Buffelgrass poses urban fire risk in Tucson

As flammable plant advances, threat to city homes rises
2013-01-09T00:00:00Z Buffelgrass poses urban fire risk in TucsonDoug Kreutz Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star
January 09, 2013 12:00 am  • 

Invasive, highly flammable buffelgrass is spreading like a weedy plague across the Tucson urban area - choking out native plants and posing a fire threat to homes and other property.

The best defense, say buffelgrass experts: Dig it up and remove it from your property.

Second best: Spray it with herbicide.

A Beat Back Buffelgrass event on Jan. 26 offers an opportunity to join others in stemming the spread of the ruinous species.

"Buffelgrass is pervasive. It seems to have spread everywhere we look" in the Tucson area, said Lindy Brigham, executive director of the Southern Arizona Buffelgrass Coordination Center. "It burns very hot and very fast, and the fire can leap around.

"We have had fires involving buffelgrass in Tucson" - including a June 2011 blaze near East 17th Street and North Campbell Avenue that took two hours and some 50 firefighters to put out, Brigham said. "And it's likely we'll have more fires."

BRIEF BUFFELGRASS BIO

• It's an extremely flammable, rapidly growing African grass introduced into the United States in the early 1900s to control erosion and feed cattle.

• It has stems that can grow more than 4 feet tall.

• In the Sonoran Desert, it is taking over terrain and water supplies needed by native species.

• It provides fuel for fires that can spread quickly and destroy native plants in wild areas and property in urban Tucson.

URBAN FIRE THREAT

Buffelgrass has spread rapidly through the Tucson area, in part because of a shortage of resources to clear the grass from medians, roadsides and property, Brigham said.

"We see it growing along alleyways and next to wooden fences," she said. "If a fire begins, the sparks can carry and put a house on fire."

Potential ignition sources include power tools and people throwing smoking materials from cars.

Digging up buffelgrass and bagging it for trash removal eliminates the flammable material and seeds, Brigham said.

Spraying with an herbicide works - but it must be done when the grass is green and growing, and it leaves dead grass for removal later.

A FIREFIGHTER'S VIEW

"Buffelgrass provides a unique challenge to firefighters," said Dugger Hughes, wildland/special operations battalion chief with the Northwest Fire District. "It burns extremely hot and has a very rapid rate of spread. Flame lengths of 15 to 25 feet are typical."

If buffelgrass extends more than 50 feet from a roadway, suppressing fires becomes very difficult, Hughes said. "When you add in our typical spring and summer weather - with strong winds, high temperatures and low humidities - firefighters face an extreme challenge."

Hughes advised homeowners to create a "defensible space" by clearing buffelgrass from areas within 50 feet of buildings.

battle buffelgrass

• What: Beat Back Buffelgrass Day. It's a volunteer work day to remove buffelgrass in the Tucson area.

• When: 8 a.m. to noon on Jan. 26

• To learn more or to sign up for a work site, go online to www.buffelgrass.org

Contact reporter Doug Kreutz at dkreutz@azstarnet.com or at 573-4192. On Twitter: @DouglasKreutz

Copyright 2014 Arizona Daily Star. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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