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Wildfire safety preparedness

  • Published
  • By Senior Airman Micah Coate
  • 452 AMW Public Affairs

As of July 19, 2020, California wildfires had burned close to 38,000 acres this year, as reported by the California Department of Forestry and Fire (CAL FIRE), compared to the 22,000 acres at the same time last year. Those numbers are rapidly increasing as the summer conditions continue to put our state into one in need of disaster relief.

Wildfires often have catastrophic and sudden consequences for many California residents, especially those who own property in areas identified as high fire danger areas.

“I have lost my home to wildfires twice,” said Airman 1st Class Andrew Bertain, a photojournalist at Peterson Air Force Base in Colorado, who grew up in Paradise, California. “On top of that, my family -members) lost our jobs, school, church, and much of our community.”

According to the Insurance Information Institute, the top 10 costliest wildfires in United States history, in terms of property losses, have all occurred in the state of California. Six of those have occurred in the last three years alone.

Another risk assessment firm, Verisk Analytics, found that more than 2 million homes in California are at risk of wildfires. That’s half of all wildfire-at-risk homes in the entire United States.

Due to these alarming statistics, and the increase in wildfire danger across the state in the past few years, CAL FIRE has launched the “Ready, Set, Go!” campaign to help Californians learn what they can do to better prepare themselves, their families and their homes against fires.

The first step in the process, “Ready,” creates and maintains a defensible space around your property to increase the chances of it surviving a wildfire. Remove dead or dry vegetation, trim branches away from your roof, regularly mow the lawn, and distance flammable items such as outdoor furniture. These actions help create a buffer zone that slows or stops the spread of wildfire to your home.

“Fire moves faster than you’d expect, especially when the winds pick up,” said Captain Jon Sandvig of the March Field Fire Emergency Services. “Not creating that defensible space around your home invites the fire right up to your doorstep.”

Another aspect of "Ready” is to harden your home. Reroof your house using materials such as metal or tile, install dual-paned windows to reduce the chance of them shattering in a fire, keep your rain gutters clear, and look for where you can replace flammable materials with ignition-resistant ones.

The next step in the process is to get "Set.” Prepare yourself, your family, and your home for the possibility of having to evacuate in the event of a fire emergency. This involves the following four steps:

  • Create a family evacuation plan to include your pets.
  • Assemble an emergency supply kit for every member of your household, including pets.
  • Write, copy and distribute a family communication plan.
  • Conduct an insurance checkup on your home.

An evacuation plan, referred to as a Wildfire Action Plan by CAL FIRE, should be prepared and understood by you and your family well in advance of a wildfire. The plan should determine information such as the designated meeting location during an emergency, various routes to get to that meeting location, how to plan for the evacuation of pets and other animals, and how to shut off the gas, electric, and water controls at your home before you leave. Right now, your plan should also include necessary precautions needed to limit the spread of COVID-19.

Build your emergency supply kit, often called a “go bag,” as if you may be away from your home for an extended period of time. Each person in your home should have his or her own readily-accessible kit which should include items such as face masks/coverings, a minimum three-day supply of non-perishable food and water, medical prescriptions, first-aid kit, a battery powered radio with extra batteries, and copies of important documents. Don’t forget a kit for your pets to include a minimum three-day supply of food and water for each, medical prescriptions and maybe even special toys or blankets.

Your communication plan is a written document that includes important phone numbers and contact information that all family members can reference in case of separation during an emergency. Every person in your household should have a physical copy of that plan. In addition, create a home inventory, which can be done by taking photos and videos of every room in the house. Your inventory, as well as saved receipts for major purchases, can make the insurance process go much smoother.

 It is also important that you have a financial safety net in place. An insurance checkup is critical because Federal catastrophe grants are not enough to rebuild a home. Consider the appropriate insurance coverage after discussing policy options with your insurance agent. Be sure the coverage is adequate and all of your information is accurate and up to date.

“After the first fire, we couldn’t get homeowners insurance coverage again because our location was considered to be too at risk,” Bertain said. “My mom ended up planting twenty fruit trees on the property so that we could qualify for farm insurance.”

The final step is to "Go!” In order to give your household the best chance of surviving, go early. CAL FIRE recommends that Californians adequately get ”Ready,” are ”Set” to evacuate, and ”Go!” early in the case of a wildfire emergency to reduce the risk of losing their homes and their loved ones.

“As a community member you must stay informed, have a plan, and be aware of your surroundings” said Brandon Dubois, March Field Fire Emergency Services engineer. “Ask the fire department questions well ahead of time, and provide feedback to help us better serve you.”

For more information about the CAL FIRE Ready, Set, Go! campaign, including important links, forms and videos, visit https://www.readyforwildfire.org/prepare-for-wildfire/ready-set-go/ or print or download the brochure here https://www.readyforwildfire.org/wp-content/uploads/calfire_ready_brochure_LINOweb.pdf