Dry brush and Santa Ana winds create the perfect (fire) storm. It pays to be a prepared homeowner.
Living in sunny San Diego is a wonderful thing. There is sunshine almost year round. But that comes at a price when it comes to wild fires. Although San Diego county has mostly escaped severe wildfires in the last two seasons, things can change at any time.
If you have lived in San Diego a long time, you will remember some devastating wildfires that burned through San Diego County. Two of the more recent large fires were The Cedar Fire of 2003 and the Witch Creek Fire of 2007. Many of us have either lost a home in a wild fire or know someone who has.
It is sound advice to plan ahead, prepare your home and be ready to act fast. Wildfires can flare up quickly and you could have only minutes to react.
What are the “Santa Ana’s”?
The Santa Ana winds are strong, extremely dry downslope winds that originate inland and affect coastal southern California and northern Baja California. They originate from cool, dry high-pressure air masses in the Great Basin.
Santa Ana winds are known for the hot, dry weather that they bring in autumn (often the hottest of the year), but they can also arise at other times of the year. They often bring the lowest relative humidities of the year to coastal southern California. These low humidities, combined with the warm, compressionally-heated air mass, plus high wind speeds, create critical fire weather conditions. Also sometimes called “devil winds“,
Here are some ways to prepare your home and your family during the dry, Santa Ana wildfire season:
1. Create Your Home’s “Defense Space”
Keep your property lean and green to help protect your family and home. Defensible space, coupled with home hardening, is essential to improve your home’s chance of surviving a wildfire. Defensible space is the buffer you create between a building on your property and the grass, trees, shrubs, or any wildland area that surround it. This space is needed to slow or stop the spread of wildfire and it helps protect your home from catching fire—either from embers, direct flame contact or radiant heat. Proper defensible space also provides firefighters a safe area to work in, to defend your home.
Defensible Space Zones
Zones 1 and 2 currently make up the 100 feet of defensible space required by law. Assembly Bill 3074, passed into law in 2020, requires a third zone for defensible space. This law requires the Board of Forestry and Fire Protection to develop the regulation for a new ember-resistant zone (Zone 0) within 0 to 5 feet of the home by January 1, 2023. The intensity of wildfire fuel management varies within the 100-foot perimeter of the home, with more intense fuels’ reduction occurring closer to your home. Start at the home and work your way out to 100 feet or to your property line, whichever is closer.
2. Harden your Home
Prepare for wildfire and harden your home now. There are three ways your home can be exposed to wildfire: direct flames from a wildfire or burning neighboring home; radiant heat from nearby burning plants or structures; and flying embers. Flying embers from a wildfire can destroy homes up to a mile away and are responsible for the destruction of most homes during a wildfire.
Taking the necessary measures to harden (prepare) your home can help increase its likelihood of survival when wildfire strikes.
Here is a helpful guide to download:
3. Create an Emergency Supply Kit
Put together your emergency supply kit long before a wildfire or other disaster occurs and keep it easily accessible so you can take it with you when you have to evacuate. Plan to be away from your home for an extended period of time. Each person should have a readily accessible emergency supply kit. Backpacks work great for storing these items (except food and water) and are quick to grab. Storing food and water in a tub or chest on wheels will make it easier to transport. Keep it light enough to be able to lift it into your car. Ensure you plan with COVID-19 in mind.
Emergency Supply Kit Checklist
- 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 clothing
- 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
- Sanitation supplies
- Copies of important documents (birth certificates, passports, etc.)
- Don’t forget pet food and water!
Items to take if time allows:
- Easily carried valuables
- Family photos and other irreplaceable items
- Personal computer information on hard drives and disks
- Chargers for cell phones, laptops, etc.
Always keep a sturdy pair of shoes and a flashlight near your bed and handy in case of a sudden evacuation at night.
Your Wildfire Action Plan must be prepared, and familiar to all members of your household well in advance of a wildfire. Use the checklist below to help create your plan. Each family’s plan will be different, depending on a variety of issues, needs, and situations.
Ensure you plan with COVID-19 in mind. Ask friends or relatives outside your area if you would be able to stay with them, should the need arise. If you do need to evacuate and plan to stay with friends or relatives, ask first if they have symptoms of COVID-19 or have people in their home at higher risk for serious illness. If that is the case, make other arrangements. Check with hotels, motels and campgrounds to learn if they are open. Also get set by learning about your community’s response plan for each disaster and determine if these plans have been adapted because of COVID-19.
4. Your Wildfire Action Plan Checklist
Create an evacuation plan that includes:
- A designated emergency meeting location outside the fire or hazard area. This is critical to determine who has safely evacuated from the affected area.
- Several different escape routes from your home and community. Practice these often so everyone in your family is familiar in case of emergency.
- Have an evacuation plan for pets and large animals such as horses and other livestock.
- A Family Communication Plan that designates an out-of-area friend or relative as a point of contact to act as a single source of communication among family members in case of separation. (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.)
- Have fire extinguishers on hand and train your family how to use them (check expiration dates regularly).
- Ensure that your family knows where your gas, electric, and water main shut-off controls are located and how to safely shut them down in an emergency.
- Assemble an Emergency Supply Kit for each person, as recommended by the American Red Cross. (See next section for details.)
- Maintain a list of emergency contact numbers posted near your phone and in your emergency supply kit.
- Keep an extra Emergency Supply Kit in your car in case you cannot get to your home because of fire or other emergency.
- Have a portable radio or scanner so you can stay updated on the fire.
- Tell your neighbors about Ready, Set, Go! and your Wildfire Action Plan.
5. Time to Evacuate
Give your household the best chance of surviving a wildfire by being ready to go and evacuating early. Being ready to go also means knowing when to evacuate and what to do if you become trapped.
Before evacuation is necessary, follow these steps before it’s time to GO!
- Create a Wildfire Action Plan for your family. Being ready to go also means knowing when to evacuate and what to do if you become trapped.
- Complete the pre-evacuation preparation steps (only if time allows) to increase your home’s defense.
- Make sure you monitor wildfires in your area and know your community’s emergency response plan, evacuation orders and evacuation centers.
When immediate evacuation is necessary, follow these steps as soon as possible to get ready to GO!
- Review your Evacuation Plan Checklist.
- Ensure your Emergency Supply Kit/Evacuation Bag is in your vehicle.
- Cover-up to protect against heat and flying embers. Wear long pants, long sleeve shirt, heavy shoes/boots, cap, dry bandanna for face cover, goggles or glasses. 100% cotton is preferable.
- Locate your pets and take them with you.
HI, I’M LISA HINKLEY AND I HELP PEOPLE LIVE THE HARBOR LIFE IN PUNTA GORDA, FLORIDA
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