Talk of the Town: Wildfire prevention and preparation

Approximately 6,000 wildfires occur annually in the Southwest, most through lightning or human neglect. Good stewards of the land apply prevention practices that minimize human-caused fires.

For prevention, know the local forecasts for temperatures, wind and humidity. Lack of precipitation leads to tinder-dry vegetation. Obey fire bans or smoking restrictions. If you smoke, always use an ashtray. Please, do not toss your cigarette butt out the car window. If local conditions require smoking in your car, comply. Avoid parking on dry grass, catalytic-converter mufflers create extreme heat and can readily ignite grass and brush, which could envelope the vehicle and jeopardize escape chances.

If caught in a wildfire, monitor the wind’s velocity and direction. A minor threat could quickly escalate into a major one. Is the wind blowing the fire away from you or toward you? Wildfires create their own wind, which can suddenly change direction and speed.

Preparation before a fire is critical. Know how your community plans to handle such an emergency. Where is your nearest fire hydrant? Prepare your property by installing smoke detectors in bedrooms and the kitchen; changing batteries at least once a year and replacing the devices every 10 years! Help firefighters save your home by creating defensive space (50 to 100 feet distances from combustible vegetation and materials). Keep your roof and rain gutters clear of combustible materials. Seasonally stage some household items (hoses, buckets, shovel, chainsaw and gloves) as fire-fighting tools. Have large diameter garden hoses sufficiently long enough to reach all exterior areas of the home and perimeter vegetation. Anticipate that the demands of fire services will reduce water pressure.

Have a family disaster plan, posting it on the refrigerator. Have two escape routes from every room and identify where to reunite, either outside the home or in the community. Once out: never go back inside for anything! Agree to an outside-the-community “contact person” for unresolved separations. Establish an “In Case of Emergency” (“I.C.E.”) pre-selected emergency phone number in all cell phones.

Finally, have a Disaster Supply Kit with spare prescription medications, copies of medical insurance cards, and basic personal items. The American Red Cross provides a free outstanding brochure: “Disaster Supplies Kit.”

Provide each person with a “preparation list,” delegating the below actions and agree to a specific meeting place upon completion. Prior to a firestorm evacuation, prepare the inside of your home by closing all windows, vents, doors, and draw all window coverings and drapes to prevent drafts. Open the fireplace damper and close the fireplace screens. Move all flammable furniture to the center of the home, away from windows and sliding-glass doors. Prepare the outside of your home by connecting the garden hoses to the outside taps and placing running sprinklers on the roof and any fuel tanks, if possible. Seal the attic and ground vents with pre-cut and fitted plywood panels. Turn off the natural gas line or propane tank and the barbecue cylinder. Place combustible patio furniture into the center of your home.

Listen to local TV or radio stations; keeping abreast of the current situation. Considering powerlines could be down, a battery operated radio could be critical. If ordered to evacuate, do so immediately and by the recommended route. Do not argue with the official who is telling you to go; JUST GO!

When evacuating, remember the “Three P’s”: Pets, Pills and Photos. Evacuation by car is the most common method. Back the car into your driveway, facing the route of escape. Roll up the windows, shut but do not lock the doors and leave the keys in the car ignition. The safest escape route may be different than planned for, so be prepared to follow the instructions of local officials. An escape route could be clogged by a mass exodus from the neighborhood, which could be exacerbated by arriving emergency vehicles, so evacuate early. If driving into thick smoke or a fireball, keep going and have your car’s air conditioner set to “Maximum A.C.” to re-circulate inside air. The intense heat from a firestorm will melt the plastic, shatter the glass and perhaps ignite portions of your vehicle. Go… go fast ….and do not stop.

Rick Hartman is a 20-year resident of Prescott and a retired police officer from Los Angeles. His commitment remains to all those who stand in Harm’s Way.

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