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Upcoming wildfire season necessitates: Fight or Flight



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July 16, 2014
San Diego County is learning to live with wildfires year round. It is not going away anytime soon. The perennial warm climate grows any flammable fuels back almost annually and everyday seems to be fire season, with or without the Santa Ana winds. Most every person was affected in one way or another during the firestorms of 2003 and 2007, and in particular how they affected Valley Center. More recently, many people watched the recent fires in neighboring Carlsbad and San Marcos in person or on the news.

Past wildfires have taught valuable lessons, as there are fewer and fewer wood shake shingle roofs. They were a guarantee that an entire home could be destroyed with one small spark during a wildfire. Nowadays, contractors use fire resistant building materials for home siding and roofs, windows are tempered, and vents and soffits are engineered to resist fire and sparks.

Wildfires are a phenomenon that seem to reoccur, just as the same day kept recurring for Bill Murray in the movie, "Groundhog Day." This natural disaster keeps coming back to San Diego, and Valley Center in particular, and residents need to be prepared to fight wildfires since lives depend on it. Human beings are designed for "fight or flight" responses, and the fight must be against combustible fuels, the only thing that can be controlled before a wildfire. Greatly repeated phrases are those of defensible space, fuel reduction, and drought tolerant landscaping, all of which are critical in reducing the available material for these natural disasters to burn.

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Valley Center Fire Marshall, George Lucia, has the following tips for Valley Center residents in order to fight future wildfires: No fuel equals no fire.

"When it comes to excess growth around your house…cut it, haul it away, and make a perimeter that causes the fire to run out of fuel before it reaches your home! We have no control over weather or the ignition source, but we can reduce the source of fuel for the fire by doing the following:" Reduce the fuels.

- Trim back brush and remove any dead or dying trees, plants and grasses, yard clippings, and any flammable items in a 100-foot-radius.

- Prune existing native vegetation to six inches above the ground.

- Cut low-hanging tree branches up to six feet off the ground and within 10 feet of touching a building, chimney, or power line. Low branches may carry a ground fire upwards into the trees.

- Reduce plants alongside the driveway by at least 10 feet on each side.

- Trim overhead branches to allow at least 13-1/2 feet of vertical clearance within the driveway for emergency and escape vehicle clearance.

And "flight": "Be prepared to escape sooner rather than later. Have a plan and practice it," Lucia said. "A full tank of gas, any items to be taken with you packed, and a destination set for your family and pets. Normally familiar driveways and roads become dark obstacle courses during a wildfire panic escape. Therefore, get out before the danger is right at your doorstep so that you and your family may safely evacuate.

If you are still unsure of what to do, call your local Fire Department and ask for help making a plan to reduce fuels around your home. Ask the experts about your 'go plan' and early warning system. The next wildfire you encounter might just be tomorrow."

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