when we need to protect our homes and properties from fire.

The longer the vegetation is deprived of fire, the more overgrown and combustible it becomes. If deprived of fire long enough, many plants start to succumb to insect infestation and disease, and they become more combustible as they deteriorate and die. To make matters worse, so many of the exotic (non-native) plants that have been introduced into California are just as combustible, and some are even more combustible than native flora!

Combustibility is certainly no accident on their part. It…

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Six on Saturday: Revelation II

Conditions here have certainly improved.

1. Ash regularly reminds us of how close the fire got. There is not as much as there was two weeks ago, but it still lingers in sheltered spots and on sticky foliage. At least no new ash is falling.

2. Smog also lingered early in the week. The sun looked like one of the moons of Tatooine. I worked inside for the early part of the week. It was not a good time for working out in the garden.

3. Then, this happened. The entire sky was this color for a while. The air still tastes like smoke, and remains rather toxic. It is a bit hazier now. Regardless, it was easier to resume gardening.

4. The redwoods and firs on the ridge in the background behind the utility pole are just outside of the fire zone. Everything beyond them is within the fire zone. The forest does not look very different from how it looked prior to the fire. Only a few brown spots can be seen from here. The fire must have burned only underbrush in this region. I know it was much worse elsewhere.

5. Horticulture is SERIOUS business here. (Actually, this is just parking for a cabin that happens to be named ‘Acorn’.) Vegetation management is a priority at cabins that are now residences for some who lost their homes to the CZU Lightning Complex Fires. The Conference Center has been closed because of the other ‘situation’ anyway. Firefighters stayed in some of the lodges.

6. White chrysanthemums are in order. After, all this ‘should’ be a gardening blog. These bloomed on old plants that were left behind after a wedding in the chapel here more than a year ago.

This is the link for Six on Saturday, for anyone else who would like to participate:

Six on Saturday: Revelation

Genesis 1: 11-12 describes the creation of all vegetation and the beginning of horticulture on the Third Day of Creation. Those must have been such happy times. Nowadays, it is getting to be more like the Book of Revelation! During this time of pestilence, while smoke obscures the sun, moon and stars, I have been contending with locusts. The premature defoliation of box elders that I mentioned last week (supposedly) might be associated with diminishment of sunlight by so much smoke.

1. Gloves which seem to have been worn for the Battle of Armageddon were my primary defense against the hellacious swarms of locusts that have been tormenting us for more than a year.

2. Thorns of black locust, Robinia pseudoacacia, are nasty! They are paired like the horns of Satan! The thorns are modified stipules, so are actually neither thorns nor spines, but ‘prickles’.

3. Swarms of locusts are more numerous this year because more mature locust trees were cut down last November, leaving more stumps and many more roots of the not quite so deceased.

4. Smoke and fog filled the sky with old fashioned smog before the sun rose on Wednesday. (‘Smog’ is an abbreviation of ‘smoke’ and ‘fog’.) Not much is from the CZU Lightning Complex Fire.

5. Smoke was so dark at noon that street lamps and this porch light came on. That is a big coast live oak in the middle, with a California buckeye to the left and a coastal redwood to the right.

6. That was not the worst of it. It was so dark by 4:00 that I needed headlights to drive back. Those are deodar cedar to the right, a cottonwood to the left, and a coastal redwood in between.

This is the link for Six on Saturday, for anyone else who would like to participate:

Weather Is All About Climate

Summer weather continue into autumn here.

Weather has no thermostat. There is no automation. It is naturally variable. Weather is constantly changing like, well . . . the weather. We take what we get when we get it. It is impossible to predict how this summer will end. Others in the Northern Hemisphere are already getting ready for autumn. It is likely to arrive bit later here than elsewhere. That is the nature of the Mediterranean climate.

Summers here are naturally long, dry, and somewhat warm. Rain is rare between spring and autumn. Almost all of the rain happens during the naturally mild winters. Springs and autumns both are naturally quite brief. Such weather may seem to be boring, but is excellent for gardening. It is why the summer growing season is so long. Unfortunately, it is also why the fire season lasts too long.

Indian summer is something of a misnomer here. This is not India. Nor is it Indiana. Besides, Indian summer in other regions of North America describes an unusual weather pattern, not the usual. It is unseasonably warm and dry weather after a first frost of autumn. Alternatively, it is unseasonably early warm and dry weather in spring. Locally, it is merely typical summery weather of autumn.

