Prepare for fire and smoke

Bay Area residents remained in disbelief as the Tubbs fire in 2017 spread through the mountains and the town of Santa Rosa, triggering a conflagration that destroyed more than 1,200 homes in the Coffey neighborhood Park.

The reality quickly sank into the fact that living in a city or a populated suburb – miles away from a so-called “very high fire risk severity zone” – is no guarantee of safety for a long time. California fire season. And the massive forest fires that have burned across the state in recent years have created another danger – thick smoke that darkens the skies and seriously affects air quality.

This is why experts say everyone in the Bay Area should be concerned about wildfires, especially during what they fear will be a long and severe 2021 fire season.

While the destruction of Coffey Park – and the entire town of Paradise in the 2018 camp fire – has been called one-off, fire officials say they were not unexpected, given that California’s most destructive fires in recent years have been driven by a combustible combination of hot, dry weather, soil and vegetation parched by prolonged drought, and high winds that can carry embers miles from the blaze.

“As we’ve seen with some fires, wildfires are a very complex beast,” said Stephen C. Clarke, vice president of government relations at Verisk, which provides fire risk analysis. “There are many, many factors that can influence the type of damage that can occur in a forest fire. “

With that in mind, the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection and other agencies are offering advice on how people can prepare to protect their families and homes from fire and smoke over the coming months, which they live in a city-wild interface. wine region, the foothills of the Sierra or in communities closer to the bay.

Subscribe to alerts

Sign up to receive Cal Fire’s SMS about wildfires in your area, and download the agency’s app to get a wildfire preparedness plan and check for ongoing incidents .

Also sign up to receive unhealthy air texts from the Bay Area Air Quality Management District (BAQMD), and find updates on local air quality, current weather conditions and weather forecasts on the accounts. BAAQMD’s Twitter and Facebook and the National Weather Service in the Bay Area (@NWSBayArea). The emergency alert service, which sends alerts from government agencies, does not require registration.

Consult important documents

Make sure that your landlord’s and tenants’ insurance policies and personal documents, such as identification, are up to date. Also, consider whether your home insurance is sufficient and whether it will fully cover the costs of rebuilding your home and replacing its contents, said Shelly Yerkes, East Bay-based product manager for CoreLogic.

Create a “defensible space”

Reduce or eliminate all vegetation, debris, furniture and other types of fire prone fuels around your home, creating a perimeter of up to 30 feet. Creating this buffer zone can be one of the most effective and cheapest ways to protect your home, according to the Federal Emergency Management Agency. A Verisk report on risks in the ‘era of the Gigafire’ showed that homes during the Woolsey fire of 2018 in Los Angeles that had such buffers remained intact, while neighboring homes without buffers were left untouched. been destroyed.

“Harden” your house

Ideally, you will have installed a roof made of Class A fire retardant material and decks and siding also made of fire retardant materials. A Cal Fire upgrade checklist also recommends covering all air vents with noncombustible and corrosion resistant 1/16 ” to 1/8 ” wire mesh screens.

Immediately and at no cost, you can remove dead leaves and pine needles from your roof, gutters, decks and bottom walls and prune tree branches that overhang the roof and chimney. You must continue to maintain your home and property throughout the fire season.

Create a family escape plan

Pack a “take out bag,” as recommended by the American Red Cross and Cal Fire, containing copies of important documents, flashlight, first aid kit, masks and COVID-19 disinfectant, masks N95 respirators, pet food and supplies, and items for each family member, including medication, a change of clothing, and a three-day supply of non-perishable food and water.

Cal Fire also recommends remembering the “Six Ps” for evacuation: people and pets; papers, phone numbers and important documents; prescriptions, vitamins and glasses; irreplaceable images and memories; personal computer and external storage; and “plastics” (credit and debit cards).

State how you are going to round up pets and make sure utilities are turned off and windows closed (so embers don’t fly). Know your escape route from your neighborhood and organize a meeting place outside the fire zone in case people are separated. Ask a friend or relative to be a point of contact. Find more Cal Fire advice at

Prepare early for the smoke

Designate at least one room in the house that can be closed to outside air and invest in a portable air purifier and N95 respirator masks. Experience from past years shows that it is best to do this as early as possible, as stocks can run out during the height of the fire season.

N95 masks are also expected to be more readily available than they were during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, but experts warn they have their limits. The EPA says they must be worn properly to keep smoke particles out, and not for long periods of time. In addition, N95 masks do not provide oxygen and do not filter toxic gases, such as carbon monoxide, present in wood smoke. Importantly, experts say people should stay indoors as much as possible on smoke days.

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