by Michael B. Sherman, Interim Fire Chief

It is never too early to prepare. Even though we are just now seeing the end of winter, it is time to start thinking about preparations for potential wildland fires and other disasters.

Prior to this winter, we have had three years with either normal or above normal moisture. The winter of 2010-11 was well-above normal. Those normal or wet years have given most people a sense of false security because of the subsequent relatively inactive fire seasons.

Now it is time to come back down to earth. This year the lack of winter snowfall and overall moisture levels will set the mountains up for another potentially devastating fire season.

Along with the return of extreme fire behavior, many of the government agencies charged with protecting the mountains from wildfire are facing severe budget cuts. The federal government (USFS); state agencies (CAL FIRE); county (RCFD); and local agencies are seeing funds that support firefighting efforts reduced. If there ever was a year to encourage individuals to step up and prepare, it appears this would be the year.

In the March “Homes and Land” publication, we talked about “Look up, Look down, Look all around.” It is a simple way to make sure you are doing the responsible thing for yourselves and the community by making your property fire safe before fire season. In the last “Sitting by the fire,” I discussed the status of the Idyllwild Fire Protection District. Now it’s time to talk about your personal preparedness.

There are two major areas of personal preparedness. First, are you prepared to evacuate if there is a large wildland fire threatening our communities?

If you have never been evacuated in front of a large wildfire, you have really missed an experience, not necessarily a good one. Being prepared makes the experience a lot more pleasant.

In 2007, I responded to the Grass Valley Fire in the San Bernardino Mountains about 6 a.m. By noon I called my wife and said, “Get the dog and get out!” Eight days later when my wife, daughter and granddaughter returned, they related the experience to me.

At that time we did not have any pre-positioned materials and supplies. Since then, we pre-position medicines, water, dog food, legal documents that we might need, clothes, phone lists, and money. I am now a proud owner of a fire safe for very important stuff that I wouldn’t want to lose but can’t take on short notice.

We have put some thought into whom we would call, where we would go if we couldn’t make a call, and what to do if we were separated at the time. Finally, we carry a minimum amount of supplies and clothes in our car just in case we are caught off the hill when an evacuation occurs.

The second area of personal preparedness is survival “in place” without any services in case of a major disaster such as an earthquake. It used to be the norm to have everyone prepared to live without help for 72 hours during a major disaster. Most professionals now have increased that number to 120 hours (5 days).

The mountains are special in how easily we can become isolated from others for long periods of time. When I was the Fire Chief in Crestline, we started talking about being prepared to be on our own for up to two weeks. More on that next time.

Until next time, its time to put out the dog and douse the fire.