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How to Prepare for Fire Season and Support Firefighters

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Fire season in California has officially kicked into high gear. It has been less than one week since the National Weather Service issued the season’s first red flag warning on Friday, prompted by a heatwave with record-breaking temperatures and gusty, dry winds. Since then, firefighters have been racing from city to city to put out blazes across the state.

In just the past five days, in the Greater Bay Area alone, fires have erupted in Concord, Fairfield, Novato, Marin, Colma, San Leandro, Calistoga and San Jose. That is no way an exhaustive list, and some of those cities have experienced more than one blaze in that short period of time. Beyond the Bay, a 100-acre brush fire threatened summer vacation crowds at Six Flags Magic Mountain and the Sand Fire in Yolo County, which is still only 80 percent contained, has already ripped through 2,512 acres, according to Cal Fire.

Mendocino County fire in 2018. Photo courtesy of New York Post.

In other words, shit just got real, real fast.

Last year’s California fire season, that never seemed to end, was the deadliest and most destructive on record and predictions issued by the National Interagency Fire Center promise more of the same for 2019. As a state, it’s a problem we never seem to find a way out of. We’re obviously impacted during extended droughts that create excessive dry fuel and weaken trees. When we catch a break and get some much-needed rain, as was seen this past winter, we’re impacted by new growth that will eventually dry out and become a threat. It’s time we face the reality that we are always on the business end of inferno and as climate change increases temperatures and intensity of disasters, it’s apparent things will only get worse on the current trajectory.

So, you might ask, “What can we do?”

We may not be able to escape our fate, but we can prepare, donate and appreciate, starting now.

Prepare

If you don’t have an escape plan established for your homes and workplaces, do that immediately! Yes, wildfires are the biggest threat this time of year, but as we saw in Napa, those vegetation fires can reach homes, schools and shopping areas. The National Fire Protection Association is on it with free and readily available resources you can use to create an emergency fire plan. Packed with tips and a downloadable grid, the NFPA is an excellent place to start if you’ve never before thought about a fire raging toward your house.

Tips and fire escape route example courtesy of National Fire Protection Association.

After you have a plan worked out, talk with your roommates, family or the bird you call your friend about what to do and not do in the case of a structure fire.

  1. Once you detect a fire, yell your damn head off. Alert anyone who can hear you.
  2. If you can get out, get out! And stay out! Don’t worry about paperwork and belongings – they won’t matter much if you don’t survive.
  3. If you have to escape through smoke, stay low to the ground and cover your nose with a damp cloth if you can.
  4. If you have to go through interior doors to get out of the structure, check for heat at the handle before opening.a
  5. Call 911 from outside the house.
  6. If the whole neighborhood or surrounding area is in danger, leave quickly and head to a predetermined meeting space or follow instructions given by authorities. This is one time that Twitter is your friend and can keep you updated quickly on fire status and shelters.

Part of preparation is precaution and in that vein, here are a few tips to follow so you’re not the one to contribute to the problem:

  1. Watch campfires and barbecues closely, keeping a water source nearby at all times in case a wind catches and carries away any of your embers.
  2. If you’re a smoker, do not, and I mean DO NOT EVER toss a cigarette butt. You can keep a plastic bottle partially filled with water in your car to take care of butts.
  3. Water your lawn. I know this is tough after we let our lawns die off during the drought, but dry grass is basically hay and that’s the last thing you want surrounding your home.
  4. Make sure you have spark arrestors installed on all off-road vehicles – ATVs are less fun when the ground is scorched.

Donate

A whole slew of relief funds and donation centers will pop up after the next big fire displaces people but you don’t have to wait around to help. There will inevitably be new California fire victims this year and you can do a lot right now to make that trauma and recovery just a little easier for them.

  • The American Red Cross accepts donations throughout the year to help fire victims with food and shelter but they also use those funds to educate families and install smoke alarms in high-risk areas.
  • The California Fire Foundation will gladly take your donations to fund their SAVE program, which arms first responding firefighters with $100 gift cards to give victims directly when they need it most.

Appreciate

If you haven’t thanked a firefighter, today or ever, do that. The increasingly intense fire seasons are horrible for residents but absolutely treacherous for fire crews and their families. These are, quite literally, our heroes but as NPR highlighted last November, our heroes are “understaffed, overworked and…exhausted.” And yet, they still show up, and they show up to save us even when there is no fire. Donations to the California Fire Foundation, linked above, will also be used to support firefighters in need and families of the fallen.

These are the people who tend to arrive first on the scene after you have to dial 911, and they’re often the first people to administer medical assistance. They’re the ones who come out to rescue us geniuses who believe we know how to climb cliffs, and quickly realize how wrong we are. They’re there when you wreck your car or when your child is drowning. They’re not there to put you in cuffs or into an ambulance that will cost a month’s worth of rent; they simply come to save you, no matter who you are. If you think really hard, I’ll bet you’ve never been upset to see a firefighter.

Fire crews battle house fire, Photo courtesy of Daniel Tausis/Unplash

Now, remember that as this fire season taxes them beyond what’s humanly possible and appreciate that they find ways to show up anyhow. So, say thank you!

 

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Nik Wojcik - East Bay Editor

Nik Wojcik - East Bay Editor

Journalist, editor, student, single mom to a pack of wolves, foodie, music lover, resident smart ass, and champion of vulgarity and human kindness.