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Wednesday, July 11, 2012

County Fire Chief Stresses Need for Evacuation Plans When Wildfire Strikes

• Advance Preparation by Residents Is a Critical Component of Malibu Firefighting Readiness

BY BILL KOENEKER

With triple digit weather sweeping the inland areas of the Southland and firefighters knocking down several wildfires this week, it is not too early to prepare for the wildfire season in Malibu.
“Now is the time for you and your family to make plans to survive a wildfire,” said Los Angeles County Fire Chief Daryl Osby. “Some of our residents do not fully understand the impact that a wildfire could have on them and few have adequately prepared their families for a quick evacuation.”
The chief went on to explain that fire is and always has been a natural part of the wildland urban interface area and many homeowners have chosen to live in brush-covered canyons and hillsides, areas that have historically burned long before homes were built.
“Wildfires are often fueled by dry vegetation and driven by hot, dry Santa Ana winds, making them extremely dangerous and impossible to control.”
Osby and many fire officials insist, “the most important person,” in protecting life and property is not the firefighter, but the individual.
“Through advanced planning and preparation, you will be ready for the next one,” he added.
Defensible space that property owners can provide around their homes offers the most for firefighters during a wildfire.
The fire department has prepared brochures to guide the property owner in creating such a defensible space by offering brush clearance tips and how best to make an evacuation plan.
“We have published this Ready, Set, Go Wildfire Action Plan to give tips and tools to successfully prepare for a wildfire. It will teach what needs to be done to retrofit a home with fire-resistive features. The publication will help prepare residents so that they can go early, well ahead of a fast approaching fire,” the county fire chief explained.
Local firefighters are available to attend local events and meetings to help educate residents in the county’s wildland areas. Topics will include how to “harden” a home, prepare landscaping and get a family ready to evacuate before the fire arrives.
Fire officials indicate, it seems all of the elements are coming together to create ideal conditions for wildfire. Last winter had below average rainfall and the first six months of the year were the warmest ever in the U.S.
Heat dries out plants, trees and other foliage, which experts said, are low on moisture because of the less than average rainfall.
Brush clearance tips include removing flammable vegetation and other combustible growth within 50 feet of any structure in a high hazard area. Thin out or remove other vegetation an additional 70 feet or a total of 200 feet  from structures in high hazard areas.
Use landscape plants that are drought tolerant and fire resistant. Space trees and shrubs a minimum of 15 feet apart. They should be spaced to allow a minimum of 30 feet between canopies. Trees taller than 18 feet should have lower branches pruned to within six feet off the ground. For trees less than 18 feet in height lower branches should be pruned to one-third of their height. All dead branches and leaves should be removed. Remove all stacks of combustible material and stack wood piles at least 30 feet from structures.
Other tips involving home access include identifying at least two exit routes from your neighborhood, clear back flammable vegetation at least 10 feet from roads and driveways, cut overhanging tree branches above roads to provide minimum clearance of 16 feet.
The county brochure also explains how to make plans for an evacuation and making preparations before a fire strikes.
Explanations are also offered for what to do during an evacuation, especially if someone is trapped by the fire.
The brochure offers a laundry list of emergency wildfire home protection tips, including leaving the lights on for better visibility of the house during smoke, how curtains should be removed, windows shut and attic openings closed.

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