Fire season is upon us, but it’s not too late to begin taking precautions to protect your home should a wildfire sweep through your neighborhood.
Every year thousands of homes are damaged or destroyed nationally due to wildland fires.
That’s why the Chester Fire Department urges homeowners to recognize the importance of “hardening” their property in the event that a conflagration threatens their home, including organizing an evacuation plan.
Karen Lichti, Chester Fire Department’s public information officer and Chester Fire Chief Joe Waterman hosted a community meeting May 29 as an opportunity to discuss topics such as the need to establish a “Firewise” Community program in Chester, CodeRED sign-ups and the new Chester Evacuation maps that will be mailed out to every resident in the district in the coming days.
Under the Firewise program being initiated by Chester Fire, a number of crucial measures should be undertaken by residents now, including creating a defensible space around homes as a bulwark should the unimaginable strike.
Will your home survive a wildfire?
Waterman stated at the start of the meeting that it was the fire department’s objective to generate community interest to take seriously the possibility of a wildfire affecting their lives and property — despite years of seeming indifference by some members of the public due to the fact that Chester and its environs have been fortunate that no wildfires have swept through the immediate area in recent memory.
Nevertheless, living in a rural community surrounded by forest with dry undergrowth means your family and your home are more susceptible to the risk from wildfire, he said.
Lichti ran a PowerPoint presentation detailing how residents could utilize specific measures to prevent their property from being overtaken in the event wildfire threatens, adding that a Firewise Community is one that recognizes the danger of where they live and acts accordingly.
She said the goal is to teach people how to adapt to living with the possibility of fire and encourage neighbors to work together to promptly remove combustible materials from around their homes to prevent potential loss of life and destruction of property.
Preparing for the upcoming fire season is essential, Lichti warned. Information that could make all the difference between being prepared for this fire season and risking your home to wildfire is available and accessible to all district residents.
Free fire safety inspections
Homeowners who didn’t make it to the Firewise Community meeting can email Lichti for a free Home Ignition Safety inspection, carried out by knowledgeable fire personnel that is not meant to be a criticism of anyone’s property in any way and has no legal aspect; just an opportunity for the homeowner or tenant to receive positive feedback on things they can do to make their homes safer in case of wildfire.
Chester Fire conducts lot inspections to help maintain safety conditions by identifying problems beforehand that could increase risk.
A few recommendations
Creating a defensible space of at least 30 feet up to 100 feet around your home is the first priority in establishing a safe zone where fire cannot easily propagate.
As part of spring cleanup, remove all leaves, needles, pine cones or other vegetation on roofs, gutters, outdoor decks or porches and stairways, including dead or dying trees.
Trim branches and keep trees spaced well apart so their branches don’t touch, as well as eliminate branches within 10 feet of any stovepipe or chimney outlet. Remove shrubs or plants adjacent to buildings.
Prune lower branches to a height of 6 to 15 feet, and separate flammable ground cover like dry grasses and replace with nonflammable materials like gravel or soil.
Lichti said residents should look for so-called “fire ladders,” which is a type of fuel source that leads to another and then another.
For example, tall, dry grass against a fence or a large bush tall enough to reach low hanging tree branches, which touch your roof, the side of your house or could cast flaming embers down onto other combustible debris in your front or backyard.
Lichti recommended such fire ladders be “broken up” so fire doesn’t have a path to follow to your residence.
Flying embers can travel far and wide over great distances, setting off spot fires on ground cover, in trees and on the roofs of buildings and other structures.
Wood shingle roofs not treated with fire retardant catch fire from embers much more easily than fire-resistant metal, concrete or clay (ceramic) roofs do.
Double pane glass is more resistant to fire because the outer pane may provide an extra degree of restraint against flame. Also, aluminum screens are better than standard fiberglass screens, which will melt, providing a larger opening for heat and embers to enter your abode.
Also recommended is installing a fire resistant skirt or fascia composed of a fire-resistant metal mesh of some sort along the base of your deck all the way to the ground to prevent embers from finding their way underneath, after any debris has first been removed.
Lichti said that once a property has been prepared against wildfire, homes often withstand a flaming front passing by.
“Some things will burn nevertheless, your patio furniture for instance,” but the front of a conflagration “can pass so quickly, that many times your home will not ignite.”
These recommendations are just some of the fire safety guidelines provided in free pamphlets available for pick up at the CPUD main office and the Chester firehouse.
Defensible space time and expense sheets
As people clean up their yards to prepare for wildfire season, Lichti said she would appreciate it if they call or email her with the number of hours spent on cleanup activities, the amount of money spent for tools used and other supplies to clear their properties, as well as how many people participated in the yard cleanup, including hired help.
