It’s smart to be scared of fires
December 19, 2001
Folks, I am scared.
In my business of dealing with fire it is okay to be scared. I mean, we generally run into areas where clear-thinking people really want to leave. So it is OK to be scared, but it is not OK to be surprised. We deal with this phenomenon through training and experience.
I really feel compelled to tell you why I am scared, and help you not be so surprised.
I was touring the Fire District today and was hit in the face with an un-seasonable warm, dry wind. It naturally led me to look at the conditions of the forest in our community and the realization that we are experiencing a very dry period which is setting the table for bad things very, very soon. You guessed it: wildfires.
So what do you do to eliminate the surprise of wildfire? I suppose I can tell you to clear the brush, clean your roof, be fire-safe and those of you who already do this are fine.
Unfortunately, most of you ignore the warning signs. After all, what is the likelihood of it happening to you? Oh man, if I had a dollar for every time I heard that, someone else would be writing this. Let me paint a picture for you.
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When the wild lands burn, the fire is enjoying the “fire environment.” This environment is made up of weather, topography, and fuels.
Hot, dry, and windy weather for a period of time dries out the forest and pushes the fire.
Topography is the hills we live on. If it’s steeper, the fire burns faster. But the key I want you to focus on is which way you face on the hill. West and south facing slopes burn better because they get more sun longer and are drier.
What does this mean? Well, if you enjoy watching the sun set every evening from your house, you are on a west-facing slope. Places like the Armstrong Tract, Reed Avenue, Floriston, etc. If a fire starts below you, you are much more likely to have a rapidly spreading fire burning into your home. What do you do if you live in this situation? Clear away the fuel so the fire can’t get to your home.
This brings us to the third component of the fire environment: fuel. Fuel is the organic matter Mother Nature put out there in the form of plants.
Unfortunately in California, all natural vegetation burns very well when it is dry. So do a lot of the plants you plant. Those plants are dry and ready to burn, and I mean right now. Move the fuel away from your house and off your house. Oh, don’t forget the fuel you brought in. That would be the wood pile under your deck.
You may think that the Fire Department will take care of you, so not to worry? Wrong. It takes one fire engine per home to protect the home. The engine will stay there at least 20 to 40 minutes during the fire. We can probably get four fire engines to an area on a good day, assuming no other emergencies exist for the first 15 minutes. A small wildfire in, say, for instance, the Armstrong Tract will affect many more homes in 15 minutes. You do the math.
The answer? Self-defense. Prepare your home like it will need to survive on its own. It just might.
I could fill volumes on how to prepare. My staff will bore you with the details at no cost. Just call us at 582-7850 and we will come out and help you out. It’s free and it’s fun. I have been doing this since 1972, and I am scared. I am scared for you.
You should be too.
Mike Terwilliger is the chief of the Truckee Fire Department.