This weather pattern and climate were assets for agricultural commodities that grew here a long time ago. They are still assets for those who now live here, especially those who enjoy gardening. However, such weather necessitates certain accommodations. Irrigation for actively growing plants is important later into autumn than it is in other climates. Autumn planting happens later as well.

Nights continue to get longer and cooler though. It is not so obvious because gardening happens during the day. Warm season vegetables notice the difference, and slowly decelerate production. Some deciduous plants may slowly begin to discolor. Roses continue to bloom as they slowly begin to shed lower foliage. Eventually, they will get their last applications of fertilizer until next spring.

Warm season annuals may start to to look tired as fresher cool season annuals move in.

Six on Saturday: Urban Flight


The CZU Lightning Complex Fire continues to burn. Consequently, I had been unable to return home until just a few hours ago. My garden survived the abandonment better than expected. I will get pictures for next week. These pictures are from where I was in the Santa Clara Valley. I noticed a few features that I forgot that I disliked about urban situations. Of course, Rhody found something to appreciate about our situation there. He was in no hurry to return home.

1. Breeze in the silver maple should be appreciated on a warm day. While the fires are burning in the Santa Cruz Mountains just several miles away, an absence of breeze would be preferred.

2. Raindrops should likewise be appreciated. Unfortunately, there were no more than a few, and certainly not enough to slow a fire. They only indicated that more dry lightning was possible.P00829-2

3. Smoke was thicker over the Santa Clara Valley than I can ever remember. All those utility cables crowded by too many trees are normal though. I thought this picture was rather artistic.P00829-3

4. Fences are a bother too. This one shades lower branches of a nearby pear tree, that grew up with a shorter slat fence. The neighbor’s garage shows how close the homes are to each other.P00829-4

5. Soil is fortunately as awesome as it has always been in the Santa Clara Valley. It is unfortunate that so few of the more than a million who live here now will never bother to experience it.P00829-5

6. Rhody expressed his opinion of my request that he stay off of the sofa while here. Does the floral pattern of the upholstery qualify this as a horticultural subject? We all want to see Rhody! P00829-6

This is the link for Six on Saturday, for anyone else who would like to participate:


CZU Lightning Complex Fires

Lightning is very rare here. For half of the year between spring and autumn, rain is also very rare. Summers are long and dry. Weirdly though, if a storm passed through between spring and autumn, it usually involves lightning, and is usually within only a few days of the Feast of the Assumption, on August 15. This time, it arrived just about an hour after midnight on August 16.

It was warm that night, so the windows were open at home. There was a gust of wind in the cottonwoods that sounded like the Santa Ana Winds of the Los Angeles region, and the electricity went out, likely because the same gust knocked a tree onto cables elsewhere. The lighting might have started earlier, but became visible without electrical lights outside. I heard no thunder.

Lightning worries us while the weather is so warm and dry. It came without rain. Previously, humidity had been minimal. There was a faint aroma of smoke in the morning, but nothing was mentioned about fires during the day. That was Sunday. Monday was warmer and less humid, and smelled notably smokier as I left for the Santa Clara Valley, where I have been since then.

Fires that were started by the lightning in Bonny Doon was finally mentioned in the news on Tuesday, but did not seem to be a major concern. By the next morning, Boulder Creek was being evacuated! Brookdale and Ben Lomond were evacuated later on Wednesday. By this morning, Felton and everyone at work were being evacuated! Scott’s Valley and environs could be next!

It all happened so fast and I am miles away. Even if I were not miles away, I would need to go miles away with everyone else who was evacuated. I was told that ash and burned leaves were falling from the sky around my home this morning. I have never seen so much smoke over the Santa Cruz Mountains, or filling the sky of the Santa Clara Valley. I hope to never see it again.

This reblogged post is from my other blog at ‘Felton League’.

via CZU Lightning Complex Fires


This is one of the several Canary Island date palms that Brent Green saved from poachers on the embankment of the Santa Monica Freeway.

Since I began posting my gardening column articles here, and supplementing with blog posts, I have deviated from horticultural topics only a few times. I will now do it again. I had earlier selected a horticultural topic for this post. It will wait for now.

Brent Green, my colleague down south, called me on the telephone to tell me to watch the news. I did so, but only briefly. It was just too crazy. So far, I have made a point of saying nothing about Coronavirus. I said nothing about those who protest the violation of their right to spread disease that will kill others. I mentioned nothing about the racist murderers in Minneapolis.

Now I see that people are senselessly rioting and looting in several cities in America.

