Print   |   Back
May 20, 2015
Totally Ready for Anything
Fire at Your Backdoor Part 1
by Carolyn Nicolaysen

In my last article we discussed preparing for a medical emergency. When the Norovirus struck our grandchildren’s elementary school I was reminded that a pandemic is not the only reason a medical emergency could have you hunkered down at home. It was a tough two weeks while the virus was spreading and a reminder that this can happen to you.

Wildfires are the fastest growing disaster threat in the United States and in many areas of the world. As more people build homes in wooded areas, forests, and rural areas, they put themselves at added risk from wildfire.

Smaller and smaller lot sizes in cities also increase the danger of a fire racing out of control. Combine these factors with drought, excessive heat and/or high winds, and these fires can be nearly unstoppable.

As we drove the length of California this week it was apparent that wildfires are a huge danger this year. The state is drying up at an alarming rate. A similar but not nearly as critical scenario is emerging in other western states.

I remember clearly the Oakland Hills, California, fire in October 1991. It was truly one of the most frightening scenes I ever witnessed. We watched as house after house literally exploded from the heat of the fire.

One minute there was a gorgeous million-dollar home, and in the next minute it was fully engulfed by the inferno. Before the fire was contained, 25 lives were lost and 2,900 structures destroyed in the hills that overlook one of America's largest cities.

In the fall of 2003, a wildfire in San Diego County developed into the most costly fire disaster in California history. Before it was contained it killed 16 people and destroyed 2,427 homes and businesses.

Experts say many San Diego neighborhoods, including Scripps Ranch, are fire traps. They predict that if Santa Ana winds are present the day a fire begins, the fire will be unstoppable and go out only when it reaches the Pacific Ocean.

Experts predict the same fate awaits residents of West Austin, Texas — which they estimate may take only eight hours to burn in a worst-case scenario.

Wildfires often burn unnoticed until fighting them becomes overwhelming. They spread quickly, igniting brush, trees, outbuildings and homes. No household sprinkler system, fire extinguisher or garden hose is up to the task of containing a wildfire.

There are many things we can do right now to prepare for the upcoming fire season. Begin by learning as much as you can about the history of wildfires in your area. Local government websites are a great resource for this information.

Be aware of weather patterns that can add to the fire danger, such as Santa Ana winds in southern California. A long period without rain, even if not officially a drought, increases the risk of wildfire as vegetation dries out and housing expands into forested areas.

Before Wildfire Threatens:

Create a Family Plan:

Create a Neighborhood Plan

Talk to your neighbors about what they are doing now to prepare for the fire season and how they might be able to respond to fire reports in the area. There may be things you can do together to prevent the spread of fire, and to survive if one occurs:

Create a Safety Zone Around Your Home

Design and landscape your home with wildfire safety in mind. All vegetation is fuel for a wildfire, though some trees and shrubs are more flammable than others. The greater the distance between your home and the vegetation, the greater your protection.

You can take steps now to reduce the potential for disaster. Homes built in pine forests should have a minimum safety zone of 100 feet. Fire spreads very quickly uphill. Homes built on a steep slope therefore, will require additional protection. The steeper the slope, the more open space you will need to protect your home. All other homes should have a 30 foot safety zone around them.

Next time we will discuss what to do when the warning comes that your home is in the path of distruction.

Questions or suggestions for future articels? Contact Carolyn at: Add non-food items to your preparedness plan today, for tips visit

Copyright © 2024 by Carolyn Nicolaysen Printed from