Gerald G. Doane: Fire safety and security begins at my property
January 3, 2019
The drought has broken. The rains are back, at least for the time being, and it has been only a few short months since a devastating fire destroyed that not-so-distant community of Paradise.
Because I live in a semi-forested community like Paradise, my fear of a fire where I live goes unabated.
General George S. Patton once said, "Never tell people how to do things. Tell them what to do and they will surprise you with their ingenuity."
Taking Patton's advice, I ask what must I do to prepare when dry weather returns, and it will return, in a few short months?
In search for the answer, I am going to look through a fire prevention lens at my 0.4-acre, single-family residence located in an "at-risk" community.
I shall rely on information from my past fire service, where I served as a volunteer fire district director and firefighter in a small, remote and forested Oregon community, to determine what to do to protect my property and my family. But in the end, I must also rely on myself to get the job done, whatever that entails.
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So, what do I do? I know three basic things about fire. Fire requires fuel, air, and an ignition source. Without these three things, fire will not occur.
That is not all I know about fire, but it is a beginning. It will serve me well if I use these three things as a basis in determining what I must do to protect my property from fire.
I have also learned about prevention. Three fire prevention concepts are eliminate or reduce fuel and ignition sources, separate fuel from ignition sources, or insulate (wall-off, barricade, block) ignition sources from fuel.
I'll begin with fuel. Fuel is everywhere on my property, almost anything that will burn, especially when it's dry. Trees, brush, bushes, propane tank, gas can, house, shed, vehicle, vegetation, and ground debris are all fuel.
So, what do I do with fuel sources on my property? Common sense tells me to reduce or eliminate them, or, where that is not possible or practical, separate them from other fuel sources and from ignition sources. It may be possible to insulate them from other sources, too.
Does this require lots of work? It depends on how attentive to fire safety I've been since the last drought. I've got tools — chain saw, trimmer, rake, wheel barrel, yard waste can and a pick-up truck to haul away excesses. I need common sense too. I refuse to kill myself falling off the roof of my house or out of a tree, or, part my hair with a chainsaw.
Where I don't have skills, or where the job is too big, I can always hire someone. But I must remember to do my due diligence before hiring someone for those large and dangerous jobs I cannot do myself.
Next comes air. Like fuel, air is everywhere. Not much I can do about the presence of air in a prevention sense. But if I think of air as being space, then there is something I can do.
I can create space between fuel sources and ignition sources. By the way, space or air around and above my house is a good thing. Leaves, needles and debris won't accumulate on my roof, and if a tree fire should occur behind my house, those nasty little embers won't fall onto my roof.
Lastly comes ignition. Lightning, exploding transformers, down power lines, burning materials thrown from vehicles, stoves, heaters, fireplaces, improper electrical connections, old appliances, incinerators, backyard burns and vehicles all can be ignition sources.
Like fuel and air, ignition sources are everywhere. Again, I need to reduce or eliminate them or put distance or barriers between them and fuel sources where possible and practical.
By the way, I can't control lightning. But I can separate fuel sources so when lightning does strike, the resulting fire won't spread to my or my neighbor's house.
Now that General Patton has informed me what is required (I must be channeling), the how to do it becomes evident. I just need to find the time to clean-up, trim-up, cut-down, fix, repair, remove, separate and haul-away excess fuel and ignition sources.
Metaphorically speaking, "How does one eat such an elephant? Ah yes, one bite at a time." Looks like I've got six months to consume that elephant.
What's the trade-off? Reduced fire risk and possible retention of my property insurance.
Gerald G. Doane lives in Grass Valley.