Health & Safety

June 21, 2013

Preparing to survive Wildfire season

Robert Kaschak
452 AMW Emergency Management technician

Southern California’s unique topography complemented with intense heat, dry soil, acts of nature and human carelessness, all combine to make it extremely vulnerable to wildfires. Every year we standby, ready to combat these demons of destruction. When not actually engaged in a response, firefighters train constantly to improve tactics, communication and working relationships. The drain on manpower, assets and critical resources is staggering and the devastation in the aftermath spans loss of life, homes and land.

The most recent wildfire in Colorado Springs’ Black Forest, has already burned more than 15,000 acres, destroyed more than 1,020 homes and taken two lives. Closer to home, a fire at the Carstens, near Yosemite Park, forced the evacuation of 700 families from their homes, burned 1880 acres. We know the reality and ramifications of wildfires. As responders, we do all in our power to promote awareness and preventive measures to protect the environment.

To augment standard preventive measures, 452d Emergency Management personnel suggest you be aware of additional measures to ensure family members stay safe during wildfires.

Before a wildfire

Reduce the risk by being prepared to protect your family, home, and property.

Families should discuss a plan of action to take if wildfires threaten the area.

Homeowners should design landscapes with wildfire safety in mind. Select materials and plants that can help contain fire rather than fuel it – plant fire-resistant shrubs and trees. Hardwood trees are less flammable than pine, evergreen, eucalyptus or fir trees.

Members should consider using fire-resistant or noncombustible materials on roofs and exterior structures of their dwellings. They should use fire-retardant chemicals evaluated by a nationally recognized laboratory, such as Underwriters Laboratories.

Regularly clean roof and gutters.

Inspect chimneys at least twice a year and clean them at least once a year. Keep the dampers in good working order. Equip chimneys and stovepipes with a spark arrester that meets the requirements of National Fire Protection Association Standard 211. Contact your local fire department for exact specifications.

Use one-eighth inch mesh screen beneath porches, decks, floor areas and the home itself. Also, screen openings to floors, roof and attic.

Install a dual-sensor smoke alarm on each level of your home, especially near bedrooms; test monthly and change the batteries at least once each year.

Teach each family member how to use a fire extinguisher, ABC type and show them where it’s kept.

Keep handy household items that can be used as fire tools such as a rake, axe, handsaw or chain saw, bucket or shovel. Keep a ladder that will reach the roof. Consider installing protective shutters or heavy, fire-resistant drapes.

Clear items that will burn from around the house, including woodpiles, lawn furniture, barbecue grills and tarp coverings — move them outside of your defensible space.

Plan your water needs

Identify and maintain an adequate outside water source such as a small pond, cistern, well, swimming pool or hydrant. It is a good idea to have a garden hose that is long enough to reach any area of the home and other structures on the property. Install freeze-proof exterior water outlets on at least two sides of the home and near other structures on the property to ensure for complete protective coverage – install additional outlets at least 50-feet from the home. Also, consider obtaining a portable gasoline powered water pump in case electrical power is cut off.

Your best resource for proper planning can be viewed at www.firewise.org, which has outstanding information used daily by residents, property owners, fire departments, community planners, builders, public policy officials, water authorities, architects and others to assure safety from fire. Fire-wise workshops are offered free nationwide and fire-wise materials can be obtained easily by anyone interested.

If you can command the recommendations above and feel comfortable about your fire preparation, you are off to a good start. No one can control the weather or the actions of others, but having a solid plan and instituting the preventive measures contained herein, will give you a much better chance for a successful outcome for you, your family and your home.

It is a long season. Let us make it through together, safely.




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