Valley News -

By Diane Sieker

Firefighters share safety tips for 2018 fire season


Last updated 7/18/2018 at 11:27pm

Diane Sieker

Firefighters need clearance for their large trucks to be able to gain access to properties to save structures and homes.

Everyone has seen the public service announcements, read the notices and heard the radio spots regarding "defensible space," the area between the home and a potential fiery disaster.

Mowing, trimming, pruning and relocating combustible materials like firewood piles is advised. Those living in the rural environs of Riverside County are more than familiar with the dangers of not maintaining that buffer and employing hazard reduction methods like weed whacking and mowing.

In 2005, a new state law came into effect that extended the defensible space clearance around homes and structures from 30 feet to 100 feet. Proper and safely conducted clearance to 100 feet increases the chance that your house will survive a wildfire. This important buffer also provides for firefighter safety as they work to protect your home and outbuildings from a wildfire.

Hazard reduction is the key to defensible space around the home and these tips should be heeded. 

The first responders must assess a property in the event of an impending firestorm. Some of the challenges they face in the wildland urban interface area include the lack of defensible space between the structure and the fire. Homes and other structures should have adequate space to increase the chance of withstanding a fire. The more clearance, the better, plus good access with a substantial area to turn large vehicles like fire trucks and tankers around is always beneficial.

Many people don't have an emergency plan in place, but everyone should have an idea of what to do in case of fire.

"Have an evacuation checklist that everyone knows and is familiar with, have multiple evacuation routes and establish a gathering point for all family members," advised Hiram Vazquez, Fire Apparatus Engineer for Cal Fire Riverside County, stationed at Palm Desert Station #33.

"If they plan on sheltering in place, understand that fire personnel will now have to worry not only about the fire but also civilian life safety at this point," Vazquez added. "This would take away from the focus of battling the fire and shift it to protecting lives which would allow the fire to get bigger and impact other areas. Sheltering in place could be an option at times but only if the area is large enough for the fire to go around without impacting the structures."

People using garden hoses to wet their landscaping and structure roofs must consider that they can be hindering rather than helping the firefighters that are battling to save their home. 

"By the time the fire gets to the house all the water wasted will most likely be evaporated by then," said Vazquez. "In the rural areas, water is a very limited resource. Fire department companies will often attempt to defend a structure and stay there until the fire passes. We always try to refill our engines with water every chance we get. Even if it's just the garden hose for a few minutes."

Firefighters have seen many structures burn after the fire front has passed through the area due to hot embers and smoldering material in certain spots. If there is still electric power in the area or the residents have a generator, one idea would be to place a garden hose with a good sprinkler on top of the roof and leave the residence. This would allow for the roof to remain wet after people leave safely and perhaps even extinguish small fires.

Lastly, if firefighters or law enforcement officers ask you to evacuate, don't wait until the last minute. This is where a good plan comes in handy. Make prior arrangements to meet family members with pets, livestock and important documents at designated safe locations.

Kim Harris

Time is critical to firefighters who first need to assess a property in the event of an impending firestorm.

"I really think the best thing for people to do is go to the Cal Fire website at ," recommended Anza resident Ken Ogren, retired fire captain from California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, known as Cal Fire. "There is a real good six-minute video called Ready, Set, Go. It tells you in general what you need to know.  There are also many links on their site instructing what you should prepare to take with you if you have to evacuate, it also lets you know why the 100 foot clearance is so important. That's the defensible space that firefighters need to be able to save your home and survive themselves."

For more information on defensible space and other safety tips, visit

Diane Sieker can be reached by email at [email protected]


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