Flames and smoke hover over the Gilman Historic Ranch and Wagon Museum in Banning during the early hours of Wednesday’s Summit Fire. Photo by J.P. Crumrine

By Chief Patrick Reitz
Idyllwild Fire Protection District

It’s time to prepare.

Summer is fast approaching and that means wildland fire season is coming too — except that it is already here! There have been several major fires in California, and two about 25 miles from Idyllwild in the last week, caused by discarded cigarettes, illegal burning, sparks and hot construction equipment.

Now is the time, if you haven’t done so already, to begin preparing for another season of wildland fires. This not only includes preparing your house and property, but yourself as well.

There are more than a few things to consider when readying your house and property to prevent not only the ignition of a wildland fire, but the damage and destruction that can be caused by a passing wildland fire.

  • Do not burn trash or paper in your wood stove or fireplace. Haul or have the material hauled to an appropriate location, such as a licensed landfill or the Transfer Station. Only use licensed haulers and know where the material is going. Recycle all that you can, including natural vegetation. If you do use your wood stove or fireplace, be sure that you have a proper spark arrestor in place.
  • Know the regulations in your area. Here in Idyllwild, you are required to obtain a barbecue permit (it’s free) from the fire district. Only propane barbecues are allowed — the use of charcoal is not permitted.
  • Build or remodel using noncombustible materials such as metal, masonry, tile, and concrete. The use of wood shakes for roofing or siding should not be used if you live in an area prone to wildland fires such as Idyllwild. If you have a shake roof, consider having it treated for increased fire resistance or better yet, have it replaced with a noncombustible roof.
  • Remove all debris such as needles, leaves, twigs and branches from roofs, gutters, and from around the structure.
  • Enclose eaves, open and overhanging floors, decks, and balconies with noncombustible materials.
  • Cover attic and crawlspace vents with 1⁄4-inch wire mesh or approved vent covers.
  • Install double- or triple-pane windows, and remove flammable items inside and out that are near the windows.
  • Install spark arresters on chimneys, stovepipes, and fuel-powered motorized equipment such as weedeaters and chainsaws.
  • Install shutters over windows and other openings.
  • Maintain a firebreak of all dead and flammable material, vegetation and man-made, for a minimum of 30 feet around all buildings. Keep dry grass mowed. Expand this to 100 feet if located on sloping terrain. This is the defensible space that the fire crews look at when deciding to stay and fight or leave and forget saving the property.
  • Remove tree limbs that extend within 10 feet of stovepipes and chimneys.
  • Move firewood and other flammable material at least 25 feet away from any structure.

A major factor emergency personnel look for in assessing a property for defense against a wildland fire is the ability to access the property. Winding, overgrown driveways and roadways may be nice to look at and provide privacy, but are a hazard when it comes to emergency response. Proper widths, clearances, turning radiuses, and turnarounds are necessary for emergency vehicles to access a property. This is not only in the case of wildland fire, but in the case of any emergency.

Additionally, the proper marking of streets and addresses is a must. Please do not hesitate to call the appropriate agency or organization to fix missing or unreadable street signs, thinking someone else may have done it.

Who is someone else? Post your address, no smaller than four inches in height, and preferably reflective. In the case of a large-scale emergency, responders from outside your area will be the ones driving down your streets, and need those locators to help them get to where they need to be.

A lot of information is available to help you prepare your property in the case of an emergency. For the Hill area:

Additional websites to check include: www.firewise.org, www.firefree.org and www.usfa.fema.gov/wildfire.
I welcome your comments and questions. Please feel free to contact me via the Town Crier or [email protected].

Remember to play it safe in all that you do!