While we’re in the annual holiday season, here in SoCal it’s also wildfire season – a season that spans all year long. We all need to be aware and prepared for wildfires.
This seems like a downer during what’s usually the happiest time of year, but fires do happen. According to CAL FIRE, the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, humans cause most fires. Sure, our infamous Santa Ana winds fan the flames, but too often wildfires are started by an auto spark from a tow chain dragging on the ground or an unsafe campfire, and they spread quickly.
What about home protection from wildfires? Deputy Chief Scott A. McLean, chief of information for CAL FIRE, stresses the importance of maintaining defensible space around your home and other structures on your property. That means no big trees and bushes close to the house. In addition, rid the yard of dead foliage, old tires, broken patio furniture, and other items that could burn.
It’s also important to harden your home to make it more fire resilient. Start with a fire-resistant roof of tile, composition, or metal. Tori Jung, fire inspector for Chino Valley Fire District, advises enclosing the underside of decks and replacing attic vents with 1/8-inch or smaller metal mesh to keep embers out. “No fiberglass or plastic,” says Jung, “because they melt.”
What happens if you get the word to evacuate? Should you leave or shelter in place? “The only time to shelter in place,” says McLean, “is if your escape route has been cut off. Otherwise, evacuate when the order goes out.” That means be prepared to leave with your emergency kit.
You don’t have one? I didn’t either when I had to evacuate a few years ago due to a wildfire. Fortunately, I had help from friends who had experience with wildfire evacuations. I followed their advice and disconnected electronics, loading my computer with chargers and power cords into my car. I snapped photos of each room in my house, and then filled a backpack with important papers, phone chargers, meds, jewelry, and precious photos. A couple changes of clothes and extra shoes were included. Then I put Katie the cat in her carrier, grabbed a bag of litter and her food, but forgot her vaccination card. Fortunately, I evacuated to a relative’s home. Had I gone to an evacuation shelter, I may have been turned away because I didn’t have Katie’s shot records.
The wildfires didn’t reach my street, but they taught me to be prepared, keep an emergency kit, and leave quickly when an evacuation is called. That kit and your home should also have flashlights and extra batteries, especially in case of power shutoffs that may occur to help prevent the spread of wildfires under certain conditions. A battery-powered lantern and a generator are also good to have.
Ready, Set, Go!
Many cities and the county fire authorities of Riverside, Orange, San Bernardino, and Los Angeles have great information on their websites in the “Ready, Set, Go! Personal Wildfire Action Plan.” It covers everything for preparing your home, along with family and survival tips if you’re trapped in the house. The plan is easy to download, and some agencies offer it in a booklet at their facilities and community events.
The “Ready, Set, Go!” plan suggests making an emergency kit based on the six Ps:
• People and pets
• Papers, phone numbers, important docs
• Prescriptions, vitamins, eyeglasses
• Photos, irreplaceable memorabilia
• Personal computer hard drives, thumb drives
• Plastic – credit cards, debit cards – and cash
Sign up for your city or county’s alert system to receive emergency information on all your phones.
Be fire safe during this holiday season. Only burn candles when you’re in the room, enjoy that roaring fire behind a sturdy fire screen – and ask Santa for a first aid kit to include with your emergency kit.
Terri Daxon is a freelance writer