Dozens of firefighters from CAL FIRE and U.S. Forest Service fight flames as they came right to the highway Saturday. The need to park equipment on the highway resulted in the roads closure from Saturday until Sunday afternoon. Photo by Jenny Kirchner

Fire abating one’s property, or reducing the flammable vegetation around your house, is a very green activity.

Of course, it is very good if you would like to lessen the risk of your house going up in flames and sending large amounts of toxins into the air and soil, but it is, happily, one of those things that has other benefits for the good of the environment.

One of the great benefits of fire abatement is that it makes for a more nourishing environment for the remaining trees and shrubs. They get more light, more water, and more nutrients when they are not packed in tightly, allowing them to grow stronger and healthier. A saying that captures this has been used often in the San Bernardino National Forest — “A thinner forest is a healthy forest.”

Not too long ago there was a belief among many who were concerned about the environment that a thick forest, filled with huge numbers of trees, was healthy. Look how much vegetation there is.

Along with this belief went the idea that removing trees or shrubs was harmful. A sort of urban legend spread that it was illegal to take out a Manzanita.

The mistake in this belief was that a dense, crowded forest was either healthy or natural. Before European settlement, the forests were regularly subject to low-intensity fires, the consequence of lightning strikes or intentional burning practices of Native Americans.

These low-intensity fires cleaned up much forest detritus and eliminated many smaller trees, thus opening up the forest, and creating a forest space with fewer, larger trees.

When more people began moving into forested areas and building homes and communities, all wildfires were seen as threats and suppressed. The result of strong fire-suppression policies has been crowded, overstocked forests all over the West, all vulnerable to large, destructive fires.

So if we are very concerned about the environment of the mountains we live in, as most of us are, we will not think it wise to surround ourselves with as many trees and shrubs as we can pack in.

We will instead approach our property with the idea that a more open space, with fewer, healthier plants, is our goal. We will especially make sure that there is little dead and dying vegetation within a hundred feet of our house, and that we, and firefighters if need be, can move easily through the property without being obstructed by thick clumps of trees and shrubs. We will make sure fire can’t climb up our trees through the underlying brush.

As a community we have changed and become greener over the past decade in this regard. Properties are in much better shape than they used to be, and you can see a new kind of aesthetic developing, one that is both more fire-safe and in tune with our environment.

Residents have become more aligned with forest and fire experts, as we come to understand what is needed to live in these mountains.