September 24, 2021
Fire season is upon us. Fire is a natural part of the world’s prairie and forest landscapes. Before humans, lightning caused most fires. Now, 90% of all fires are caused by people….and very, very few of them are arson. Most people-caused wildfires are caused by people who are just doing people things: a lawnmower blade makes a hot spark when it strikes a rock, an inadequately extinguished campfire smolders back to life, a cigarette butt isn’t put into an ashtray where it belongs.
As of August 1, we are a little more than halfway through the year and already the state of California has seen more than 5,000 fire start-ups. Most were extinguished before they became major problems, but a few stretched firefighters to their limits. As of early August, California’s 248,000-acre Dixie Fire in Butte and Plumas counties is still only one-third contained. In southern Oregon the Bootleg Fire has been burning for a month, destroying more than 160 homes.
The 2021 fire season started last year, when the 2020 rainy season became anything but. Western states receive much of their precipitation in the fall and winter, but California watched and waited, and their rains and snows were historically sparse. Then in July a monster heatwave engulfed the area. California, Oregon, Washington and Idaho experienced record high temperatures that dried out plants already left thirsty from their lack of moisture. Foresters refer to this as “fuel loads,” “dead fuel moisture” and “soil moisture deficiency.” In parts of the western US, these numbers indicate a very, very dangerous few months are ahead of us.
What can you do to keep yourself and your family safe? Most importantly, take personal responsibility for your protection and survival in case of wildfire. Remember, in an active evacuation, there may be few if any first responders available to assist you. Figure out now how much you’ll be able to fend for yourself, then start gathering your supplies.
In the months or years ahead of a fire there are a variety of things you can do to make your home less burnable. Only plant trees and bushes that resist fire or burn slowly. Avoid sappy, tarry species like Italian Cypress, which burn so fast, firefighters call them Roman Candle Trees. Juniper and arbor vitae bushes, eucalyptus trees, and tall ornamental grasses should be avoided, or at least kept some distance from the house. In fact, good fire prevention means keeping a 100-foot protective area around your house…your defensible space. Inside your defensible space a lack of flammable materials gives you a good chance of keeping fire from jumping to your home.
California’s 2017 Tubbs Fire, which destroyed entire neighborhoods in Santa Rosa, shifted direction and accelerated wildly in the middle of the night. The evening before, many people went to bed thinking their cell phones would awaken them if danger threatened. Sadly, some of them never received a warning. As a meteorologist, I advise everyone to have multiple, redundant methods of getting life-saving weather and emergency information. Sign up for your county’s phone alerts, have some trustworthy weather apps on your smart phone and most importantly, make the $35 investment in a NOAA Weather Radio.
If a wildfire is coming toward you and an evacuation order is issued, you may have only a few minutes to get out. Don’t waste that valuable time looking for the items you need. You should do that now, by building a “go kit” of survival items, important items, and valuable keepsakes you can grab as you head out the door. Think of the Six P’s of Immediate Evacuation. Have everyone and everything ready to go on a moment’s notice.
Most importantly, remember you have a personal responsibility to seek out information. Don’t wait for everything to come to you. Watch your local TV news morning and evening. Listen to local radio stations you know and trust to update you on fire news.
On the Internet, get your information from official state and county sources, not social media. When it comes to survival, wrong information is worse than no information. Trust the official sources and question hearsay, rumor, and things that seem too wild to be true.
The best source of official weather information is a NOAA Weather Radio, the ‘Voice of the National Weather Service.” These broadcasts come direct from your nearest National Weather Service office, allowing them to automatically alert you when your life is in danger. Get one for you and for every member of your family. That way, as this fire season progresses, you’ll know you’ve done everything in your power to be Fire Aware and Fire Ready. You’ll sleep better.
The WR120 features S.A.M.E. EZ localized programming to make sure you're getting the right alerts for your area. This radio alerts you to over 60 kinds of weather hazards and emergencies. When the National Weather Service issues a watch or warning, the WR120 automatically alerts you.