Wildfire

Wildfire Prevention & Preparedness

wildfire prevention and prepardness

As more individuals build their homes in woodland settings — in or near forests, rural areas or remote mountain sites, they enjoy the beauty of the environment but face the very real danger of wildfire. Every year across the U.S., major wildfires test homeowners and firefighters, some homes survive while many others do not. Those that survive almost always do so because their owners had prepared for the eventuality of fire, which is an inescapable force of nature in fire-prone woodland areas. Another way we think of it as, if it’s predictable, it’s preventable!

Wildfires often begin unnoticed; usually triggered by lightning or accidents. They spread quickly, igniting brush, trees and homes. Reduce your risk by preparing now — before wildfire strikes. Meet with your family to decide what to do and where to go if wildfires threaten your area. Follow the steps listed below to protect your family, home and property.

Protect Your Home

It is recommended that you create a 30 to 100 foot safety zone around your home, within this area, you can take steps to reduce potential exposure to flames and radiant heat. Homes built in pine forests should have a minimum safety zone of 100 feet. If your home sits on a steep slope, standard protective measures may not suffice. Contact your local fire department or forestry office for additional information.

Create a Perimeter Checklist:

  • Rake leaves, dead limbs and twigs, and clear out all flammable vegetation
  • Remove leaves and rubbish from under structures
  • Thin a 15-foot space between tree crowns, and remove limbs within 15 feet of the ground
  • Remove dead branches that extend over the roof
  • Prune tree branches and shrubs within 15 feet of a stovepipe or chimney outlet
  • Ask the power company to clear branches from power lines
  • Remove vines from the walls of the home
  • Mow grass regularly
  • Clear a 10-foot area around propane tanks and the barbecue
  • Place a screen over the barbecue grill—use non flammable material with mesh no coarser than one quarter inch
  • Regularly dispose of newspapers and rubbish at an approved site and follow local burning regulations
  • Place stove, fireplace and grill ashes in a metal bucket, soak in water for 2 days; then bury the cold ashes in mineral soil
  • Store gasoline, oily rags and other flammable materials in approved safety cans, and place the cans in a safe location away from the base of buildings
  • Stack firewood at least 100 feet away and uphill from your home, and clear combustible material within 20 feet
  • Use only wood-burning devices evaluated by a nationally recognized laboratory, such as Underwriters Laboratories (UL)
  • Review your homeowner's insurance policy and also prepare/update a list of your home's contents

Plan Ahead

  • Identify and maintain an adequate outside water source such as a small pond, cistern, well, swimming pool, or hydrant.
  • Have a garden hose that is long enough to reach any area of the home and other structures on the property.
  • Install freeze-proof exterior water outlets on at least two sides of the home and near other structure on the property. Install additional outlets at least 50 feet from the home.
  • Consider obtaining a portable gasoline powered pump in case electrictrical power is cut off.

Emergency Supplies

When wildfire threatens you won’t have time to shop or search for supplies. Assemble a disaster supplies kit with items you may need if advised to evacuate. Store these supplies in sturdy, easy-to-carry containers such as backpacks, duffle-bags, or trash containers.

Below are some essential items to include:

wildland fire prepardness
  • A 3-day supply of water (one gallon per person, per day) and food that won’t spoil
  • One change of clothing and footwear per person
  • One sleeping bag or blanket per person
  • A first aid kit that includes your family’s prescription medications
  • Emergency tools including a battery-powered radio, flashlight, and plenty of extra batteries
  • An extra set of car keys, credit card, cash, or travelers checks
  • Sanitation supplies
  • Special items for infant, elderly, or disabled family members
  • An extra pair of eyeglasses

During a Wildfire

If advised to evacuate, do so immediately. Take your disaster supply kit, lock your home and choose a route away from the fire hazard. Watch for changes in the speed and direction of the fire and smoke. Tell someone when you left and where you are going. If you see a wildfire and haven’t received evacuation orders yet, call 9-1-1. Don’t assume that someone else has already called. Describe the location of the fire, speak slowly. Describe the location of the fire, speak slowly and clearly, and answer any questions asked by the dispatcher. If you are not ordered to evacuate and have time to prepare your home, FEMA recommends you take the following actions:

