Fire is on the minds of many in the Santa Cruz Mountains. The recent deadly Tubbs and Camp Fires that devastated suburbs and wildlands alike have given us in this region cause to ponder: Could such fires happen here? The answer is "Yes".
You can begin preparing your family and home for wild fire now, and be miles ahead when fire season arrives. The important thing is to just get started, building muscle-memory for the actions you may have to actually perform when needed...much like a firefighter who trains repeatedly.
1) Get Connected: Begin by ensuring that your correct phone numbers and home and work addresses, and those of family members, are in the County emergency notification system. Register online at scr911.org and click on "CodeRed" and if the situation arises, you and your family will receive emergency alerts affecting your home or business, any time during the day or night.
2) Five Minute Evacuation Plan: Look around your home. If you had 5 minutes to get out, what would you absolutely have to take along, with the thought that you may never be able to come back to things intact? If you had NO TIME to grab anything at all what would you do? Take some time and walk yourself and family members through a drill.
Having a grab-and-go kit by the exit of your home: water, non-perishable food, a flashlight and spare batteries, copies of critically-important documents (insurance, medical, list of phone contacts) and any medications that you must take on a regular basis. Keep a duplicate kit in your car, too, because fires may occur while you are away from home, and you may not be able to return to retrieve necessities.
Take photographs of all rooms in your home...it could be helpful if you need to document losses with your insurance company later.
3) Your Pet Plan: Do you have pets that would need your help evacuating? Have a bit of food in your grab-and-go kit for them, too.
What would you do for your pets if you were away when a fire began, and you could not get back to retrieve them? Do you have neighbors who could help? Contact them and work out a plan in advance for such an emergency.
4) Defensible Space: If you live in the woods, now is a good time to look around outside your home and begin improving fire defensible space. The strategy with creating defensible space is to start at your house and work outward.
Begin by taking a tour around your house and imagine it is a hot, dry day. Your focus is on the five feet immediately surrounding your house. Look at the following with a critical eye: shrubs, plants or organic mulches adjacent to your house, the state of any wooden fences and decks connected directly to your house, accumulated piles of leaves banked up in corners, patio furniture, brooms, or wooden ladders within five feet of your house, and any leaves and debris on your roof or in gutters. Act now to reduce or eliminate these hazards to help make your home safer and more defendable in a wildland fire.
Then look at the next 30 feet expanding out from your house. Make sure it is free of dead plant material and low-hanging branches. Trim trees to create at least 10' clearance from chimneys and walls. Plant fire-resistant plants that are appropriate for your area. Stack firewood or construction materials at least 30' from any structures. If you are able, extend this fire defensible space to 100' from all structures by thinning shrubs, creating open space between bushes and trees, and removing all dead vegetation.
5) Get Started Now: If this seems overwhelming, choose one aspect of the work above, and start with that this week. Follow up the next week with another. What is most critical is that you start now, and build muscle-memory that will serve you and your family well when you need it most....maybe at 1am in the middle of this summer's fire season.
Becky Steinbruner is a director at Fire Safe Santa Cruz County, a nonprofit organization which educates and mobilizes the people of Santa Cruz County to protect their community, homes, and environment from wildfire. You can find more information at firesafesantacruz.org