Fire!! Ready, Set, Go!
By Barbara Truitt,
Ready, Set, Go! is the title of CalFire’s brochure and video designed to help each of us create our own wildfire action plan. I’m going to get mine done right after I write this column.
I’ve come late to this party. I fought a wildfire only weeks after moving, pregnant, onto my Salmon Creek homestead 47 years ago. I also remember vividly the lightning-sparked fires in 2008 that burned more than a million acres in California, but it was my experience on the periphery of the Ranch Fire last week that has finally driven me to action.
Coming from Grass Valley on Highway 20 on Sunday afternoon, 7/29, my husband Jim and I made it all the way to Nice before the road closed. We spent awhile in the evacuation throng heading back to the east at a snail’s pace, ash fall thickening, etc., assuming we’d have to go back to I-5. Then ambulances and law enforcement raced by going east, sirens screaming, and we wondered if an accident had closed the road ahead, too. After a nerve-wracking half hour, a sheriff drove by with a bullhorn saying the Nice cut-off to 29 was open, so we turned around again and joined that evacuation stream down through Middletown almost to Calistoga and then over 128 to 101 North at Geyserville.
All in all, not a bad trip: It took us some extra hours, but we had a full tank of gas, some snacks and good sing-along CD’s in the car, and no children or pets or possibly burning home to worry about. Still, for the first time since that Salmon Creek grass fire, I faced the possibility of being trapped by wildfire.
CalFire has excellent information on its readyforwildfire.org website about preparing your home to withstand fire
CalFire has excellent information on its readyforwildfire.org website about preparing your home to withstand fire. Their site points out that making your home more defensible helps to protect everyone, including any firefighters who try to save your home. While we won’t be stuccoing our exterior walls, Jim and I will be making some simple landscape changes to make our house more defensible.
CalFire also provides a form for preparing a disaster action plan, including things like making sure you and your family members know where utility shut-off controls are and how to use them, and designating an out-of-area contact through which everyone can communicate.
They also suggest planning several different evacuation routes. Our Ranch Fire experience, with only a couple of evacuation routes and police stationed at every crossroad to prevent people from taking ill-advised shortcuts on minor country roads, highlighted how vulnerable we are to being cut off from evacuation routes.
Finding no official advice that addresses this circumstance, my best guess is to identify places close to home that will be relatively safe if you can’t evacuate. In the hills, this might be a crossroads in the middle of a meadow where a fire will move through quickly and not create a great deal of heat; in town I think of places like the Redway School sports fields (a designated evacuation center). In any case, have plenty of water with you, both for drinking and for dousing yourself if necessary, as well as blankets or towels that can be soaked in water.
CalFire has a good checklist for getting ready to evacuate. Some tips seem obvious: Stay tuned to local radio for updates, dress in natural fibers and work boots, keep your kids and pets close, and have your emergency supply kit on hand. Not quite so obvious were to include in your kit medications, prescriptions, extra batteries, emergency contact numbers (on paper, not in your phone or other device that might lose power or signal), goggles, and dust masks.
Another checklist covers what to do when you leave: Shut all windows and doors, but leave them unlocked. Shut off gas, including pilot lights, and turn off air conditioning, but leave your lights on inside and out so firefighters can see your house at night or through daytime smoke. Leave a ladder and garden tools available for firefighters’ use. Turn water off at the taps to maintain water pressure, and leave hoses at outside faucets.
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Lori Dengler, HSU geology professor emeritus, suggests another way to prepare for emergencies: “It’s a no-brainer that you want to know if a hazardous situation is developing and be forewarned if you need to evacuate. But notification isn’t automatic — you have to sign up with your county in order to get texts, phone calls, or email messages alerting you that something may be amiss.” In Humboldt County, go to humboldtgov.org/alerts. In Mendocino County, https://member.everbridge.net/index/892807736722865#/signup.
For more information from CalFire, go to www.readyforwildfire.org. Watch for our upcoming column on Go Bags, and remember to be fire safe, as 95% of wildfires are caused by people.
Barbara Truitt, Former Foundation Director and Outreach Dept, Southern Humboldt Community Healthcare District