The office building of the Canyon News, one of the newspapers that I write for, was clearly visible in the background as police helicopters showed looting of stores on the historic Rodeo Drive in Downtown Beverly Hills, in the region of Los Angeles. Police cars and palm trees were burning. From three hundred and fifty miles away, I can see it online.

This is not demonstration or protest. It is looting. It is mere opportunistic thievery. Those involved are not at all concerned about social justice, their own Communities, or that Black Lives Matter. They are exploiting an already bad situation to plunder what they can get away with.

This is happening in the Community where Brent Green has been planting his Birthday Trees (in quantities that corresponds to his age at the time) in public spaces for the past twenty two years. This is near where Brent Green saved several Canary Island date palms on the Santa Monica Freeway from poachers. This is a region that many people care about.

Electrical Outage

P91012KWarnings were broadcast in local news for a few days prior. Because of the extreme potential for catastrophic forest fires, electrical service was to be disabled to our region, and large areas of California. Weather was predicted to be warm, windy and dry (with minimal humidity). Such conditions are exactly what cause fires to spread so explosively through the overgrown forests.

The potential for sparks from electrical cables, especially as debris gets blown onto to them, was why the electricity needed to be disabled. Supposedly, it is more likely for fires to be started by sparks from utility cables than by sparks from the many generators and barbecues that compensate for a lack of electricity. These considerations are taken very seriously in this region.

There are many reasons why the local forests are more combustible than they would naturally be. The less combustible redwood forests were clear cut harvested about a century ago, which stimulated a proliferation of more combustible vegetation. Containment of fires since then has allowed an accumulation of combustible vegetation, but inhibited growth of fresher vegetation.

Regardless, many of us had our doubts about the necessity of the outages, which were actually delayed as the forecast weather was slow to develop. Tuesday happened to be one of the most humid days of summer, and might have been the most humid. It was not particularly warm, and was actually relatively cool. Wind was strangely lacking. The weather was really quite bland.

When this picture was taken early Wednesday morning, the street lamp was still on. Dew condensed on the parked car below as the weather cooled overnight. There was no breeze to dry it. The planned outage was delayed for a while, but eventually happened at about 10:30 that night, and stayed out for most of Thursday. It got a bit warmer and drier, but not like predicted.

Most of us accepted it as part of living in such a forested region. A few were annoyed by the associated inconveniences, particularly since it all seemed to be unnecessary. However, what few of us at lower elevations and in town were aware of was that there really were somewhat powerful winds at higher elevations near the summit, and that humidity had dropped significantly.

After electrical service was restored, we could see news coverage of the Saddleridge Fire in Los Angeles County. Unfortunately, fire is a part of nature here. The forests and ecosystems are designed for it. This was the first planned electrical outage here, but will not likely be the last. Those who appreciate living here, and know how the ecosystem works, will be willing to adapt.

Exfoliating Bark

P90720KBecause redwoods live for centuries, their bark gets very thick. They do not shed their bark as they grow. Old giant redwoods in the Sierra Nevada have bark that is a few feet thick and thousands of years old. Their bark is thicker than the trunks of what most of us consider to be large trees! Even much younger coastal redwoods that have regenerated here since clear cut harvesting about a century ago have bark that is a few inches thick.
They like their bark thick. It is the insulation that protects them from forest fires that incinerate other vegetation. Unlike most species here that are designed to burn and then regenerate more vigorously after fire, redwoods prefer to survive fire by being less combustible. As they mature, and their bark gets thicker, they become more resilient to fire. There are only a few species here that survive fire mostly intact, rather than regenerate after it.
Of course, survival is more complicated than mere thick bark. Redwoods, particularly coastal redwoods, also try to exclude other more combustible species from their forests. Also, they tend to shed lower limbs that would be more combustible during a fire, and prioritize higher and therefore less combustible canopies. Redwoods have developed a rather ingenious (but unfortunately ecologically delicate) systems of survival techniques.
Other trees are not so easy to figure out. Many species of Eucalyptus shed lower growth as if they want to be less combustible. They shed copious amounts of foliage and bark to inhibit undergrowth and other combustible vegetation. However, not only are they innately very combustible, but because they shed so much of their bark, they lack insulation from fire. It is as if they expect to burn back to the ground, and then regenerate after a fire.
Regardless of their logic, exfoliating bark of the larger eucalypti can be annoyingly messy. Exfoliating bark of some of the smaller eucalypti can be rather appealing in home gardens. This tree happens to be the same featured last week in ‘Silver‘.P90720K+