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Spotlight on Wildfire Prevention

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Autumn can be a magical season for outdoor enthusiasts.  As the leaves begin to change color and the weather starts to cool, many people find that it’s the perfect time of year to get outside and explore nature.  But in Southern California, the change in season also brings an increased risk of wildfire to our open spaces.  Wildfires are a serious threat in Orange County, but we can all do our part to prevent them from starting and prepare our communities to minimize the damage.

Most of the wildlands in Orange County go without any rainfall through the hot summer months, causing vegetation to become extremely dry and susceptible to fire.  To make matters worse, dry and hot Santa Ana winds can push down from the mountains out towards the sea, creating the perfect conditions for wildfires to spread quickly.  

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“This year we are about 2 months ahead in terms of fuel moisture,” said Dave Erickson, Wildland Resources Planner with the Orange County Fire Authority (OCFA). “So what are normally October fuel moistures are now August fuel moistures”.  In other words, conditions out in the wildlands are extremely dry and susceptible to wildfire this year. 

Wildfires have the potential to cause tremendous damage to our communities and the wildlands that surround them.  It is incumbent upon all of us to be aware of potential causes so we can try and prevent fires from starting.  “There are a whole lot of different things that can cause accidental fires on roadsides,” said Brian Norton, Special Operations Division Chief with the OCFA.  “Anything from a lawnmower hitting a rock, to an ATV or chainsaw without a spark arrester, to a roadside vehicle malfunctioning for whatever reason.” 

Even though we can’t prevent every cause, we can all be more cautious when driving or working near areas susceptible to wildfires.  However, if you find yourself in a situation that carries a risk of fire, then you need to plan for the worst case scenario and think about how you can stop it.  “That could be a garden hose, or a shovel, or someone standing by in case a fire starts so they can immediately call 911 or suppress the fire and slow it down until our first responders arrive,” said Matt Levesque, Wildland Battalion Chief, OCFA.  In the event a fire does start, everyone is encouraged to dial 911 as soon as possible. 

Once a wildfire starts, even if it begins in a remote location, there is always a chance that it will spread towards our communities, especially during a Santa Ana wind event.  When this happens, property and lives are put in danger.  Many people believe that if the flames don’t reach their home, they are safe.  But according to Nick Pivaroff, Assistant Fire Marshall for OCFA, “it’s the embers cast off from the wind-driven fire that are causing the majority of the property loss”.  Embers can embed themselves in the nooks and crannies of your home, or in flammable materials surrounding your property.  Over time, they can smolder and ignite, even if the wildfire is miles away.  However, there are things you can do to protect your family and property.  OCFA offers a host of tips and services designed to educate and help prepare you for a potential fire event, visit: OCFA.org/RSG.

In the end, the most helpful thing you can do if a fire gets near your home is to follow evacuation orders.  Leaving early helps to reduce traffic in the evacuated areas, giving firefighters the space they need to react quickly.  If you live in Orange County you are encouraged to sign up for emergency notifications on AlertOC.org.