Greg Zaller: Fire safe Nevada County
January 1, 2019
About a day after the Camp Fire began I met a refugee who told me that his first contact with the fire was when he stepped out of a store on an errand and noticed the parking lot was covered with embers.
Burning ember showers begin up to a half hour before flames arrive, even in areas the flames never reach. Most homes burn down when these embers ignite dry material contacting or very near to the house that later develops into an engulfing fire.
Some years ago I was a volunteer fireman during the Forty-Niner fire here in Nevada County, lit by a homeless person, which destroyed 170 homes. I remember a stump that ignited under the deck from embers and we just couldn't seem to fully put it out. We flooded it with water, but after a time it would be burning again, certain to ignite the house if left unattended. We needed to move on and the owner had evacuated. Finally, someone made the decision to bring in a large dozer and shave off the entire deck and stump, which saved the house.
Homes usually burn down from embers igniting small fires which grow unattended. These spot fires, while able to be prevented or easily extinguished early on, will ultimately burn down the house. Debris could be leaves in the gutter, a doormat on the deck, litter under the house, etc. All it takes is one ember ignited fire from one oversight, and an unattended home will burn down.
Without too much effort homes can be made resistant to the ember storm of a wildfire. In fact, many experts believe that it is safer to shelter in a properly prepared home than to evacuate. I made some informational links available on a Facebook page called "Firesafe Nevada County." If you didn't know this information already, you will find it surprisingly educational and empowering.
For example, removing too many trees and shrubs in the yard takes away the protections they provide from ember storms and is counterproductive. Forest areas beyond a hundred feet away from the house pose little threat.
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My wife and I are going to protect our home. We are moving all easily ignitable materials away from our house, adding fine mesh screening, installing an independent water system, protecting our windows and other simple things.
We need to work together as neighbors. The heat from a wildfire lasts only minutes and is survivable and embers can be dealt with, but if my neighbor's unprepared house becomes engulfed in flames the continuous radiant heat could ignite mine. It would also be very sad to live in a surviving home surrounded by a wasteland of burned homes.
As a community, we could be proactive and definitely make Nevada County fire safe. The consequences are too great for people that understand this to sit on the sidelines counting on others to take care of things who won't.
If you do nothing and allow the voices primarily advocating for better evacuation routes and forest management to dominate over getting educated and cooperating together to fireproof our homes and neighborhoods, this county will likely burn down as Paradise did during the Camp Fire.
One way to act is to go to the Facebook page, Fire Safe Nevada County, and get educated, make connections with others, and start thinking of ways to get this done.
Greg Zaller lives in Nevada City.