Be pre­pared:

Wild­fires of­fer a grim re­minder to take pre­cau­tions, heed safety tips, of­fi­cials say

The Mercury News - - Front Page - By Tam­mer­lin Drum­mond tdrum­mond@ba­yare­anews­ Con­tact Tam­mer­lin Drum­mond at 510-208-6468.

When dis­as­ter strikes, be sure to have a game plan.

The North­ern Cal­i­for­nia wild­fires that con­tin­ued to cause mass de­struc­tion Wed­nes­day should be a wake-up call for all Bay Area res­i­dents to put fire preven­tion safety mea­sures in place and make ad­vance evac­u­a­tion plans.

The Na­tional Fire Pro­tec­tion As­so­ci­a­tion al­ready had named Oct. 8 through Oct. 14 fire preven­tion week. Yet in a bit­ter irony, fast-mov­ing in­fer­nos broke out in Napa and Santa Rosa on Sun­day, the first day of “Ev­ery Sec­ond Counts, plan 2 ways out” — a na­tional cam­paign to en­cour­age peo­ple to take steps to help them safely es­cape their home dur­ing a fire. Fu­eled by high winds, the so­called Wine Coun­try fires have since spread into Sonoma, Men­do­cino, Solano and Yuba coun­ties, and by Wed­nes­day had killed 23 peo­ple, de­stroyed 2,000 struc­tures, and was bear­ing down on Cal­is­toga.

“Un­for­tu­nately most peo­ple don’t think about a wild­fire un­til it has an im­pact on that per­son,” said Ray Bizal, se­nior re­gional di­rec­tor for the Na­tional Fire Pro­tec­tion As­so­ci­a­tion. “There are things you can do that can make a huge dif­fer­ence. Ev­ery­thing from mak­ing sure the smoke alarms on your house work, to mak­ing sure you have two ways out.”

He said 80 per­cent of civil­ian fire fa­tal­i­ties oc­curred in­side some­one’s home.

The NFPA web­site in­cludes wild­fire preven­tion safety tips such as clear­ing leaves, and other veg­e­ta­tive de­bris from gut­ters, roofs, porches and decks. It also stresses the im­por­tance of main­tain­ing a buf­fer between struc­tures and grass, trees, shrubs or other sur­round­ing wild­lands. That de­fen­si­ble space helps slow down a fire and can pro­tect your home ei­ther from di­rect flame or ra­di­ant heat.

Robert Doyle, gen­eral man­ager for the East Bay Re­gional Parks District, said peo­ple don’t gen­er­ally do a good job keep­ing their yards clear of flammable de­bris, such as lowhang­ing limbs that can then set grass on fire, or stored wood that pro­vides an in­stant ac­cel­er­ant.

“There is re­ally a lot of great in­for­ma­tion on the Cal Fire web­site on how to main­tain veg­e­ta­tion ad­ja­cent to houses,” Doyle said. “Those are usu­ally spe­cific to forested ar­eas like Lake Ta­hoe, but it’s ba­si­cally the same rule. Keep things clear be­cause a lot of times it starts with th­ese lit­tle tiny fires and the wind picks up and blows them.”

That is what sparked the cat­a­strophic Oc­to­ber 1991 Oakland hills fire storm that left 25 dead and de­stroyed more than 3,000 homes.

A grass fire from the pre­vi­ous day was rekin­dled by hot dry winds blow­ing from the east, and the sparks and em­bers ig­nited dry brush and trees spread­ing the fire through the densely pop­u­lated hills above the Caldecott Tun­nel. And eight years ago, fierce winds aided the spread of the Martin fire near Santa Cruz and Sum­mit fire in the Santa Cruz Moun­tains

On the eve of the 26th an­niver­sary of the Oakland con­fla­gra­tion the city of­fered tips for res­i­dents to pre­pare for an emer­gency and re­duce the risk of wild­fires. They in­cluded hav­ing an evac­u­a­tion plan, sign­ing up for AC Alert to stay up to date on lo­cal emer­gen­cies, and in the event of a fire, park­ing in a garage or drive­way rather than on the street.

As part of pre­pared­ness, it’s also vi­tal to keep im­por­tant doc­u­ments, such as pass­ports and birth cer­tifi­cates, in one place. A good way to do this is to scan them onto an emer­gency thumb drive and give that to an­other fam­ily mem­ber or close friend. And doc­u­ment house­hold items for in­sur­ance pur­poses.

“We tell peo­ple to go through your house video­tap­ing and nar­rate, ‘this is a Sony 42-inch TV,’ open your clos­ets and cup­boards and tell us how many china sets you have,” said State Farm Agent Kelly Lux. “That shows own­er­ship be­cause in a fire all of your re­ceipts are gone.”

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