For years, we have watched our California neighborhoods, near and far, go up in flames. We have watched wildfires, started with a spark, turn houses to ashes in a flash. We have seen the sky turn dark. We have smelled the smoke, breathed in the ash.
The latest 2017 wildfires in Northern California have been the deadliest in state history. They traveled fast, some 12 miles in 3 hours. The loss is many lives, homes, businesses. The cost is in the billions of dollars. With global warming generating more frequent, more severe droughts, wildfires are already more common. The danger is intensifying. With this “season” possibly past, now is the time to educate ourselves, take stock and prepare.
It can happen here and did in 1889. The luxurious hotel Jacob Taylor built on 10th Street, the Casa Del Mar, burned down. The rest of the town might have too but for a lucky twist in the direction of the wind. It almost happened again in 2007 when the Witch Creek fires came close. Residents in many Del Mar neighborhoods evacuated, but no houses were touched.
Others were not so fortunate. The Witch Creek, Guejito, and Rice Canyon fires destroyed over 1,300 homes in southern California, killed two people, caused massive evacuations and burned more than 200,000 acres. The fires started from a dead tree falling on a San Diego Gas and Electric (SDG&E) power line. Whether SDG&E’s shareholders or its customers will pay for the $379 million in damages has been strongly contested; the California Public Utilities Commission voted 5-0 on November 30 to deny SDG&E’s request to charge its ratepayers (customers) for the damages, because it had not operated its electrical system in a “reasonable and prudent” manner leading up to the fires. This fight may well continue in the courts.
After the devastating 2007 wildfires, San Diego County added new incentives to the protocol to aid in preventing and combating regional wildfires. A Fire Authority was formed to coordinate the communication system between the 16 stations covering more than 1.5 million acres. As to equipment, the number of “brush rigs” adapted for wildfires is up from 2 to 13 and a few fire fighting helicopters and air tankers have been added. SDG&E has replaced some wooden poles with steel poles, trimmed more trees near power lines, and added more than 100 weather monitoring stations. The utility also initiated a controversial program to turn off power when weather conditions could endanger power lines and now more closely monitors extreme fire danger areas.
However, as we have witnessed, fire departments can’t do it all. Prevention is everyone’s community responsibility. It is immediately important that we all think through the various precautions available to limit the probability of fire and learn how to be ready, if necessary, to evacuate.
Simple first steps can help. A few: Define a defensible space around your house. Clear it. Remove dead plants, grass, dry wood, debris. Fall is the perfect time to trim trees of dead material and away from structures. Choose fire retardant materials when remodeling. Keep your smoke detectors updated. Be ready for the worst. Make a wildfire evacuation plan for your family and pets, including a communication plan. Put together an emergency supply kit. Coordinate with neighbors via a group text on smart phones. Of course, if you see smoke, report it. We are all vulnerable.
This is a start. More articles will follow in future Sandpiper issues.
The following links are useful to understand how to move forward implementing your plans.
• Evacuation Tips.
• Animal Evacuation Tips.
• Homeowners Checklist – How to make your home fire safe.
• Before, During and After a Wildfire.