Hilary Hodge: Fire in Grass Valley too close for comfort | TheUnion.com

Hilary Hodge: Fire in Grass Valley too close for comfort

Are you fire safe?

If you live next to a natural area, the Wildland Urban Interface, you must provide firefighters with the defensible space they need to protect your home. The buffer you create by removing weeds, brush and other vegetation helps to keep the fire away from your home and reduces the risks from flying embers.

Create a Family Disaster Plan that includes meeting locations and communication plans and practice it regularly. Include in your plan the evacuation of large animals such as horses.

• Have fire extinguishers on hand and train your family how to use them.

• Ensure that your family knows where your gas, electric and water main shut-off controls are and how to use them.

• Plan several different evacuation routes.

• Designate an emergency meeting location outside the fire hazard area.

• Assemble an emergency supply kit as recommended by the American Red Cross.

• Appoint an out-of-area friend or relative as a point of contact so you can communicate with family members who have relocated.

• Maintain a list of emergency contact numbers posted near your phone and in your emergency supply kit.

• Keep an extra emergency supply kit in your car in case you can’t get to your home because of fire.

• Have a portable radio or scanner so you can stay updated on the fire.

— Cal Fire: Ready, Set, Go! Wildfire Action Plan

For more information on making your family and home fire safe, visit http://www.AreYouFireSafe.com, the Fire Safe Council of Nevada County website.

On Saturday, my wife and I drove to Nevada City for lunch and saw smoke toward Grass Valley as we parked the car.

It was 1:56 p.m. I know the exact time because the restaurant we had planned to have lunch at was already closed, even though the sign said that the place was open until 2 p.m. I looked online for details about the fire and saw the words South Auburn Street and Empire Mine State Park.

I told my wife to drive home immediately. We live less than one mile from there.

My wife and I have talked about fire danger at least once per week since we moved to Nevada County. This year, because of the noticeably dead trees in our community, we had been talking about it more. Five years ago, after we had gotten settled into our first place on Dog Bar Road, our landlord told us, “Have an evacuation plan and pack a bag. Fire danger here is real. It’s not a matter of ‘if’, it is a matter of ‘when.’”

In the end, we weren’t evacuated and the fire was contained fairly quickly. I’m incredibly grateful for our emergency responders and for all of the people who offered us help and shelter.

We have kept a bag near the door ever since.

My mom, on the other hand, moved here two weeks ago. She lives around the corner from us.

I called my mom as my wife drove us home. I tried to speak calmly. “Mom. There is a fire very nearby. I think you should gather the dog, pack some clothes and get anything you might need for you and the dog.” There were a few questions and a little back and forth. Then she said, “Hold on I’m going outside.” She exclaimed several words that I would have been grounded for using. “It is right behind my house.”

“I know, Mom,” I said in the calmest voice I could manage. “Pack the car. I will call you if we are ordered to evacuate.”

I was incredibly grateful that her moving truck had rescheduled and hadn’t arrived yet.

My wife and I pulled onto our street to see our neighbors watering their roofs. I looked at her and said, “When we pull into the driveway, get the cat carriers out of the shed and put the cats in them. I will load the car with the boxes of pictures.”

Two months ago I had rearranged the shed. I put the boxes of pictures and irreplaceable memorabilia at the front of the shed with numbers ordered based on importance. The things that could never be replaced like original pictures, handwritten notes and diaries, home videos, and negatives, were boxes numbered 1, 2, and 3. Other important things like letters, year books, mementos etc., were labeled 5-9. The boxes were numbered in order of importance in case they had to be grabbed during an evacuation.

By 2:23 p.m. we were home with the cats in crates and the cars packed with our most precious possessions. I posted a Facebook status update alerting my family to the situation and letting them know that we were safe.

My wife and I spent the next hour scouring our house for the secondary stuff — the things we would miss but weren’t entirely unreplaceable. We packed a few books, some art, and a few vinyl records. We took time to charge our phones and set our computers near the door.

While my wife and I were fairly prepared for the possibility of an evacuation, in retrospect, there were several things that we should have had on hand that we hadn’t thought about.

We had recently made a family emergency phone list and saved it online. We should have had a hard copy of that list in each car and in every emergency box and bag. In this situation, we both had time to charge our phones but it occurred to us that if our phones had died we would not have known a single number to call. We both should have had current and updated flash drives with backups of important documents and pictures from our computers. We had some drinking water but we could have used more. The food in our emergency bag was expired and needed to be replaced.

In the end, we weren’t evacuated and the fire was contained fairly quickly. I’m incredibly grateful for our emergency responders and for all of the people who offered us help and shelter.

As I looked at the pictures of the damage, I couldn’t help but notice that there are still so many trees parched by drought. We were lucky this time.

Hilary Hodge lives in Grass Valley. Her column is published by The Union on Tuesdays. Contact her at hhodgewriter@gmail.com

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