I wrote a similar column about this time last year but the message is still very important to your individual safety, your home and the community in general.
After 39 years in the fire suppression business, I still can’t predict fire season exactly and I’ve never met anyone who can. However there are a few positive indicators out there this year.
The rainfall from Sept. 13 through Oct. 6 was about 2.5 inches on the Hill. As a result, we are seeing a green up of new grass at our elevation. Green grass usually slows fire spread in chaparral or timber understory. Its presence is early this year, so that’s a good thing!
As we soon reflect on the fifth anniversary of the Esperanza tragedy, we are reminded that the wildcard in October and November is the Santa Ana wind. When will it come, how hard will it blow and how long will each event last.
One of the main reasons that we in Southern California have fire season all year long is because of the Santa Ana wind events. Even after a rain or light snow, the hot, dry wind can dry everything out again and thus we are vulnerable again.
Now is the time to have another look at your roof, rain gutters, decks and generally that area within 100 feet of your home. Will a shower of sparks ignite your Class A roof because of needle fall? Are your rain gutters full of flammable material that will introduce fire under the shingles? If a spot fire starts 30 feet from your home, does it have a path of flammable material that leads to your deck or your siding?
If a permanent resident answers “Yes” to any of these questions, you have work to do. If a part-time resident answers “Yes” or “I don’t know” to any of those questions, then it’s time to visit your property and find out.
Whether or not it rains or snows, the nights are getting longer and generally colder and most of us will start using our fireplaces and wood stoves soon. Are the flue and spark arrestor clean and serviceable? Chimney cleaning and maintenance is available on the Hill. If you don’t own the tools to do this, please have it done because it is well worth your safety.
Finally, there is the (apparently never ending) issue of hot ashes. Ash containers need to be metal. Our local hardware stores carry various sizes of metal buckets with lids and everyone should own one. Every rental and weekend rental should have a metal ash container with instructions to the renter to either leave the ashes in the stove (weekenders) or how to properly handle ashes over the entire winter.
Idyllwild Fire and County Fire were just in time to save a home whose garage was ignited from hot ashes last winter. We seem to respond to at least one of these per year somewhere on the Hill. These types of fires are totally preventable with a little preplanning.
As for wildland fires in the wildland urban interface, we can’t always avoid them but we must always remain prepared for them.