From the President
Michael S. Williams
29 May 2013
The White Fire is a stark reminder that fires can burn hard and fast and without warning. Waiting until the fire starts is the wrong time to think about what you would do. Road closures and heavy traffic are but two obstacles you will encounter. This is going to be a challenging summer so it would be wise to plan now.
The fire season is now considered a year around phenomenon. Don’t be fooled, there is no shortage of fuel ready to burn throughout Santa Barbara. The recent Spring fire in Ventura fire has once again proven that early evacuations are critical in preventing injuries and the protection of property by responding firefighters.
To wait until you need a plan is foolish. With so much to lose, have you and your family developed your plan?
Ready! Set! Go! is the joint policy of the Santa Barbara County fire agencies. It is a uniformed message that having a plan and taking early action to leave prior to being directly impacted by a wildfire saves lives, prevents injuries and increases safety for responding firefighters.
- Ready! Prepare yourself, your family and your property.
- Set! Monitor fire weather, activity and prepare to evacuate.
- Go! Leave early when directed to by public safety officials.
A good portion of your plan must include prevention. By taking a preventive posture, you significantly increase your chances of saving your home and property. Without question, defensible space works. A buffer zone created by proper grooming of your yard helps prevent the spread of fire towards your home. It also reduces the potential of local ember loading that frequently advances a fire and impacts on structures by slyly hiding in hidden areas only to catch fire. The buffer zone you create by removing weeds, brush and surrounding vegetation makes a difference. A short drive in the local foothills will clearly demonstrate the effectiveness of such tactics.
Officially, defensible space is the area around a structure free of flammable plants and objects that creates a zone in which firefighters can operate safely in order to help protect a home during a wildfire. This space is wide enough to prevent direct flame impingement and reduce the amount of radiant heat reaching the structure. The defensible space for each structure varies and depends on the type of vegetation and topography.
In addition to developing defensible space, it is necessary to harden your home. The priorities are your roof, eaves, vents, walls windows and doors, balconies and decks. If it can burn, it needs your attention. Furniture, plants and woodpiles are the type of innocent objects that can trap embers. Rain gutters can catch embers and ignite the roof. Leaves on the roof can also trap embers. Walk your property and take note of potential hazards and then take action to reduce those risks.
Consider the plants you have near your home. Acacia, Cedar, Cypress, Eucalyptus, Juniper, Pine and Pampas grass are particularly hazardous. Special attention needs to be given to the use and maintenance of such plants. Trees that hang over your home can be dangerous not only in a wildfire, but during high winds. Trim these overhangs away from your roof. Remove any vegetation that grows vertically from the ground that can allow fire to climb into the trees. These ladder fuels can be particularly problematic in the spread of fire around your property.
If necessary, can the fire department easily reach your house? Is the address clearly posted? Is there an identifiable water source? Will your driveway support the weight and size of today’s fire apparatus? Is your house visible from the road? During a running wildfire, responding firefighters are going to make quick assessments as to the feasibility of staging at your house. Simple prevention tactics will go a long way towards obtaining the help you need to help protect your home.
When it is time to leave, you will not think of what to take unless you have a plan. What occurs to you in a panic may not be what you should be thinking about. Your first priority is yourself and family followed by your pets. Important papers and documents should be next, including insurance information. Having these documents in one place and already in an easy to transport container will prove to be helpful. Prescriptions and medical devices are also a priority. Your computer and other business related equipment must be taken. This can be problematic if you are not prepared. Consider that if you have something that you cannot loose, it would be best to not have it in your home.
One idea that came out of an episode of Community Alert was keeping your valuables, collectibles and copies of important documents in suitcases under a bed. In the event of evacuation, you only need to grab the suitcases.
These and other suggestions are available at your local fire department in the Ready! Set! Go! brochure. Each agency has a specifically designed brochure for your area. They also include telephone numbers and websites for further information. Most importantly is the Personal Wildfire Action Plan on the back cover for you and your family to complete. Keep a copy in your car and at work in the event you cannot get home in time. Know how to reach your children and spouse. Have a central place to report to in the event you become separated or are unable to join up at your home.
Consider your neighbors. What you do or don’t do can critically impact your neighbors. Community survival requires a community effort, working together to reduce risk. It is the responsibly of a property owner to not create risks to others. The exposure to liability can compound the tragic results to a wildfire.
Prevention, planning and preparation is the answer to reducing your risk of property loss and injury. Ready! Set! Go! is the answer to what to do in an emergency. In the words of the State Fire Marshal, “You take the defense so the fire department can take the offense.”
Are you ready?
Wildland Residents Association-
San Marcos Pass Volunteer Fire Department
5655 West Camino Cielo
Santa Barbara, CA 93105