Wildfires in the Bay Area are inevitable, but the amount of damage can often be controlled.
Cal Fire experts say most of the live-saving measures are done ahead of time, especially by residents.
So where should residents, especially those in high-risk areas, start in terms of wildfire preparations?
Defensible space is the buffer between a building on your property and the grass, trees, shrubs and wildland that surrounds it. Being further away from fire fuels slows the spread and helps to protect your home from catching fire.
When there isn’t much time to escape the blaze, residents are encouraged to act quick and protect themselves.
To effectively do so, Cal Fire says the first step is to create an evacuation plan that is familiar to “all members of your household well in advance of a wildfire.”
Create an Evacuation Plan
Your evacuation plan should include:
-A designated emergency meeting location outside the fire or hazard zone. This will help determine who has safely evacuated from the area.
-Several different escape routes from home and community. Cal Fire recommends practicing these routes often so everyone is familiar in case of emergency.
-Have an evacuation plan for pets and large animals and livestock like animals.
-Create a family communication plan that designates one out-of-area family member as a point of contact and single source of communication among other family members in case of separation. Cal Fire says: “It is easier to call or message one person and let them contact others than to try and call everyone when phone, cell, and internet systems can be overloaded or limited during a disaster.”
Prepare an emergency supply kit
The next step is to assemble an emergency supply kit for each person which should include:
-Face masks or coverings
-Three-day supply of non-perishable food and three gallons of water per person
-Map marked with at least two evacuation routes
-Prescriptions or special medications
-Change of clothes
-Extra eyeglasses or contact lenses
-An extra set of car keys, credit cards, cash or traveler’s checks
-First aid kit
-Battery-powered radio and extra batteries
-Copies of important documents (birth certificates, passports, etc.)
-Pet food and water
-List of emergency contact numbers
If time allows, Cal Fire also recommends grabbing:
-Family photos and other irreplaceable items
-Personal computer information on hard drives and disks
-Chargers for electronics including cellphones
-Other easily carried valuables.
Risk reduction for your home
If there is time before evacuation, Cal Fire also recommends the following steps to reduce the risk of your house catching on fire:
Inside the home:
-Shut all windows and doors, leaving them unlocked.
-Remove flammable window shades, curtains and close metal shutters.
-Remove lightweight curtains.
-Move flammable furniture to the center of the room, away from windows and doors.
-Shut off gas at the meter; turn off pilot lights.
-Leave your lights on so firefighters can see your house under smoky conditions.
-Shut off the air conditioning.
-Gather up flammable items from outside and bring them inside (patio furniture, children’s toys, door mats, trash cans, etc.) or place them in your pool.
-Turn off propane tanks.
-Move propane BBQ appliances away from structures.
-Connect garden hoses to outside water valves or spigots for use by firefighters. Fill water buckets and place them around the house.
-Don’t leave sprinklers on or water running, they can affect critical water pressure.
-Leave exterior lights on so your home is visible to firefighters in the smoke or darkness of night.
-Put your Emergency Supply Kit in your vehicle.
-Back your car into the driveway with vehicle loaded and all doors and windows closed. Carry your car keys with you.
-Have a ladder available and place it at the corner of the house for firefighters to quickly access your roof.
-Seal attic and ground vents with pre-cut plywood or commercial seals.
-Patrol your property and monitor the fire situation. Don’t wait for an evacuation order if you feel threatened.
-Check on neighbors and make sure they are preparing to leave.
And if those steps are completed, Cal Fire also recommends a few other safety measures:
-Have fire extinguishers at hand that family members know how to use
-Know where gas, electric and water main shutoff controls are located and how to turn them off
-Keep an extra emergency supply kit in your car in case you cannot come back to your home because of a fire or other emergency
-Have a portable radio or scanner to stay updated on the fire
Residents can also make a personalized wildfire plan through a survey on Cal Fire’s website at https://plan.readyforwildfire.org.
For the latest on the wildfire and drought situation in the Bay Area:
Bay Area Wildfire and Drought Info Hub
Wildfires have been devastating for Bay Area communities in the last few years with tremendous loss of life, property and forests. Scientists, fire officials and local leaders worry that climate change and dry conditions are setting us up for another dangerous season. We track the trends and provide news you can use here.