As native Californians, we’re as familiar with wildfires as we are with earthquakes. Fortunately, earthquakes happen infrequently and generally leave us unscathed. The “Big One” hasn’t hit yet, and we should always be prepared for earthquakes, but that’s a whole other Oprah. Today, we’re discussing the impact of wildfires and how we can be prepared.
A History of Recent Wildfires
The golden state tops most lists when it comes to wildfires. Although we lost more acreage in 2017 (10 million) compared to 2018 (8.8 million), 2018 still proved to be one of the most destructive years on record.
Northern California’s Mendocino Complex Fire was the largest fire in state history, with 459,123 acres burned. The Carr Fire takes the eighth spot in the state’s history of recorded scorchers. Eight fatalities have been attributed to that fire, and 1,614 structures were destroyed. Those two fires alone resulted in the loss of 8,900 homes, 329 businesses, and 800 private autos and commercial vehicles.
Butte County’s Camp Fire in 2018 became the deadliest and most destructive wildfire on record. At least 88 people lost their lives. 153,000 acres were burned, and 18,800 structures destroyed, according to Cal Fire statistics, which resulted in 14,000 residences and 530 commercial structures left in ashes.
Moving south, the Woolsey Fire that ignited in November of 2018, burned about 97,000 acres. Included in the destruction were 1,600 structures and the unfortunate deaths of three people. Media coverage showed many properties destroyed, as well as evacuations of well-known movie, TV, and music stars, from their homes.
What causes most wildfires?
If mother nature was the only thing we had to worry about when it came to fires, statistics would be quite different. When you add in the human element, situations change dramatically. Human carelessness, campfires, discarding lit cigarettes, not burning debris properly, playing with matches or fireworks cause most wildfires. Another huge factor is the role of arsonists, too.
What Time of Year do Wildfires Occur?
The words “Wildfire Season” may be a misnomer because in California, depending on the drought situation, wildfires could happen year-round. However, statistically, wildfires are most common in the spring from when the snow melts until foliage fully appears. Fall is also a time of heightened wildfire concern when foliage begins to drop.
So, you’ve been given statistics and informed on how fires may be caused but listed below is the most important information. This is where you’ll learn what you can do to prepare for your safety and protecting your home during wildfire season. The following are suggestions from The National Fire Protection Association (NFPA).
HOME IGNITION ZONES
Experts advise that homeowners limit the amount of flammable vegetation surrounding their properties, build with fire-resistant materials, and perform periodic exterior maintenance in the three home ignition zones. Zones are broken down into the Immediate Zone: 0 to5 feet around the house; Intermediate Zone: 5 to 30 feet; and the Extended Zone: 30 to 100 feet.
LANDSCAPING AND MAINTENANCE
When it comes to landscaping the property around your home, start with trimming any branches that overhang the home, porch and deck. Next, prune branches of large trees up to (depending on their height) 6 to 10 feet from the ground. Remove plants containing resins, oils, and waxes. Importantly, ensure mulches in the Immediate Zone (0 to 5 feet around the house) are non-combustible options, like crushed stone and gravel. It is imperative that you do annual maintenance to any vegetation on your property, and in some cases, you are mandated by your city, county, or state to maintain vegetation annually.
ROOFING AND VENTS
The materials on your roof are just as important as what lays on the ground. Composite shingles, metal, and concrete and clay tiles offer the best protection. Inspect shingles/tiles and replace/repair loose or missing roofing material to prevent ember penetration. Box-in eaves but provide ventilation to prevent condensation and mildew. Place screen at roof and attic vents to prevent ember entry.
DECKS AND PORCHES
Never store flammable materials underneath decks or porches. Remove dead vegetation and debris from under the decks and porches and between deck-board joints.
SIDING AND WINDOWS
Embers can collect in small nooks and crannies and ignite combustible materials. Radiant heat from flames can crack windows. Consider fire-resistant siding, such as brick, fiber-cement, plaster or
stucco. It’s always a good idea to invest in dual-pane, tempered glass windows, and you may save on heating and air conditioning costs, as well.
EMERGENCY RESPONDER ACCESS
Have clearly marked and legible street names and numbers. Driveways should be at least 12 feet
wide with a vertical clearance of 15 feet, for emergency vehicle access.
The Sleeping Beast
California is recovering from many years of drought and coming back from damages caused by wildfires over the past couple of years. Happily, this last rainy season brought our state an abundance of rain and snow. We’re currently experiencing a “Super Bloom,” when the usually dry region gets covered with apricot-colored poppies, blonde dandelions, and purple sand verbenas. We’ve been attracting swarms of visitors and if you’ve seen the pictures, it’s quite beautiful. The downside to this is everything else is growing too, creating massive amounts of vegetation that’s perfect fuel for a future wildfire.
Our mantra to you is: Preparing for a disaster shouldn’t be a last-minute scramble. The right time to prepare is always now.
PGI has staff trained in fire and emergency safety. We’re just a phone call or email away from a consultation and we’re always happy to help.