As we approach Memorial Day Weekend here in the west we recognize we are entering forest fire season. Over the holiday weekend many will be traveling to campgrounds and national parks to enjoy the outdoors. Many of you simply need to be aware of the dangers fires present where you live.
The National Fire Protection Agency has some important safety tips for persons who live in fire hazard areas:
- If you’re moving to a new home in a rural area or buying land to build a new home, do a thorough outdoor fire safety check before you proceed. Locate the home on the lot with adequate setback from downhill slopes. Wildland fire travels uphill rapidly – make sure that your home won’t be in its path.
- Make sure that the area has adequate public fire protection available. Will emergency vehicles have easy access to the house? Is your address clearly visible from the road? Will firefighters have access to a water supply to put out a fire?
- Make your roof fire safe. Untreated wood shake roofs are the leading cause of wildland fire losses. A roof made of fire-resistant or non-combustible materials can make your home safer. Also, use non-combustible (metal) screening in eave vents and for windows.
- Sweep gutters, roofs, and eaves regularly and remove dead branches from around or near chimneys. Burning firebrands or embers can collect in the same space that leaves and pine needles do. Remove leaves and needles from cellar window walls and from corners and crevices around the outside of your home.
- Create a survivable space, safety zone or “fire break” around your home. Flammable (highly resinous) plants, woodpiles, and debris should be kept as far away from the exterior walls of the home as possible. Fences, decks, or outbuildings connected to the house must be considered part of the house; construct them out of non-combustible materials and keep them clear of pine needles, dead leaves, etc.
The NFPA has a list of supplies your family can put together to have available in case of an emergency here.
If you are one of the many Coloradans who live in fire hazard areas you should pull your family together for thirty minutes this weekend and talk about what you would do when a fire nears your home. It just might be the most important family meeting you will have.
An organization called Firewise Communities suggests some things you should discuss with your family:
(1) Recognize when it’s time to go: During the summer in Colorado small fires can happen regularly and no one evacuates. But in order to prepare for the big one — look for large columns of smoke, the kind that goes thousands of feet in the air and can be seen from miles away. You will probably hear more sirens than you’ve ever heard before. These kinds of clues should kick-start your evacuation plan.
(2) Find your family: If they’re home, gather them up. If not, call them and advise them of the situation and have a pre-arranged meeting place selected. If you can’t get through, notify the local Red Cross where you will be if family members call. If people get lost and separated from one another, the Red Cross works hard to reunite families. Also designate a third party who lives far enough away to not be affected by the fire as your family contact point. Let them know when you’ve evacuated and where you are going (if you know).
(3) Gather your important stuff if you have time: Get the medications, money, documents, photographs, glasses, and personal effects loaded in the car. How much you take will depend on how long you have — if the fire is closing in, spend no time on this. If you have hours, then select what you need more carefully.
(4) Prepare your home: Go to our Firewise website at http://www.co.napa.ca.us/firewise and click on About Firewise, then select “When Wildland Fire Approaches – Emergency Check List,” to get the information you need.
(5) Animals: Especially the large, livestock kind. These take time to move, so you need to take action early if you have large animals. We recommend that you evacuate your animals before you need to leave. Take them to a boarding facility or friend’s house long before you feel imminently threatened. If the fire comes too fast, then simply turn them loose; their chance of survival is better if they can move and are not corralled.
(6) Evacuating yourself: The drive out may be tough if the fire is close by. Turn on headlights, keep the windows rolled up and keep calm. Stick to the main road and watch out for other frightened drivers and fire engines coming the opposite way. People do odd things at stressful times like this, so be ready for anything. Your car can take some heat and flame against the vehicle but not more than a minute or two. Remember to hold your breath if you are driving through flame. If you can’t get out on the road, return home, or to a nearby house, and ride it out inside.
For additional information on planning for an evacuation and creating a family disaster plan visit http://www.fire.ca.gov/php/fire_er_beprepared.php.
Our firm has represented a number of families who have been harmed by catastrophic forest fires. If you have experienced such a loss we would be happy to provide a free legal consultation to discuss your circumstances.