In the last ten years, our town has been threatened by brush fires twice. Both times, buildings were lost and smoke was so thick people had to wear masks just to breathe outside. Fortunately, most people were prepared.
The people most at risk for this sort of fire are those who live close in areas that have a lot of trees or brush. These areas get dry and once the fire catches, it can be out of control in minutes. For this reason, prevention techniques and understanding what to do should a fire occur could save more than your property, it could save your life.
Brush Clearance: This is important to provide a “defensible space.” Keeping the ground in a 200 foot circumference around your home and buildings give firefighters a chance at stopping your property from fire damage. Without it, in a major fire, there is little chance it will survive.
Most fire prone areas have a date by which this must be done on a yearly basis, usually either May or June first. If it doesn’t get cleared in that time frame, the fire department may come in and do it — then charge you for the expense.
Camp fires: There are times and places for camp fires, and there are times and places they are a very bad idea. If you’re going into a state or national forest, there are usually signs that tell you what the fire danger is and whether or not camp fires are all right. There have been many cases where a fire was built at a time or place they shouldn’t have been that have caused massive wild fires.
There is one other thing to bear in mind with a camp fire. It is your responsibility to keep it in the designated area and to make sure it is completely out before you leave the area. You can use weed free dirt, water or other means, but leaving it going is out of the question.
Fireworks: This is another issue that seems to cause yearly fires. Usually it’s kids playing with them around the Fourth of July, but adults have also been responsible. When it comes to this sort of fire, the adult responsible (meaning parents if children are responsible) will be billed the entire cost of putting the blaze out. As that can go into the millions, it’s a good idea to keep the kids away from the fireworks — .and the same goes with matches.
Glass: A clear glass bottle can, if in the right place at the right time, act as a prism and focus heat onto grass. Dried grass is full of oils and is quite ready to go. While it doesn’t always happen, it is a good reminder that littering can do more than just make a place look bad.
Home Construction: Many things about the materials your home is constructed from will help prevent it from catching on fire. Wooden shake shingles might look nice, but all they need is a good sized spark to spell the end of your home. There are other things you can do construction wise, so speak to someone knowledgeable about things you can do to keep your home safe.
Sparks: Off road bikes and other vehicles should have a spark arrester installed. You’ll even have to exercise caution if you are using farm equipment. It doesn’t take much to start a fire. I remember one fire that got started because a chain was loose under the vehicle, scraped the pavement and threw out sparks.
Arson: I saved this for last because it’s our responsibility to keep our eyes open when in areas prone to fire. There are a lot of reasons people may intentionally start a fire, but if you can spot the person doing it, you may be able to keep the damage to a minimum and put a firebug where he or she can’t do any more harm — at least for a while.
Dealing with a Fire
There are things you can do before a fire starts to help you survive it and the aftermath. Some of them are likely to save your life.
Grab and Go Bag: Put what you need to survive in a bag and have it handy. Clothing, important papers, medications, even a spare pair of glasses could help you in any emergency and that includes fires. You may want to include food and water, plus what your pets may require.
Following Orders: It’s very heroic to see a man standing on his roof surrounded by smoke and trying to hold off the fire with a garden hose. It’s also a good way to get someone killed, and it will probably be the guy on the roof. If you’re ordered to go, go.
Bear in mind that there are two reasons for this. The first is obvious; your life is in danger so get out of there. The second should be obvious, but usually isn’t. If firefighters have to rescue you, it will be taking their time away from putting the fire out, and it puts their lives in danger. Again, please follow orders.
Parking Restrictions: In our area, when there is a red flag warning, cars cannot be parked along the side of the narrow, winding streets in the foothills. Why? The fire equipment can’t get through nor can a staging area be set up. It may be a pain, but it is necessary to keep those roads open.
Pets: This is always a difficult issue. If you have time before a fire gets to your property, go ahead and put the animals in their traveling cages/kennels. It’s a lot easier to grab the pet before it becomes a necessity. The animals will sense the danger if you wait too long, and are likely to hid, run away — and usually die.
Larger animals, like horses, can usually be trailered to a safe location. Doing this early on makes it easier. They, too, will panic and be hard to manage if the danger arrives before you’ve had a chance to do something about it. If you work some distance away, it may be wise to work out an arrangement with a neighbor to move the animals should it be necessary.
Fires are a fact of life in most areas. Knowing what to do and when to do it could keep you safe and offer some protection for your property. If you have more questions, contact your local fire department for information about fire prevention.