  • Arrange temporary housing at a friend or relative’s home outside the threatened area in case you need to evacuate
  • Wear protective clothing when outside — sturdy shoes, cotton or woolen clothes, long pants, a long-sleeved shirt, gloves and a handkerchief to protect your face
  • Gather fire tools such as a rake, axe, handsaw or chainsaw, bucket and shovel
  • Close outside attic, eaves and basement vents, windows, doors, pet doors, etc. Remove flammable drapes and curtains
  • Close all shutters, blinds or heavy non-combustible window coverings to reduce radiant heat
  • Close all doors inside the house to prevent draft
  • Open the damper on your fireplace, but close the fireplace screen
  • Shut off any natural gas, propane or fuel oil supplies at the source
  • Connect garden hoses to outdoor water faucet and fill any pools, hot tubs, garbage cans, tubs or other large containers with water
  • Place lawn sprinklers on the roof and near above-ground fuel tanks, and leave the sprinklers on, dowsing these structures as long as possible
  • If you have gas-powered pumps for water, make sure they are fueled and ready

If asked to evacuate…

  • Place a ladder against the house in clear view to aid firefighters
  • Disconnect any automatic garage door openers so that doors can still be opened by hand if the power goes out, and close all garage doors
  • Place valuable papers, mementos and anything “you can’t live without” inside the car in the garage, ready for quick departure
  • Any pets still with you should also be put in the car
  • Place valuables that will not be damaged by water in a pool or pond
  • Move flammable furniture into the center of the residence away from the windows and sliding-glass doors
  • Turn on outside lights and leave a light on in every room to make the house more visible in heavy smoke

Practice Wildfire Safety

Every year wildfires destroy thousands of homes and businesses all over the United States. This is why it is so important to be aware of the potential for wildfires and to always take steps to prevent a fire from spreading. People start most wildfires, find out how you can promote and practice wildfire safety.  

california wildifres using bme firetrucks
  • Contact your local fire department, health department, or forestry office for information on fire laws.
  • Make sure that fire vehicles can get to your home. Clearly mark all driveway entrances and display your name and address.
  • Report hazardous conditions that could cause a wildfire.
  • Teach children about fire safety, be sure to keep matches out of their reach.
  • Post fire emergency telephone numbers.
  • Ensure adequate accessibility by large fire vehicles to your property.
  • Plan several escape routes away from your home, both by car and foot.
  • Talk to your neighbors about wildfire safety. Plan how the neighborhood could work together after a wildfire. Make a list of your neighbors’ skills such as medical or technical. Consider how you could help your neighbors who have special needs such as elderly or disabled persons. Make plans to take care of children who may be on their own if parents can’t get home.
  • Keep important family documents in a waterproof container. Assemble a smaller version of your kit to keep in the trunk of your car.
  • Wildfires often begin unnoticed. They spread quickly, igniting brush, trees and homes. Reduce your risk by preparing now before a wildfire strikes. Meet with your family to decide what to do

Wildland Firefighter Week of Remembrance

Wildland Firefighter

Over many decades, lessons learned from accidents and fatalities that have occurred on wildland fires have led to significant improvements in firefighter education, training, operational practices, and risk management processes. Unfortunately, wildland firefighting remains inherently hazardous, and we continue to experience accidents and fatalities.
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Why Structural Firefighters Need Wildland PPE (Personal Protective Equipment) Too

wildland gear ppe

Everyday firefighters selflessly work in varied and complex environments that increase their risk of injury and death.  Each year the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) releases studies conducted for the previous year to aid in prevention of firefighter loss of life.  They meticulously report on firefighter deaths and injuries to provide national statistics on their frequency, extent, and characteristics.  Earlier this year, the NFPA reported that there were 69 firefighter fatalities and 62,085 firefighter injuries while on duty in 2016.  Of the 69 firefighters who died while on duty in 2016, 39 were volunteer firefighters, 19 were career firefighters, and eight were employees of federal land management agencies.  An important part of the yearly study centers around developing a better understanding of how these fatalities and nonfatal injuries can assist in identifying corrective actions which could help minimize the inherent risks of firefighter work.  One method of data collection utilized by the NFPA is reviewing standardized incident forms. These documents are sent to the fire departments involved in an incident requesting information on the type of protective equipment worn, the ages and ranks of the firefighters injured, and a description of circumstances that led to injury.  A recurring reason cited within the data as one of the factors leading to injury or death was the incorrect use of or absence of personal protective equipment (PPE) worn by the firefighter. PPE designed for the correct task and firefighting ground offers the crew member the ability to perform the job while reducing the risk of injury or loss of life.

