LAFD Offers Defensible Space Advice In Anticipation Of Tough Fire Season

LAFD Wildland Division Chief Kelly Sterna and Marisol Padilla of the Department’s Community Outreach Program are preparing information on defensible space for the public in anticipation of the upcoming fire season. Photo by Maire O’Neill/


Los Alamos Daily Post

With more than 60 percent of the state in severe drought conditions, and fire officials predicting what could possibly be the worst fire season in a decade, Los Alamos Fire Department, particularly the Wildland Fire Division, has been gearing up by implementing fuel reduction projects and educating the public on defensible space.

As part of these efforts, LAFD Wildland Fire Chief Kelly Sterna and Marisol Padilla of the Department’s Community Outreach Program, are collaborating with the Los Alamos Daily Post for a series of three stories designed to assist the community in preparing for the fast-approaching fire season.

“We are expecting warmer temperatures and low humidity. This combined with above average fuel loading makes us believe that there is significant large fire potential,” Sterna said.

Chief Sterna says defensible space is the prime and most cost-effective measure to protect homes and out-buildings from a wildfire.

“A defensible space is an area around a building in which vegetation, debris and other types of combustible fuels have been treated, cleared or reduced to slow the spread of fire to and from the building,” Sterna said.

Creating defensible space improves your home’s chance of surviving a wildfire. It’s a buffer created between a building and the combustible materials in close vicinity. This includes grass, shrubs, trees and wildland area that surrounds or borders a home.

“The defensible space buffer is needed to slow a wildfire and, in some cases, stop it from reaching the home. Defensible space protects your home from catching fire from direct flame contact or radiant heat,” Sterna said, adding that defensible space also is important for the safety and protection of firefighters defending a home.

Because flying embers can destroy a home up to a mile from a wildfire, Sterna says it is important for people to “harden” their homes before a fire starts. He offered several suggestions to make homes more fire resistant.

The roof is the most vulnerable part of the home, Sterna said. Homes with wood or shingle roofs are at high risk of being destroyed during a wildfire so he suggested when building or replacing a roof, use materials such as corrugated metal or tile.

“Minimize spaces between roof decking and coverings to prevent embers from igniting materials,” he said. “Vents on homes can also create openings for flying embers so cover all vent openings with 1/8-inch to 1/4-inch metal mesh. Soffits should be built from fire-resistive material.”

Sterna said radiant heat from a wildfire can cause windows to break even before the home catches fire, which allows burning embers to enter the home and start fires inside. Wood siding is very combustible and not a good choice for fire-prone areas.

This is a good time of the year to clean out rain gutters to get rid of any accumulated plant debris, pine needles or dirt. Chimney and stove-pipe outlets should be covered with a non-combustible 3/8-inch to 1/2-inch screen to prevent embers from escaping and igniting a fire.

Sterna said research shows that embers and small flames are the main way that the majority of homes ignite in wildfires. He suggests limiting all combustible materials from within 30 feet of a home such as fire-prone vegetation, firewood stacks, combustible patio furniture and umbrellas. Before fire season begins, tree branches that overhang the roof and chimney should be trimmed. Woodpiles should be located 30 feet from a building where possible and should be in a vegetation-free area such as a gravel pad.

For more information on preparing for fire season, click here. For defensible space information, click here.

For more information or to request a Wildfire Home Assessment, contact LAFD Wildland Fire Chief Kelly Sterna at 505.662.8304 or email at or