These worksheets are available at the main office of the CPUD or can be requested at [email protected]. Or simply call in your information to Lichti at 258-3456.
“I know it’s hard to keep track, but I really appreciate it if people let me know what went into their cleanup efforts so that I can write up a report on our progress.”
Data that’s collected is used to provide statistical analysis that will be sent to the “Firewise” organization at firewisecommunitiesUSA.com toward the end of the year.
Making your community Firewise
Lichti emphasized that residents recognize the importance of heeding the advice of Chester Fire to take all necessary measures for the benefit of everyone in the community.
“The benefits of being ‘Firewise’ is that everyone in your neighborhood will be prepared by knowing ahead of time what to do,” pointing out that it can be a thorny situation if you did everything you could to guard your own home against fire, only to find that many of your neighbors have not done so.
Under those circumstances, “If a neighbor’s house catches fire,” despite the work you’ve done to your own property, “your structure remains vulnerable,” particularly if your next door neighbor still has flammable materials that could catch fire, “which could then involve your home as well.”
Nowadays, “it’s sometimes hard to get to know all your neighbors,” Lichti acknowledged, and then to request that people you don’t know take similar actions to prevent fire from overrunning their homes.
“But that’s what a Firewise Community does; work together for the safety of everyone concerned,” adding that it’s also a great way to get to know your neighbors better and show that you care about their safety as much as your own.
She mentioned, too, that some insurance companies offer a discount on home insurance within Firewise Communities, and are less likely to cancel your policy should a fire arise.
Lichti pointed out that fire personnel might be spread across a large region, and the amount of equipment that’s available is limited during an active fire season; therefore, “they may not be immediately available to assist you should your house catch fire.”
That’s why it’s essential to do everything you can to protect your property from wildfire on your own, she said.
Ready, Set, Go!
Once residents have done everything they can to prepare for the eventuality of a wildland fire, prepare an evacuation safety kit well ahead of time before there’s a fire approaching.
Items in your safety kit should include required items such as a flashlight, batteries, first aid kit, blankets and towels, a radio, clothes, snacks and food items (and pet food if you have pets), bottled water and any needed prescription medications.
You’ll also need an emergency plan and a communications plan if members of your family are separated during an emergency situation.
Residents should have received or will soon receive a Chester Evacuation Map in the mail. Review it to find a safety zone to go in the event of wildfire.
Lichti said anyone who has yet to receive an evacuation map by the end of June should contact her and she will see to it that you get a copy.
There are two ways out of town, traveling west or east on Highway 36, or if the highway is blocked at both ends for some reason, there’s also a way out of town toward Stump Ranch on a rugged dirt road that empties back onto Highway 36 by Childs Meadow in Tehama County.
Information during an emergency can also be found on Facebook at “Chester Fire,” and on the website chesterpud.org and Susanville radio station KJDX 93.3 FM.
Always obey any orders from first responders. If they insist you evacuate, don’t hesitate. Get going!
Also under discussion at the meeting was the need for residents to sign-up for the CodeRED program.
CodeRED is a service that allows for the county to contact residents directly through the Office of Emergency Services by cell phone message or text, or by sending an email during an emergency, to let people know whether there’s an approaching wildfire, flood conditions, downed power lines, lost individuals and abductions, chemical spills, bomb threats, the need to evacuate or other emergencies.
Click in the green box “Emergency alert system sign ups.” Once the page loads click on the “Click here to register your contact info” and follow the directions to complete the sign up.
Lichti encourages residents to sign up online for CodeRED as soon as possible at countyofplumas.com. Those with landlines are automatically registered.
Anyone seeking assistance to register can call the toll-free number at 866-939-0911, from 4 a.m. to 3 p.m. Registration is confidential and free.
Chester Fire Chief cautions residents
“This is a very high wildfire prone area,” cautioned Fire Chief Waterman. “It’s not a matter of if, but when. That’s why we’re putting in this effort to educate the public about our Firewise program,” which is also eligible for possible future grants to help those who are invalid or elderly needing help removing vegetation around their properties.
The Chester Fire Department has free Firewise materials detailing ways to mitigate fire hazards around homes and businesses during the current fire season, as well as free Home Ignition Safety inspection sign-ups at the CPUD building, 251 Chester Airport Road. Lichti can be contacted at [email protected].
Contact Chester Fire to schedule your free Home Ignition Safety check today by calling 258-3456. (For residents of the Chester Public Utility District only).
Lichti is also looking for community members who would like to join the Firewise Committee as a way to provide further community outreach to help get the word out.