In case you missed the ash and brimstone raining down, fire season is upon us. If I seem flippant, it’s only because it keeps me from crying. There is so much loss and devastation across the Bay Area. In fact, there are so many fires burning in California that fire officials resorted to using three digit alpha codes. I feel utterly helpless. Somehow, contributing a little bit of money or donating needed supplies just isn’t enough. How do you replace someone’s hopes and dreams? You just can’t. With that in mind, it is imperative that we take fire safety seriously. We all know that there are things we should be doing, but what are they?
Practical tips to say safe
Before a Fire Hits
- Sign up for emergency alerts. Most counties in California have nixle which will send you a text and an email when there is an incident in your area.
- Create a “go bag.” These aren’t just for cool action-adventure types anymore. It’s is vital that you have an emergency bag that is ready to go at a moments notice. We live in California so don’t assume that this would be just for fire emergencies…at this point we pretty much experience everything except for hurricanes but…well…you know. It is 2020.
- Keep a defensible space around your home of at least 10 feet, preferably 30. This means building some time to rake up leaves on the weekends; getting your trees trimmed so that they are away from your house.
- Get all of your important documents in order and have them in a safe place…and easily accessible. When it’s time to go, it’s time to go. You don’t want to have to take time to search for things.
- Insurance Coverage. Take time to review your insurance and make sure that you have adequate coverage. There’s no guarantee the FEMA will be able to make up all of the difference between what you need and what your payout is.
What to do During the Evacuation
- Listen – make sure that you listen to what the authorities are telling you. If they say leave then leave. Yes, there are numerous stories of brave souls defending their homes and their neighbor’s homes but these are the exception, not the rule.
- Stay Away – avoid areas that haven’t been cleared by your local Fire District or Cal Fire. Flareups can happen suddenly and you don’t want to make a mistake and get trapped. The 1991 Oakland Hills fire was put out until it wasn’t.
- Masks – At this point in the pandemic, you should have a steady supply of masks but it’s good to have a small cache of N95 masks in case of fire. It will definitely help with breathing.
After the Evacuation
- Let friends and family know that you are safe – but try to avoid making calls in the moment. Too many calls place a strain on the system and may prevent first responders from being able to communicate. Send texts or post on Social Media first.
- Contact your insurance company – it’s (almost) never too soon to start a claim.
- After the all clear – once the authorities have given the all clear to return, make sure that you have a camera on hand to document the property damage.
- Be safe – if you have to sift through the wreckage of your home, please know that it contains significant toxic waste so dress accordingly and wear a NIOSH certified respirator. If possible, wet down the debris to eliminate dust and particles.
Most of these tips were taken from the ready.gov website which has a wealth of information about disaster preparedness. The one thing that we do know for sure is that fires – in general – and wildfires – in particular – are incredibly unpredictable. Fires go where it wants and when it wants. Without the brilliant and gritty work of our firefighters and other first responders, these disasters would be much worse.