Other voices: Can Your Home Stand Alone?
It’s Sept. 10 at 1400 hours (2 p.m.), in any given future year. The weather has been typical California fire weather, “hot and dry,” with a bit of a north wind when red flag conditions are declared. All of us in the fire service become even more nervous and edgy. Suddenly, three beeps hit the airwaves, pagers and radios. Station bells all go off at the same time as we hear two or three fire lookouts all calling: “This is Banner Mountain Lookout. We have building gray smoke at 20 degrees for four miles somewhere near Greenhorn Canyon.”
A sinking feeling hits. We all know the outlook is not good. The race is on.
Calfire starts their first alarm. Everything is launched: One battalion chief, air attack, two air tankers, one helicopter, six engines, one dozer and one hand crew. Nevada County Consolidated starts three engines, one water tender and misc. overhead. Tahoe National Forest starts two engines from White Cloud, one from Camptonville, and their helicopter.
Within minutes, Air Attack 230 is over the fire reporting three to five acres on a slope, moderate to rapid rate of spread with short range spotting out in front. They also report multiple structures will be threatened shortly, request additional aircraft and a second alarm. The second alarm assignment is dispatched from Calfire, which starts three more engines, one more crew, one more dozer, one more water tender and additional misc. overhead. Tahoe National Forest offers up two Hot Shot crews coming from Camptonville and Foresthill, one water tender and one more engine. Consolidated starts three more engines and one more water tender …
Where am I going with this scenario that plays out literally dozens of times every summer in numerous places in Nevada County? Did you do the math as you read the scenario? This fire is headed up the back side of Banner Mountain where there are hundreds of homes. Did you count the number of engines that have been dispatched so far? If you did, you know that there are 19 engines, four water tenders, two dozers, and four hand crews headed to this fire in the first ten minutes of the report. But how many homes are threatened? 100? 200? 1,000? We will activate the OES Strike Team System, ordering many more engines, but they will be coming from distant areas. During the first critical stages of this raging fire, those first 19 to perhaps 25 local engines will be fighting to protect hundreds of homes.
So, ask yourself, have you done the work on your property to allow us to safely put a fire engine with a crew of two to four firefighters near your home to protect it from an advancing wildfire? Better yet, have you done the work on your property to stand alone, because we simply don’t have enough engines to go around those first few critical hours?
Last year in the U.S., 24 firefighters died in the line of duty on wildland firefighting missions alone. One billion (with a B) acres burned, a new record, and 800 homes were lost. In 2003, five million acres and 3,000 homes were lost, most of which were lost in the fire siege in southern California.
State law now requires a minimum 100-foot clearance around your structures; 300 feet or more on the downhill side of your home if you live on a steep slope. Now is the time to act. Take advantage of this spring-like weather and go to work. You are the steward responsible for your land. We strongly urge you to establish an irrigated greenbelt around your home, prune up your tree limbs to reduce the ladder effect, and reduce the amount of brush on your property.
The Fire Safe Council of Nevada County offers a number of ways to help you. Visit their Web site at http://www.firesafecouncilnevco.com or call them at 272-1122. You can also visit the Nevada County Consolidated Fire District Web site at http://www.nccfire.com. This is not an idle warning- the preservation of your life, the lives of your family and pets, your house, your property, and, yes, your neighbor’s home, depends upon the involvement of a proactive and cooperative community.
Tim Fike, Chief
Nevada County Consolidated Fire District
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