October Is Fire Prevention Month… We Can All Help

They say nothing is certain except death and taxes. But maybe now we can add wildfires to the mix. 

These deadly fires come around like clockwork in California and other Western states. And they keep getting worse every year.

So far this “wildfire season,” 30 lives have been lost in the Golden State. Thousands of people have been displaced by fires that have burned nearly 4 million acres of land. And destroyed more than 7,000 homes and other structures.

It’s certainly not over yet. Thirty major wildfires are still burning in California alone. More than 17,000 firefighters are battling the blazes. 

Zogg and Glass Fires Wreak Havoc 

October is Fire Prevention Month. In a moment I’ll provide some tips on how to help prevent these fires. First, let’s take a closer look at what has occurred in the West this year.

As of last week, four people have died from the Zogg Fire in Shasta County. It was only about 10 percent contained as of this writing. After having burned more than 55,000 acres and destroyed nearly 150 structures.

The Glass Fire is not even 5 percent contained yet. Blazing in Napa and Sonoma counties, it has destroyed more than 220 homes. And burned nearly 60,000 acres.

Just between those two fires, nearly 50,000 people have evacuated their homes. Including the entire city of Calistoga. All they can do is hope their houses are still standing when they return.

Largest Fire in State History 

Five of the six largest fires in modern California history have occurred in just the past two months.

That’s according to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (Cal Fire). 

The largest fire in state history – the August Complex – has burned more than 1 million acres. And it’s only about 50 percent contained.

Many of these fires are in steep and hilly terrain amidst high winds. And often high heat. This makes it even more challenging for exhausted firefighters. 

Oregon, Washington Hit Hard Too

While wildfires are worse in California than elsewhere, it’s also been a rough year for other states. 

Nine people have died and more than 1 million acres in Oregon have been burned this year. That’s nearly double the average devastation for the state. The Riverside and Beachie Creek Fires are among the major blazes there.

In Washington state, hundreds have lost their homes due to the Cold Springs Fire and others.

In addition to the loss of life and land devastation, the fires are worsening air quality conditions across the West.  

Tips for Avoiding Wildfires

As promised, here are some tips to help prevent wildfires.

  • When you leave a campsite, make sure the fire is completely extinguished. Use water or ashes to put out the flames. And make sure there is nothing surrounding the fire pit, such as loose kindling or branches, that could catch fire from a spark.
  • Use fireworks only in clear areas with no flammable materials nearby.
  • Rake pine needles and dry leaves within three to five feet of your home’s foundation. As time permits, continue up to a 30-foot distance around the home. Dispose of collected debris in appropriate trash receptacles.
  • Get out your measuring tape to see how close woodpiles and propane tacks are to your home. If closer than 30 feet, you need to move them.
  • Sweep porches and decks, clearing them of leaves and pine needles. Rake under decks, porches, sheds and play structures. Make sure you dispose of debris.
  • Mow grasses to a height of four inches or less.
  • On mature trees, use hand pruners and loppers to cut low-hanging tree branches. They should be at least four feet from the ground.
  • Gather any tree limbs and broken branches on the ground. Take them to a disposal site.
  • Don’t store items under decks and porches. It’s better to store them in a storage shed, garage or basement. Don’t store gasoline cans and portable propane tanks indoors. You should store them away from the home. 
  • Proof your roof. Your roof will be protected when embers from nearby wildfires land on it if it is made of nonflammable materials such as asphalt shingles, metal, slate or tile. Remove leaves and pine needles from your gutters.
  • Keep embers out. Cover exterior vent openings with one-eighth inch hardware cloth. That should keep out embers, which can catch carpets, shades and furniture on fire. Replace missing shingles or tiles on your roof. Use double-paned or tempered glass for your windows.
  • Keep other items away from the house. Including mulch, plants containing oils and resins (such as juniper and pine), and materials from building projects.
  • Create a “defensible” space. Radiant heat from a severe wildfire can ignite a house from up to 100 feet away. Keep combustible material as far away from the structure as possible. In this “zone,” keep vegetation watered, prune low-hanging tree branches and space plants out.
  • Work together. Encourage your neighbors to make their homes as fireproof as possible. The U.S. Forest Service has a program to help “fire-adapted communities.” The National Fire Protection Association also has resources for communities seeking to band together to protect homes from wildfires.
  • Distribute wildfire safety information to neighbors. Staff a table at a grocery or hardware store, or other high-traffic locations.

Let’s all do our part to keep these awful fires from destroying lives, property and the landscape.

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