Defensible Space: Good for Property, Debatable for People

The recent firestorms in San Diego County, and other parts of California, have created intense interest in ways to defend homes from fire. The fire officials push the use of a defensible space, an area around the home that slows the spread of fire, and possibly stops it. For a person who may have lost their home or pets, making your personal space a defensible space will eliminate the healing and growth cycle that must happen after such a devastating loss for life to return to normal.

While no plants are fireproof, there are those that do not have a lot of fuel in their bark, leaves, or stems, which will keep the spread of a wild fire slower. Eucalyptus, Pine, and Palm trees are all very bad ideas for properties in high-risk areas. Each produces highly flammable droppings, in leaves or bark, and encourages flames to spread.

Succulents, such as cactus or ice plant, provide a good alternative for landscaping, but should be used along with a firebreak such as a swath of rocks, or a dirt moat, or both. Of course, these are protections that can only be used on property where there is enough room available to carry them out. The 2007 fires swept through housing developments in Rancho Bernardo that were not able to use such defenses. In 2003, Tierra Santa also experienced the randomness of the fire path through an ordinary street. But maintaining your shrubs so that no dry leaves or grass collect there, and being sure you have a tile roof, can prevent some damage.

Recent studies have found that a stucco finish to a home and enclosed eaves also improve a home’s chance of withstanding fire. The flames may blacken the side of the house, but find no exposed fuel to maintain the fire. The storm quickly moves on by another path. New building codes in San Diego County will help promote these safety features.

People, on the other hand, need to catch fire, in a spiritual way. Loss will always be a part of life, sometimes great loss, sometimes enough to make us wonder if we can go on. It may seem like the best way to prevent knowing this pain of loss is by defending ourselves against feeling. As we restrict our ability to love, to posses, to enjoy the good things in life, we create that defensible space that removes spiritual grace and abundance. We lose so much more that way than just the pain of loss. We lose the chance to grow past the pain and become better, stronger people.

Spiritual Counselor Minoshia Gail Humphrey told me, “My gain from addressing the defensible space inside of me has led me to clear weeds and old hardened debris-thoughts, which had become emotional set points that no longer serve me.

“The clarity I experience daily by letting go and choosing to fill my true center with spiritual fire embraces the abundance and prosperity emotional set points of appreciation, empowerment, freedom, joy, knowledge and love.” She added this note for starting the process: “Breathe deeply into living freely.”

I’ve been lucky in both firestorms to not have lost anything but time at work. I have stayed home, and looked around at all my possessions, and wondered what to take, what to leave, just what would make the biggest difference afterward. If everything were lost, what would I want to hold in my hands and say, I will get through this?

The only answer I have is those things around me that are also alive. My family, my pets, and a plant or two. And with these, I could catch spiritual fire; I could begin again and learn from my loss. I could bridge the defensible space and know the continued abundance of grace in my life.

Looking ahead to what is has been called The Worst Fire Season, 2008, I see the possibility of having to test this theory. My life, my family, and much of what I value will be on the line. But with safe measures taken around the yard and house, and spiritual calm to help ride out the storms, I have come to accept the impending test. Destiny will lead us through this fire season, and into the future that awaits us. I will give Destiny all the help I can.

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