Small acts of neglect and carelessness can start major conflagrations. A lawnmower sparked a fire that rampaged through 23,841 acres in Oregon in August. Closer to home, a failed gas water heater in an outbuilding filled with flammable liquids set off what came to be called The Rocky fire west of Lower Lake, burning nearly 70,000 acres and destroying 43 homes and 53 outbuildings.
Northern California is on fire. And the fire danger won’t diminish until the winter rains come.
Even then, unless it rains long and hard and consistently enough to get vegetation into a winter pattern, there is still the potential for wildfires, even in winter, said Suzie Blankenship, a fire prevention specialist with CalFire’s Sonoma, Lake and Napa unit.
INCREASE SURVIVAL CHANCES
If you’re a homeowner or renter in a high-danger area, now is not the time to be complacent. There are things you can do now to lessen the chance of causing a wildfire or to increase the chances of your home surviving if one comes racing at you.
“Everybody should be prepared and have a plan that could be implemented in any emergency,” Blankenship said.
“With a wildland fire, you could get a warning or maybe you wouldn’t. Or you could get an order of immediate evacuation.”
The most important thing is preventing fire in the first place. Nearly 90 percent of all wildfires in California are caused by people.
The state of California now requires that property owners who live in areas under CalFire jurisdiction, which is all areas not on the valley floor or not under the jurisdiction of a local fire department, create what are called “defensible spaces” around their homes.
That means clearing an area extending out 100 feet from your home in order to give firefighters a fighting chance of saving your house in case of wildfire.
The first 30 feet from your house should be what fire officials are calling a “lean, clean and green” zone.”
The state requires that all flammable material within this zone be removed except individual trees and shrubs that are spaced far apart and well pruned.
The 70 feet beyond that is the “reduced fuel zone,” where you need to cut high grass and remove lower limbs from larger trees, which become ladders for fires to climb.
If a fire does come through, you want it to just pass by on the ground. That is more likely to happen if you don’t provide fodder.
At this point, it’s too late to re-landscape. But there are measures you can and should take now to make your property more fire-safe.
Things you should do now:
Be ultra conscientious with outdoor fireplaces, fire pits and chimineas. Treat them as you would a campfire.
Make sure the ashes are completely out when you’re done and before you walk away. Ashes can easily travel with the wind. Blankenship recommends getting an ash can for charcoal and embers.
Home Depot has a galvanized metal ash can for $24.99. When using portable fireplaces or pits, set them in open areas cleared of brush. Never put them under a tree.
Be very cautious when using your lawnmower or other power equipment. Use them only before 10 a.m. or after 6 p.m. and have a water source nearby if a small fire should ignite.
Make sure you’re street name sign is visible at nearby street intersections and post your house address so it is easily visible even at night. Address numbers should be at least 3 inches tall and on a contrasting background.
Identify at least two exit routes from your neighborhood.
Clear flammable vegetation at least 10 feet from roads and five feet from your driveway and cut back any tree branches hanging above your access roads.
Clear out any old needles and leaves on the roof, in the gutters or on the ground.
Remove dead branches that are hanging over your roof and cut back to at least 10 feet from your chimney.
Cover your chimney outlet and stovepipe with a nonflammable screen of 1/2 inch or smaller mesh.
Remove any shrubs and plants that are directly at the side of the house.
Thin a 25-foot space between the crowns of any trees in your “close-in” zone. Fire otherwise can easily jump from tree to tree.
Clear out any flammable materials from beneath your deck and don’t allow plants to grow up through the deck supports.
Cut high grass within 100 feet of your home.
Remove lower limbs from larger trees to reduce the so-called “fire ladder.” If trees are 20 feet or taller, prune the lower limbs to six feet or higher.
Although there’s a drought, try to give some regular water to plants.
Thin out densely packed plantings, creating horizontal and vertical spacing between plants. A good rule of thumb is about 10 feet of spacing. On slopes. you’ll need even greater space.
Stack woodpiles at least 30 feet from all structures, including outbuildings, and remove vegetation within 10 feet of woodpiles.
Move any butane or propane tanks to at least 30 feet away from any structure and maintain 10 feet of clearance.
Remove any stacks of construction materials, pine needles and other dry leaves and debris.
Water supply: Clearly mark all emergency water sources.
Clear access to your closest emergency water source.