What to Do When Wildland Fire Threatens


guest col fire sam digiovanna image001By Sam Digiovanna, Special to the Independent

If there are reports of wildland fires:

Listen to local radio or TV stations for updated emergency information. Follow instructions of local officials regarding the safest escape route. (It may be different than you expect; wildland fires can change direction and speed up suddenly.)

If you have one, turn on your FRS Radio and set it to your neighborhood’s channel and code. Check in, and continue to monitor for new information.

If you believe the fire is too close to your location, evacuate immediately. (The fire may be moving too fast for officials to issue evacuation notifications.) Choose a route away from the fire and other potential fire hazards.

Park your car in an open space, facing the direction of escape. Leave the key in the ignition, roll up the windows, and shut car door and sunroof. Close garage windows and doors. Remove all obstacles to a quick escape.

Open access gates to your property while you still have time and electricity to operate automatic gates.

Arrange for temporary housing at a friend’s or relative’s home outside the threatened area. (You will be more comfortable in someone’s home than in a public shelter. Plus, many shelters do not allow pets.)

Pack an evacuation kit for each member of your family and place it in your car:

Identification showing your current address

Cash and Credit Cards

Prescription medications

Phone numbers of family, friends and other emergency contacts

Change of clothing and toiletries for an overnight stay

A good book or favorite toy

A leash or carrier, a bowl, and food for family pets

Pack your short list of “must take” items and place them in your car.

Financial and insurance papers

Photo albums or negatives

Computer data backups

Irreplaceable artwork

Change into protective clothing: sturdy shoes or boots, cotton or wool clothing, long pants, long-sleeved shirt, gloves, and a handkerchief to protect your face. Wear goggles and a hard hat, if possible, and carry drinking water and a flashlight.

Evacuate large animals or release them into a coral or pasture containing as little burnable material as possible. (If you wait, it may be too late to maneuver through slow traffic and thick smoke.)

Consider evacuating family members who will not be helping prepare your home and neighborhood for evacuation.

Prepare your home:

Shut off gas or any source of fuel (Propane, natural gas or fuel oil). Clear flam-mable materials from around propane tanks.

Fuel and get ready any gas-powered pumps or generators that run electric pumps.

Fill several garbage cans, tubs or other large containers with water. Soak several towels to use in beating out embers or small fires. (Availability of water may be vital to the survival of the structure.)

Connect garden hoses and place sprinklers within 50 feet of your home. (Water pressure will probably decrease because of the heavy demand for firefighting ? or water may not be available because electric pumps have failed or water reservoirs are drained.)

Place a ladder at a safe place to access the roof to extinguish embers, fire brands or small spot fires.

Open fireplace dampers. Close fireplace screens.

Remove lightweight drapes and curtains. Close windows, vents, doors, blinds and heavy drapes.

Move combustible furniture into the center of the room, away from windows and sliding-glass doors.

Close all inside doors and windows, attics, eves, vents and pet doors to prevent drafts that could spread fire.

Place valuables that will not be damaged by water in a pool or pond.

Seal attic and ground vents with precut plywood or commercial seals.

Remove combustible items from around your home, lawn, and poolside: patio
furniture, umbrellas, tarp coverings, firewood. Store in a detached garage or shed.

Gather fire tools (rakes, shovels, pruning saws, chain saws, buckets, brooms, hoes, hoses, nozzles) and make sure they are outside and easy to access.

Spray a wood shake roof with water. If burning embers begin to fall on the roof and water supply and pressure are adequate, consider placing a lawn sprinkler on the roof to keep it moist.

Moisten fine fuels on or close to the structure. Use existing sprinklers to keep these fuels moist.

Watch for Changes in the Speed and Direction of Fire and Smoke. Don’t let the fire get ahead of you and block your route to safety. Be especially cautious if embers or firebrands begin to fall in your neighborhood.

If you didn’t do so when the fire season began, do these now, if there is time:

Clear roof and gutters of leaves and pine needles.

Clear leaves, dead limbs, twigs, brush and vegetation away from the structure.

Cut low-hanging branches and limbs that could act as ladders for the fire.

Remove leaves and rubbish from under your home and other structures.

Remove dead branches that extend over the roof.

Remove vines from the walls of the home.

Mow tall grass.

Join with Your Neighbors to Prepare Your Neighborhood

Establish lookouts to monitor the approaching fire.

Open fire and emergency access gates.

Alert neighbors to the approaching fire and inform them about recommended preparation activities. Brief them on neighborhood escape routes and safety zones.

Patrol for spot fires. Extinguish small fires and report all spot fires.

Move parked vehicles from areas with narrow streets.

Assist neighbors who have special needs to prepare for evacuation.

Report to [your Neighborhood Operations Center??] changing conditions: smoke, ash, and embers, changes in wind speed or direction, spot fires, approaching flame fronts.

Fire Chief Sam Digiovanna lives in Aliso Viejo and works for the Verdugo Fire Academy in Glendale.


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