Fire on the Mountain, Ready Set GO!


On Sunday April 26, 2015, a dozen Two Bar Road neighbors gathered to meet with San Mateo-Santa Cruz CAL FIRE (http://www.fire.ca.gov) Forrester Richard Sampson, Chief Gonzales and three other seasonal local Fire Fighters from the Saratoga Fire Protection District. The fire fighters passed out Home Defense checklists, and educated us about the “READY SET GO” details of fire preparedness. They answered questions and advised us about the current drought challenges of Fire Season in our wilderness area, which is expected to last indefinitely in the future if climate changes continue to worsen.

Here are some useful items from the meeting:

We live in a wildfire area, and living here means that seasonal fires are inevitable. We must be able to anticipate, prevent, and survive them when they happen. The priorities of firefighters during a call in our area are to defend lives and property, create safe zones and defensible access/retreat paths for trained personnel to fight the fire, safely redirect uncontrolled fires away from people and structures, and finally, to contain and control the fire until it is over.

When it comes to fire safety, people can help most by taking care of their roads and property BEFORE there is an emergency. PREVENTION is the best way to HELP fire fighters to save lives and property, and may ultimately tip the odds favorably in an uncontrolled wild fire situation. A large safe “Defensible” zone around the house which will not ignite will be less vulnerable to wind born embers from a fire, making it easier to defend in an emergency.

One hundred feet of defensible space around your dwelling is meant to be a source of security if conditions force you to evacuate your property, and in a last resort, may be the best way to survive a fire if escape is impossible. Fast burning grass and flowers are safer than bushes and more woody plants, since they may burn faster and cooler, thus avoiding ignition of longer burning or hotter branches, logs and trees. Trees should be “Limbed” up to prevent branches igniting from natural landscaping below.

The FireSafe Council accepts applications for free brush chipping from residents in our area who create defensible space around their homes. Information and applications available at http://www.saratogafire.org. This program brings a chipper and crew to your property to chip material you have prepared. It seems the 2015 schedule is closed, but new requests can be scheduled in the future.

Several pamphlets were passed out at the meeting. CAL FIRE’s Homeowner’s Checklist advises Exterior and Interior cautions and remedies. In summary,

1) Within 30 feet of home, create a “Lean, Clean and Green Zone” with no flammable vegetation. Flowers and grasses are ok, and limb trees up 10-15 feet so they don’t catch fire from below. Remove dead trees and branches overhanging the roof. Store firewood safely away from the home.

2) Plan and Practice Fire Escape, and Post-Escape Contact and Rendezvous Plan. Fill a “Go Pack” with necessary medications, pet food, and carry-able items needed for up to 10 days. Close doors and windows. Unlock and close doors. Turn off Gas and Power. (Know the procedure for shut off and restoring each.) Unlock Gates to provide access to emergency vehicles while exiting the property.

3) Home Fire Safety Planning and Maintenance: Assure you have an accessible shut off for gas and power, and remove debris piles and any hazardous fire ignition sources to create a 100 foot perimeter of Defensible Space. Within 100 feet of the house, provide driveway access for Fire Truck (with 2 1/2″ fire hose  connector nozzle in wilderness areas) for gravity fed tank or pool source of water.

3) Provide Easy Road Access: Clear Large Address Signs, Good Lighting, Trim overhanging tree branches above roads, Two Lane Roads, Turn Arounds for Emergency Vehicles, Signs to show traffic restrictions such as dead-ends, weight and height limitations.

Fire Safety information is available online (http://www.readyforwildfire.org), at the local fire station, and summarized in this article. DURING a fire emergency, people should execute their pre-established EMERGENCY checklist, gather themselves and their animals, and get out of their property as early and safely as possible. This means planning to escape (with animals, if needed) ahead of time, and following safety preparedness guidelines.  If escape is impossible, the safest place may be to wait inside the home, if the home has been properly prepared with a defensible perimeter.

In our area, large wild fires happen primarily when seasonal North winds blow to the South, and dry conditions allow embers blown from a smaller fire to ignite debris or structures as much as a mile from the source. The worst threat to a building on a steep slope is from fires approaching from below, which can preheat the air, and dry out the flammable materials ahead of it’s path. Removing firewood and debris piles from areas below the house or under a flammable porch is a sensible precaution.

Time is of the Essence when a fire begins. For Fire Fighters, finding the fire and getting to it are the first priorities. In our area, we need roads that allow an engine that is Twelve (12) feet wide and Fifteen (15) feet tall to get to a position that is 100 feet from the fire and/or onsite water source to fight the fire. Overhead branches or narrow bridges or cars parked on a single lane road can make access impossible. A house with onsite water tanks should have a 2 1/2′ fitting, since the rigs used here are for Brush/Wilderness fires. Even though housing code requires the advised 4″ fitting, we learned that 4″ hoses are used in city based fire trucks, not our local rigs. Apparently, the best solution used by our neighbors is a 4″ pipe from a gravity fed tank source for max pressure during emergencies with a screw on fitting for the 2.5″ hoses used in our area.

Poor road maintenance or inaccessible conditions often cause Fire trucks to lose vital time at the beginning, when slowing the fire can be the difference between containing it or losing control. Locked fences can be very problematic, so it is a good idea to assign a person to unlock them if there is a fire emergency, and make that part of the Home Defense plan.

In addition to leaving early and safely, it is advised to plan not to return until the fire has run its course. Some of the worst and most dangerous situations for fire fighters and people occur when people get stuck escaping, or try to return after the fire fighters have secured the area. There may be traffic jams on narrow roads full of fire trucks and other fleeing vehicles, or increased risk from efforts to rescue animals with inadequate planning or preparation.

Fire Fighters can be stopped if cars, horse trailers or even a whole bunch of Fire Trucks are stopped on a narrow road, blocked from arriving or leaving. To address this, the fire team suggests making sure there are frequent turnouts on a narrow road which measure in a circular radius of Thirty-Seven (37) feet from the center of the street, allowing Fire Truck turn around or parking without blocking the road for other vehicles.

Boulder Creek Fire Protection Dist.

Kevin McClish, Fire Chief
13230 Central Ave. Boulder Creek, CA 95006
Office: (831) 338-7222
Fax: (831) 338-7226
Emergency: 9-1-1

Dept. Web: http://www.bcfd.com
Facebook: Boulder Creek Fire Department
Twitter: @BoulderCreekFD

General Email: Pat Johnson, Administrative Secretary, pjohnson@bcfd.com
Personnel: Volunteer Fire Dept. ID: 44020
MACS Designator: BOU
County: Santa Cruz
Office hours 8 A.M. to 5 P.M. Monday through Friday (Lunch is typically 12-1:00 PM)
Chief Email: kmcclish@bcfd.com