Valley News -

By Kim Harris
Managing Editor 

Fire preparedness key to protecting lives, property


Last updated 6/7/2018 at 11:04pm


The U.S. Drought Monitor shows nearly all Riverside County in a severe drought.

A handful of small wildfires have been reported over the past two weeks signaling the beginning of what Cal Fire officials are referring to as an extremely active fire season.

"California's wet winter created a sizable crop of new growth grass, but don't let the wet weather fool you as the abundant grass dries into fuel-ripe tinder," Cal Fire Deputy fire Chief Scott McClean said. "Now is the time to act to prevent wildfires."

According to a press release issued by Cal Fire, the agency has responded to more than 950 wildfires that have burned over 5,800 acres.

"We need all Californians to accept fire as part of our natural landscape, understand the potential fire risk, and take action before a wildfire starts in order to minimize harm to residents, homes, businesses and community assets," McClean said. "We encourage residents to help safeguard their homes by using fire-safe construction features and look for points of entry where embers can enter the home during a fire."

Home and property safety preparation should also include creating a defensible space by clearing brush at least 100 feet or more away from the home and using fire resistant landscaping to help stop the spread of wildfire.

"Our firefighters train hard to prepare for wildfires. Residents need to do the same," Cal Fire Director and California State Forester Chief Ken Pimlott said. "Wind-driven embers can destroy homes or neighborhoods far from the actual flame front of a wildfire. The reality is that in a major wildfire, there simply will not be enough aircraft, fire engines or firefighters to defend every home in the early stages of the incident. This reality requires you to take personal responsibility for protecting yourself, your family and your community."

The statewide snowpack water content is only about 52 percent of normal, according to the California Data Exchange Center, meaning that while late snowfalls in March helped in some ways, Californians are not out of the woods yet. The U.S. Drought Monitor map for the week of May 22 shows nearly all Riverside County in a severe drought.

"Outside of beneficial rain in eastern-most portions of the region, lackluster water-year precipitation and unusual warmth have led to increasing drought despite the cool wet season having drawn to a close," the U.S. Drought Monitor reported last week.

According to the U.S. Drought Monitor, the satellite-derived Vegetation Health Index – which incorporates both vegetation greenness and thermal stress – shows "extremely poor conditions" in portions of Southern California.

According to Cal Fire, damage to the state's forests from the extended drought will continue to intensify wildfire conditions this year.

"An estimated 129 million trees have died across the state due to drought conditions and the effects of the bark beetle infestation," McClean said. "These dead and dying trees make forests more susceptible to destructive wildfires and pose public safety risks from falling trees. No amount of rain will bring these dead trees back, and it will take several years of continued rain to get back to normal levels of moisture."

Cal Fire is reminding Californians that when it comes to wildfires, to remember "Ready, Set, Go!"

Ready means to maintain defensible space – or buffer – of 100 feet or more by removing dead plants, grass and weeds as well as using fire resistant landscaping and hardening the home by using fire resistant building materials, which will help the home withstand flying embers.

"It takes the combination of both defensible space and the hardening of your home to really give your house the best chance of surviving a wildfire," Cal Fire officials said.

It is also important to create a plan which should include an action plan that includes an evacuation plan for the home, family and pets. As part of that plan an emergency supply kit should be created for each person and pet in the household. This kit should include important papers and medications, among other things. Finally, be sure to have a communication plan in place that includes important evacuation and contact information. Share that plan with a family member or friend who lives outside the immediate area, so they can update others as needed.

The "Go" in "Ready, Set, Go" means just that. If told to evacuate, then go. Don't wait until the last minute to leave the home. Remember that fire engines need to use the same exact streets that residents use to leave the area, something that can create a traffic nightmare.

"Sometimes people wait too long and get stuck on a road and could also perish. In those times, it's very important that they are ready, set and when it's time to go, they go," Cal Fire officials said.

Cal Fire's "Ready for Wildfire" app is a tool to use in year-round preparation. Checklists found on the Cal Fire app help homeowners prepare and maintain defensible space, harden homes with ignition-resistant building materials and create family evacuation plans and kits. The app features customizable alerts to electronic devices when Cal Fire responds to a wildfire of 10 acres or more in the vicinity.

Homeowners looking for additional information on how to prepare themselves, their families and their homes for wildfire can visit

Cal Fire recommends homeowners do to the following to keep homes safe from wildfire.

  • Remove all dead grass, plants, leaves, pine needles and weeds from the yard and rooftops.
  • Create horizontal spacing between trees and shrubs, trim trees regularly to keep a minimum 10 feet of space between them and create spacing between them and items that could catch fire such as patio furniture or swing sets.
  • Remove dead branches that hang over the roofs of homes and outbuildings. Keep 10 feet between branches and chimneys.
  • Remove or prune flammable shrubs near windows.
  • Remove vegetation and items that could catch fire from around and under decks.
  • Relocate wood piles at least 30 feet from residences and outbuildings unless they are completely covered in fire resistant material.
  • Keep lawn heights down to a maximum of 4 inches.
  • Mow before 10 a.m., but not if it is windy or dry.


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