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Preparing for Wildfire

Here is a one-stop, six-step guide to getting yourself, your family, your home, your yard, and your neighborhood as prepared as possible for wildfire.  It includes links and videos to give you lots of ideas for easy steps you can take. 

You’ll sleep better at night knowing you’ve done all you can to protect the lives and property you care about.   Why not take Step 1 now? (You can probably get it done in about 20 minutes.)

Read this page and then test your knowledge with the Fire Prepardness Quiz! Participants will be entered into a drawing to win a free home evaluation, ready-set-go bag, and MORE. Winners will be announced at the May 21st Wildfire Expo & Homebrew Fundraiser.

1) Sign up for alerts (and keep your information current)

Knowing when danger is approaching is key to being ready and having time to make good decisions.

  • Sing up for MendoAlerts via Everbridge at: https://member.everbridge.net/index/892807736722865/#/signup (Mendocino County Office of Emergency Services recommends you register with your home address and then, if you wish to receive notifications about emergencies in other areas, add additional addresses such as work, a family member’s address, children’s school, etc.)
  • As a second layer, you can sign up for Nixel alerts by texting your zip code to 888777.  If you would like county-wide notices, text “MendoAlerts” to 888777.  To get a video walk-through of these first steps, go to our blog on Mendocino Emergency Alerts.
  • If you crave even more up-to-the-moment information, you might want to download the Watch Duty application on your mobile phone.
  • To monitor county postings online as events unfold, go to https://mendoready.org/  You can also identify your own evacuation zone on this site, which is important to know in advance.
  • If you are in an area without reliable phone or internet coverage, start talking with your neighbors and become a part of whatever alert networks they rely on.  Also, if there is a Neighborhood Fire Safe Council in your area, check with them to see if they already have a local alert system.

    2) Have emergency plans for everyone in your family (including animals) and be ready to evacuate if necessary

    CAL FIRE has a great information page HERE about the basic steps for being set to go if evacuation is necessary.  Key steps include:

    • planning alternate escape routes and practicing any of them that are not familiar,
    • knowing possible safe havens and designating out-of-area meet-up locations,
    • having a family communication plan with designated out-of-area contacts,
    • having a to-go kit ready and knowing what other items are your top priorities to take,
    • understanding how to get your house ready by, e.g., moving flammable items away from doors and windows.
    Here is a handy checklist for getting ready.  Even better, start with a generic list and then develop your own very specific list that includes where to find key items like your most important photos.  Keep that list posted in an easy-to-find location.

    If you have pets or livestock, you should spend extra time planning for their safety as well.  The Halter Project is a great place to start learning how to be ready on their behalf; or you can get started by listening to our February 23, 2021 radio show with a representative from The Halter Project and also from Mendocino County Animal Care Services.

                                                                                                                                                                 

    3) Make your home and property as easy to defend as possible

    To quote from Part 2 of our DIY home assessment: “During a wildfire, vehicles will be leaving — and fire engines will be attempting to enter — areas on the same road(s). Will you be able to evacuate safely if necessary? Will fire engines be able to get to your home? Fire engines may be 28’ long, 10’ wide, and 15’ tall. Will they have room to park, and firefighters to work, once they get there?”

    You will find the assessment HERE Go to Part 2 to get started thinking about whether you need to make your home easier to defend.

    The signage leading to your house (which needs to be easy to follow and visible at night and through smoke), whether there are known sources of water nearby, the availability of turnarounds, and other related factors can determine how soon and if help can arrive.  You can find out more about address sign requirements at the link HERE.  You can order address signs from the MCFSC at the link HERE.

    4) Continually improve your home hardening

    Defensible space and home hardening are the twin keys to giving your home the best possible chance to survive a wildfire.  This BLM video does a good job of explaining why home hardening is vital to your home’s survival in a wildfire-prone environment.

    HERE is MCFSC’s video series that will walk you through the basics of home hardening in short, digestible steps.  Home hardening is about thinking through how a fire might get to your home and taking steps to block it.  Wind-borne embers are the leading cause of home ignition in wildfires, so important steps include:
    • making sure your roof is fire-resistant and in good repair,
    • keeping the roof and gutters free of flammable debris,
    • sealing gaps that embers might get into by, for example, making sure all vents are covered with fire-resistant 1/8″ mesh,
    • having double-pane and/or tempered-glass windows, and
    • making sure that decks and fences will not provide an easy path for fire to get to your home.

    Depending on the design of your home, how close it is to other structures, and other variables, there are other steps that may be more important for your specific location.

    5) Continually maintain and improve your defensible space

    CAL FIRE has great guidelines for developing and maintaining defensible space HERE.  Defensible space is basically about reducing and thinning vegetation so that an approaching fire drops to the ground and runs out of fuel before it can reach your home, and making sure there is nothing near your home that embers can ignite, which can then ignite your home.  To accomplish this, you want to reduce flammable material in three zones of intensity starting from your home out:

    • Zone 0 is the 5 feet closest to your home (and for the first 6″ vertically).  If possible this zone should have nothing at all that is flammable, so that incoming embers find nothing to ignite.  Any plants in zone should be away from vents and windows, low growning, well-maintaned/healthy and kept free of any dead material or leaf litter.  This is the MOST IMPORTANT ZONE and is where you should start.
    • Zone 1 is from 5′ to 30′ out from your home (measuring from the outer edge of any attached structures such as decks or fences).  In Zone 1 vegetation should be thin, low, sparse, and well-maintained, with no dead material, and no vegetation next to windows or vents.
    • Zone 2 is from 30′ to 100′ out.  In Zone 2 you should keep grass cut low, trees limbed up, and all vegetation spaced and separated, so that anything that might catch fire is unlikely to be able to ignite a neighboring plant.

    NOTE: This illustration would be improved by removing the shrub under the window in the Zone 0/Non-Combustible Zone.  Planting are not recommended in Zone 0 generally and particularly not under windows or near vents.

    6) Help your community plan and prepare

    Once you are prepared, with your family plan in place and your property maintained at its best, it is time to help your neighbors and the wider community.  One of the greatest threats to your home is a vulnerable neighboring property.  You and your neighbors will need to share the same egress routes in an emergency.  By preparing as a community and helping those who need help, you increase everyone’s chances of surviving and thriving in our wildfire-prone environment. Watch our short video about community action.

    Find out if there is already a Neighborhood Fire Safe Council in your area HERE

    If there is not, learn about how to start one HERE.

    Lucky #7) BONUS ITEM- Know how to NOT start fires

    Did you know that the vast majority of wildland fires — which cause so much grief and damage — are caused by … us?  Here are some tips to help you NOT  be the next person to start one.