By Chief Ken Pimlott.
Wildfires occur year round in California. CAL FIRE has already responded to more than 2,400 wildfires that have burned more than 98,000 acres since the beginning of the year. Despite the rain over the past winter, several previous years of drought have created the potential for a truly devastating fire season this year. As we move into the summer months the risk for wildfires grows. This week, with triple digit temperatures over much of the state, several wildfires are burning in various locations.
This year tree mortality is literally adding fuel to the fire. The estimated number of dead trees in the central and southern Sierra was recently increased to more than 66 million–killed by the drought and bark beetles. Some have been cut down and some have fallen, but acres and acres of dead trees are still standing, just waiting for a spark. They could mean even faster-moving and more erratic fires than we typically see.
So as we get deeper into the summer, all Californians can help reduce the fire threat and reduce their own risk by remembering this simple phrase: “Ready, Set, Go!” See more at at the Ready for Wildfire website.
Being Ready for a wildfire starts by maintaining 100 feet of defensible space around your home. That means cutting back trees and brush so there is open space, and clearing pine needles and other debris off of your roof and deck. These measures give firefighters a fighting chance to save your home. If you are building or remodeling your house, use fire resistant building materials and drought tolerant and fire resistant plants in the landscaping.
Being Set includes having an evacuation plan and an emergency supply kit. Fires can move very quickly especially in windy conditions or uphill. Take some time now to put together the things you would need in an emergency so you can easily grab and go. And consider the best way to evacuate your home. If you make a plan now, following through on it will be easier when you may only have minutes to decide what to take and where to go.
Lastly, when a wildfires strikes, residents are urged to Go! If you feel you’re in danger, don’t wait to be told to evacuate. If you ever get an evacuation notice from local authorities—follow their instructions. People who wait put themselves and firefighters in danger.
And since more than 90 percent of the wildfires in California are sparked by human activity, please also keep in mind that “One Less Spark, means One Less Wildfire.” It’s everyone’s responsibility to be fire safe outdoors and prevent sparking a wildfire. Please make sure you know and abide by local fire restrictions. Campfires may not be permitted even in established campgrounds. And people who cause fires—even accidentally—can be found liable for the cost of putting them out.
Whether caused by human activity, a lightning strike or something else, wildfires are inevitable in California. We know we’ll have more fires this year—and some will be worse than others. However, we also know that people can and do make a difference. And we hope that by being prepared and using a little common sense, we’ll have fewer fires, and fewer people will be put in danger. So remember, when it comes to wildfires, Ready, Set, Go!
Ken Pimlott is the Director of the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection