Wildfire Warning – Are You Ready?

California and Arizona are in the midst of the 2014 fire season. Even though summer just began, San Diego County alone has faced nearly a dozen wildfires that blackened more than 26,000 acres of land and caused over $20 million in damage. Luckily no one was killed in the blazes, but a fire fighter was injured and thousands of people were forced to evacuate their homes.

Northwest Crown Experiment
     "Wildfire" , CC BY 2.5 by Wikimedia Commons

California is experiencing a prolonged, extreme drought. A premature spring caused the snowpack to melt and infiltrate the soil earlier than normal, meaning that our forests are much drier than they should be. Moving into the summer, the combination of unseasonably high temperatures, dry land, dead trees, low humidity and hot winds has left parts of California highly combustible.

Historically, the California fire season rarely starts so early, but a warming, drier climate is amplifying the intensity and duration of wildfires. In the 1980s, an average of 2.9 million acres of land were destroyed by wildfires each year. Between 2010 and 2013 the average figure had gone up to 6.4 million acres of land a year, and predictions suggest that future years will see a 74% increase in wildfire frequency.

This year we can expect the wildfire season to be worse than ever. The Californian Department of Forestry and Fire Protection has already responded to over 1,500 fires in 2014, compared to 800 during an average year, and although the state has set aside $600 million to help battle the blazes, there are concerns that this won’t be enough.


What can you do to stop wildfires?

Nine out of ten wildfires are human-caused, so California citizens must take preemptive action to reduce wildfire occurrences. The following list includes five common causes of wildfires with preventative suggestions:

1. Failure to maintain property

  • Cut your grass so that it does not exceed four inches in height
  • Ensure that trees are trimmed so that the branches are at least ten feet away from other trees and chimneys.
  • Remove dry leaves, dead plants, shrubs and branches that are in close proximity to buildings, rooftops, gutters and windows.
  • Get some goats! As strange as it may sound, goats are a great source of fire management. Goats prefer to eat dry vegetation rather than grass, which means they are removing flammable materials. Research has shown that fires are easier to contain in areas where goats are allowed to roam.

2. Irresponsible outdoor fires

  • Check with your local fire station to see if you require a permit for outdoor burning
  • If you are going to burn outside be mindful of the weather conditions, such as high winds.
  • Do not burn household waste.
  • Natural vegetation grown on the property can only be burned in a maximum of 4’ X 4’ piles. Any nearby flammable materials must be moved at least ten feet away from the fire zone.
  • Always keep water and a shovel ready in case the fire starts to spread.
  • Keep an extinguisher handy.

Wildfire SantaClarita
     "Wildfire in California SantaClarita" , CC BY 2.0 by Wikimedia Commons

3. Campfires

  • Check with your local fire station to see whether a permit is required to start a campfire
  •  Select a location at least ten feet away from any dry vegetation and heavy fuels such as logs
  •  Create a hole in the middle of the cleared fire put and ring it with rocks.
  • Make sure that the fire is no larger than necessary and never left unattended.
  • Always keep a bucket of water and a shovel nearby and ensure that the fire is fully extinguished when no longer required.

4. Use of machinery and vehicles

  • Mow early in the morning during cooler, calmer weather conditions.
  • Spark arresters are required on cars, tractors, harvesters, lawn mowers and chainsaws.
  • Be careful when operating vehicles on dry gas as the hot exhaust can start fires.
  • Maintain your machinery to avoid faults.


5. Fireworks

  • Do not use fireworks in forested areas.
  • Only use fireworks on a flat surface devoid of trees or dry grass.
Smokey Bear Headshot
     "Smokey " , by Scott Sanchez


Only You Can Prevent Wildfires

Wildfires are chaotic, unpredictable, and destructive. The key to fire reduction is prevention, ensuring that your day-to-day actives are fire-mindful.

As Cal Fire spokesman Daniel Berlant observed: “Weather doesn’t cause wildfires. Weather just causes a fire to burn. It’s people that have the role of actually preventing that fire”


Further Reading:

CalFire - Current Fire Information.
Time - San Diego County Looks Like Mars After Fire
California Fire News
Climate Change and Wildfires
Fires Fueling Climate Change
Prevent Wildfire CA

By Louise Bilham

June 09, 2014
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