Are you ready for fire season?
September 16, 2013No one can predict when or where a wildfire will start. The Valley Center Fire Protection District is working hard to prepare for the next disaster, but there are steps you can take right now to ensure your family and your home survive a wildfire.
The most important thing to do is to have a plan.
"Everyone will experience a fire once in their life, statistics show," says George Lucia, fire marshal of the district. "The people who survive are prepared."
Whether it's a business or a family, make sure everyone knows how to get out, where to meet and what to take in the event of a wildfire. Pick one person to call 911. Always have two routes of escape to an interstate or an urban area so the fire can't block your only way out.
If there is an emergency, you should be prepared to leave your house in 15 minutes or less, and it is important to practice.
"Statistics show we do much better when we've rehearsed what we're going to do," says Lucia. Make sure you have fully-functioning smoke and CO2 detectors, and check the news frequently if there is a wildfire.
Taking these steps should keep people safe, but what about your home? Clearing brush and maintaining a defensible radius will greatly increase the chances of a structure surviving.
"You need to reduce fuel," says Lucia. "You need to do it every year because it grows back." Lucia advises you create 100 feet of defensible space all around your house. The first 30 feet should be totally clear of brush, and only have rocks or succulent plants. In the remaining 70 feet, it is important to reduce the fuel by raking up pine needles and trimming the lower branches off of the trees.
"It's a proven plan that works," says Lucia. "If you've cleared 100 feet, I'm very confident that your home will survive." Clearing the dead, dry brush around your home on a regular basis is the best thing you can do to protect it from a wildfire.
To help with brush clearing, the Greater Valley Center Fire Safe Council is hosting "Chipping Days" at the Water District property across from the VC Community Hall on Sept. 21 and Oct. 19. This is a great opportunity to safely dispose of recently cut vegetation. Just bring your brush from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m., and the Fire Safe Council will chip it for free.
In October, the Fire Safe Council will partner with Powerland Equipment to clear brush along Lilac and Old Castle Roads. The Lilac corridor is a high-risk area for a future wildfire, but this weed abatement project should help keep it open as an evacuation route, according to Mike Ostanik, Fire Safe Council board member. Both of these projects are funded by grants from the Fire Safe Council and the U.S. Forest Service.
The Valley Center Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) is another local resource in town to help with disasters. CERT is a volunteer auxiliary for the VCFPD, and they also host free trainings throughout the year on emergency preparedness.
Jim Courter, coordinator for CERT, believes Valley Center is "in much better shape than we have been in many years" when it comes to disaster preparedness.
"One thing that we've got in this town is a tremendous amount of cooperation between the different agencies, and that's a great strength," says Courter. "If something happens and we have a need, we can bring in resources from within the community and take care of ourselves."
The recent transition from Cal Fire to San Pasqual Tribal Fire Department management of the VCFPD should also make Valley Center more self-reliant in the event of a wildfire. When the 2007 wildfire came through, Cal Fire had deployed Valley Center resources elsewhere and they were caught short. Now that everything is locally based, we can be confident our firefighters will be here when we need them.
Finally, if you have large animals, you should make plans for their safety as well. Donna Dyson, representative for the Valley Center Large Animal Safety Team (LAST), urges animal-owners to make arrangements for evacuating their large animals.
"If a fire starts, don't keep your animals locked up in your barns," says Dyson. If you don't have time to evacuate your horses, put them in an open corral where first responders can easily get to them. Do not put padlocks on your corral. It's a good idea to microchip horses and leave an information packet about any special needs for the first responders.
"You want people to be able to get in and get to them," says Dyson. Halters should not be left on the horses, but in a place where first responders can easily find them. Leather halters are better than nylon because nylon will melt.
Surviving a wildfire is all about preparation. Consult the resources on our cut-out and put your plan together now.
Fire Safety Resources — Fridge Cheat Sheet
Emergency — 911
VCFPD — (760) 751-7600
Department of Animal Services Emergency Line — (760) 438-1460
SD County Office of Emergency Services — www.readysandiego.org
VC CERT — www.vcfpdcert.org
VC LAST — www.vclast.org
VC Weather — www.sdgeweather.com/station.php?s=VLC