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The California Wildfire Season Is Now 4-5 Months Longer

california wildfire season longer

Last December, another major fire plagued California. For over a month, the Thomas Fire blazed through Ventura and Santa Barbara counties. The destruction surpassed 440 square miles of land scorched and 1,063 structures burned, claiming the title as the largest wildfire in California history. As of December 22nd, more than 8,500 firefighters fought to contain it. It took firefighters until January 12 to reach 100 percent containment, thanks in part to the subsiding Santa Ana winds that had originally exacerbated the fire in early December.

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California’s “New Normal” Demands New Staff and New Strategies in 2018

wildland firefighters

Some of the biggest headlines of late show that California has been on fire near continuously over the past couple of months. Agencies such as CAL Fire and the Forestry Service have beefed up their staffing in the face of these unprecedented blazes.

The staffing increase is especially underway in Southern California in the face of strong winds and continuous dry conditions throughout the recent fire season. Coupled with the extent of the burnt scrub and bushes from past fires, these blazes have already chewed up hundreds of thousands of acres and destroyed thousands of structures. In response to these fires, as well as in handling the aftermath with recent flooding and mudslides, various fire and forestry agencies have stepped up their hiring efforts. As these intense blazes become more aggressive, sufficient personnel will be needed to respond to these emergencies with equal aggression.

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Thomas Fire Caps an Unprecedented Fire Season

Thomas Fire

The final California wildfire of the year, Thomas Fire has been decimating much of Ventura and Santa Barbara counties since early December, 2017. In terms of acreage, this final inferno is the largest in the history of the state. In terms of how the fire has spread and behaved, many veterans claim they’ve never seen anything like it.

All up and down the state this season, battling one devastating blaze after another, California has just suffered one of the most destructive fires in its history. The Thomas fire has reached the top of the list of history’s most destructive fires to ever chew through California.

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Northern California Fire Crews Switch Focus from Blazes to Mudslides

northern california wildfire

Even though the wildfires that ravaged the North Bay region of California are now under control, there still looms the equally devastating threat of mudslides throughout the area. Many of the scorched hillsides have been reduced to ash and debris, just waiting for the rainy winter season that could turn them into deadly mudslides. The threat is real enough that some of the areas with steeper terrain have been ordered to evacuate.

Daniel Berlant, assistant deputy director for Cal Fire, spoke with the Napa Valley Registry and explained that part of their task in the clean up after the fires was to consult with hydrologists and forestry experts to examine the damaged watersheds. They assess the soil burn severity. A hot fire bakes the soil like a brick, and then rainwater can’t soak in. The runoff results in erosion and debris flows.

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Briefing: December 2017 Southern California Wildfires

December has been a hard month for the Golden State.  A series of 16 wildfires ignited throughout Southern California during the first week of December causing panic and widespread destruction of property. The rapidly moving fires that have forced thousands of Californians to evacuate their homes have been exacerbated by unusually powerful and unending Santa Ana winds. Winds, along with powerline malfunctions has facilitated the growth of fires by igniting vast amounts of dry vegetation.

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A Review of the Montana Wildfires of 2017

montana wildfire

Over the course of the summer of 2017 Big Sky residents quickly got used to the lingering smell of the forests burning within their state. Montanans endured one of the worst wildfire seasons in decades marked by home evacuations and a state of emergency declared by the Governor. In addition, the grueling summer of 2017 also witnessed two firefighter fatalities and costs of $380 million in an effort to suppress the fires. Wildfires are not an anomaly to the state’s inhabitants between the months of May and October. However, this years’ situation was exacerbated by high temperatures, paltry rainfall, and desperate drought conditions throughout the state.  

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Families of Northern California Fire Victims Suing PG&E (Can Firefighters be held Liable?)

The potential financial costs of the wildfires that ravaged much of Northern California in October are staggering, taking a tremendous toll on the regional crop industries. Worse still are the more tragic costs of lives and homes. Now that the fires have been contained, the time has come for the necessary work of investigating their origins – and with cause comes accountability.

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