At a fire resiliency webinar put on by the Sonoma County Farm Bureau, Cyndi Foreman, fire prevention officer for Sonoma County Fire District, gave a presentation about preparing your home for fire season and also how to prepare for and properly execute an evacuation.
“(We’re going to talk) about what to get ready, defensible space, and we’ll talk about home hardening, which is a really important factor for survivability,” Foreman said as she started her presentation. “The other thing we’ll touch on is what you can do when you know that fire is coming and things to do to prepare.”
“It’s also really important that families have a plan,” she continued. “We train every day, so we can fall back on muscle memory and training. But if you don’t have that, panic can overtake you, and you make bad decisions. Having a plan and practicing a plan is so important. Kids train to move out when a fire alarm goes off at school, and it becomes muscle memory for them. It’s important to teach them this as well, and it can take the fear out and really empower children.”
Creating good defensible space can make the difference between you home surviving and losing it. It is based on zones, and what is allowed within each zone.
Zone 1 extends 20 feet from buildings, structures and decks. In zone 1, you should remove all dead plants, grass and weeds (including under your deck), as well as dead or dry leaves and pine needles from your yard, roof and rain gutters. If you have trees around your home, remove any branches that hang over your roof, and keep any dead branches at least 10 feet from your chimney. Trees should also be trimmed to keep a distance of 10 feet between them. Flammable plants and shrubs near windows should be removed or pruned, and there should be a five-foot exclusion zone from any combustible construction. Wood piles should be relocated into zone 2, and there should be a separation between trees and shrubs and items such as patio furniture, swing sets, etc.
Zone 2 extends 100 feet out from all structures. In zone 2, all grass should be mown to a maximum height of 4 inches, and creating both horizontal and vertical space between shrubs, trees and grass. Fallen leaves, needles, twigs, bark, cones and small branches should be removed if possible, if not they should be at a depth no greater than 3 inches.
The roof should be considered the most vulnerable part of your home, and wood or shingle roofs are the most at risk. Composition, metal or tile will provide better protection. It is also important to block any spaces between the roof decking and the covering to prevent embers from catching.
Vents can be sources where flying embers can enter your home. Foreman recommends covering your vents with 1/16-inch to 1/8-inch metal mesh, and putting baffles under eaves or cornices and soffits.
Windows can be fractured by the heat from a wildfire, long before the home is on fire. Single paned and large windows are particularly vulnerable, and cracked or broken windows allow burning embers inside your home. Installing dual-paned windows and limiting the size and number of windows that face or are surrounded by large areas of vegetation can help prevent catastrophic results.
For walls, decks and fences that are part of or connect to a structure, using “ignition-resistant or non-combustible” building materials — such as stucco, fiber cement or treated wood — can significantly increase the chances of saving the home.
A final and extremely important thing to consider is your driveway. Ensure that all gates open inward and are wide enough to accommodate emergency equipment and fire apparatus. This include trimming trees and shrubs. In addition, make sure your address is clearly visible from the road and at night.
“Driveways, if they don’t have at least a 10-foot clearance, are a hazard for you and a hazard for us,” Foreman said. “If you are trying to evacuate with fire bearing down, it is your way out. If there are low hanging branches, and we have to jump out and cut them to get into your property that’s valuable time, not just in a fire but even in a medical emergency. And if we don’t think we can be safe, we’ll move on.”
Foreman also said in relation to clear addresses, SCFD will provide reflective number signs to district residents.
“We make the signs and send them out; Graton does it too,” Foreman said. “I know your decorative ones are nice, but they do not help us find you in smoky and dark conditions.”
A list of 10 low-cost ways to harden your home can be found at http://www.readyforwildfire.org/wp-content/uploads/Low-cost-Retrofit-List-Final.pdf.
Things to do before you evacuate
Foreman presented two checklists for things that will assist firefighters and also help protect your home. However, she emphasized these checklists should only be utilized if you have enough time once the evacuation has been called.
“If you have time to prep your home before evacuation, do it,” Foreman said. “Get your go bags, put them in the driveway and close the doors, leave hoses and ladders out if you have them. Seal up the attic and crawl space vents. Patrol the property if you have time, don’t wait for the order — if you feel threatened get out. Early on locate your pets and put them in their carrier. Keep your cats inside during Red Flag warnings, a lot of people learned a lot of hard lessons about that. As you prepare to evacuate, take your car keys and put them in pocket. So many people couldn’t find them when in panic mode.”
Home Evacuation Checklist (Inside)
- Shut all windows and doors, leaving them unlocked.
- Remove flammable window shades, curtains and close metal shutters.
- Remove lightweight curtains.
- Move flammable furniture to the center of the room, away from windows and doors.
- Shut off gas at the meter and turn off all pilot lights
- Leave your lights on so firefighters can see your house under smoky conditions.
- Shut off the air conditioning.
Home Evacuation Checklist (Outside)
- Gather up flammable items from the exterior of the house and bring them inside (patio furniture, children’s toys, door mats, trash cans, etc.) or place them in your pool.
- Turn off propane tanks.
- Move propane tanks.
- Move propane barbeque appliances away from structures.
- Connect garden hoses to outside water valves or spigots for use by firefighters. Fill water buckets and place them around the house.
- Don’t leave sprinklers on or water running; they can affect critical water pressure.
- Leave exterior lights on so your home is visible to firefighters in the smoke or darkness of night.
“Doormats? Chuck them over the hill to get them out of the way,” Foreman said. “Do not turn on your sprinklers, you will be robbing your community of valuable firefighting water when you do that. In 2017, many places ran out of water, so please don’t leave them running. I know it sounds crazy to leave doors unlocked, but it gives firefighters the ability to get inside. Trash cans are also a big one, don’t leave them up against the house.”
Go Bag preparations
“If you live in Sonoma County, you should have a Go Bag. Have your essentials because when we panic don’t do things like we should,” Foreman said. “Take this list and put it on your fridge, because you won’t remember when things go crazy. The Go Bag should be for everybody, including kids and pets. And make sure you have a carrier for every pet, in case you are going into a shelter.”
Your Go Bag should include:
- Three-day supply of non-perishable food and three gallons of water per person.
- Map marked with at least two evacuation routes.
- Prescriptions or special medications.
- Change of clothing.
- Extra eyeglasses or contact lenses.
- An extra set of car keys, credit cards, cash or traveler’s checks.
- First aid kit.
- Phone chargers.
- Battery-powered radio and extra batteries.
- Sanitation supplies.
- Copies of important documents (birth certificates, insurance papers, passports, etc.)
- Pet food, medication and water.