Preparing for year-round fire season
Let’s accept that “Wildfire Season” is year-round. As a member of the Watch Duty team reporting on fires across the state, I’m more than familiar with the sheer volume of vegetation fires in Sonoma County every month of the year. We have excellent first responders in our local fire districts and an extremely responsive CAL FIRE unit that does great work in keeping small fires from developing into something significant. According to the Wildland Fire Management Information team, humans cause nearly 85 percent of wildland and vegetation fires in the United States. Last weekend, Marshall Turbeville, Chief of the Northern Sonoma County Fire District and CAL FIRE battalion chief, reiterated, “Most fires are human-caused. Everyone in Sonoma County is doing a great job preventing fires, and this will become more and more important as the fire season progresses.”
Just as wildfires are year-round, so is the need to be prepared. This article will address some things we can all do to help ourselves and our neighbors face the next disaster in Sonoma County.
At a minimum, sign up for phone apps with alerts (SoCoAlert, Nixle, and Watch Duty), pre-pack your go bag, and plan/discuss your evacuation route with your family.
Redundancy is critical - please make sure you sign up for multiple phone apps and electronic alerts. All these are free and easy to enroll in:
- Enroll with SoCoAlert so the county can share information with you in an emergency (create an account here: socoemergency.org/get-ready/sign-up/socoalert/)
- Sign up for Nixle alerts on your mobile phone (text any zip code to 888777)
- Download the Watch Duty app for wildfire awareness (go to your App Store or WatchDuty.org for the download link)
- Register your gate code with the sheriff so that emergency responders can access your property when needed (https://www.sonomasheriff.org/gate-code)
I encourage a few modest investments:
- Purchase (or recharge) fire extinguishers.
- Acquire an NWS/NOAA Emergency Weather Alert Radio (often distributed for free by local fire districts, about $25 via online retailers)
- Buy a USB battery chargers or small portable power station ($20 and up, via online retailers)
- Invest in a GMRS radio ($25 and up, see discussion below)
Last but not least, let’s talk about simple actions you can take to make your property less vulnerable. Start at home by maintaining your defensible space. It’s never too late to do things like clearing debris from gutters, cleaning off roofs, weed whacking high grass (in the morning please - CALFIRE suggests before 10 am), and removing fuel (and plastic furniture) from under decks. Then look at the zone from 0-30 feet outside your house for problems like dead plants and weeds, exposed woodpiles, flammable plants, and shrubs near windows, and consider actions such as limbing trees and reducing ladder fuels.
Specific things you can do to harden your home against wildfire include blocking any restricted space on your roof to prevent an ember from starting a fire, covering vent openings with ⅛-inch metal mesh, and screening and enclosing rain gutters. If this feels daunting, contact a Fire Mitigation Specialist who will visit your property for a nominal fee and help you identify and prioritize the most vulnerable areas. The Ready for Wildfire webpage hosted by CAL FIRE is a great place to start.
In closing, look out for that elderly neighbor who may not be tech-savvy - ask them if you can help sign them up for alerts and set up apps. Do they have an evacuation plan? Do they need a little help cleaning up their defensible space?
We are all in this together.
Sara Paul is a founding member of Watch Duty, an organizer of Fire Safe Monte Rio, part of the GMRS radio project in West County, and a community wildfire mitigation specialist. She can be reached at email@example.com.