“Fire is the best of servants, but what a master!” – Thomas Carlyle.
In one afternoon, wildfires swept through the quiet suburban homes of Coffey Park, Santa Rosa, destroying almost every home, tree, car, and structure in its path. Choking smoke blew into adjacent neighborhoods. Twenty-three people died, and thousands fled to safety and were rendered homeless. These suburbanites weren’t in a traditional fire zone. They had irrigation, fire hydrants, and the latest fire-resistant construction.
The fact is that we barely can contain the nature of fire. It truly knows no boundaries. It consumes whatever is in its path. Whether you live on five acres away from anyone, you live in a skyrise that stretches to the clouds, or alone on a boat in the middle of the ocean; you are susceptible to fire, lethal smoke from the fire, or the efforts to combat and contain it. Lightning, arson, electrical malfunctions, other people’s failure to contain their fires, even concentrated sunlight are all potential ignition sources.
Fire season is starting early this year and is predicted to be far worse than in previous years. In this video, we will examine the Ready, Set, Go plan outlined by CalFire. Though you may not be in California or even in a wildfire zone, the same principles apply to any environment, from woods to farmland, to population-dense cities, to well-manicured suburbs.
When it comes to something as unruly as a fire, every bit of planning you do in advance of the event will pay off for you. You should prepare as though a fire or smoke will be either in your home or rapidly approaching your home. The first part of that preparation is to create a defensible space around your property. Defensible space is the buffer you create between a building on your property and any natural or artificial combustibles surrounding the building or property. For some, that may mean clearing brush, dead leaves, and other vegetation. For others, that may mean clearing debris, trash, or other combustibles in and around their property.
Keeping green or hardscaped areas around your living area will distance your living area from sparks and embers traveling on the wind. It will provide firefighters a place to combat any flames. If you have vegetation around your property, make sure that dead material is removed. Even the lushest and greenest bush can be burned if the surrounding vegetative fuel is sufficient enough to create enough heat. Trim branches of trees to at least six feet off the ground. Clear dead material from under bushes. Make sure any combustible materials are not near structures or under trees, or near bushes. Consider vertical spacing of flammable trees and shrubs, the small to tall fire spread potential, and the horizontal spacing, the distance between combustible trees and shrubs. Remember, fire will burn out from its source in all directions. It will be guided by wind and the rising heat. It will climb up a hill faster than it will descend a hill. It will burn up a tree from a low bush unless enough space is between them.
Think of your property in terms of zones. Zone 3 is the whole area outside your outside property lines. You don’t have much input or control over this far lying area, so you will want to plan according to these threats. If you live near a manufacturing facility, try and familiarize yourself with the chemicals they use in their processes. If the building a few blocks from your location uses combustible or toxic chemicals in its processes, you should plan to have some means of safe breathing. Gas masks do not provide oxygen. They will afford some protection from toxic fumes and filter harmful elements enough to get you to safety, but they do not provide oxygen that a fire will readily consume. They will afford little protection if the fire is all around you but can provide excellent protection if you move laterally or away from a fire through smoke and toxic fumes. Toxic smoke inhalation causes more fire-related deaths than do the fires themselves. If you live near woodland areas, choking smoke could eliminate vision and create a breathing hazard for many blocks or miles away. Some areas have relatively consistent wind patterns. Sometimes a breeze comes from one direction in the morning and another direction in the evening. Sometimes the wind typically blows up from a hot, dry area or down from a high cold area. Sometimes it comes in off the water, and so forth. Pay attention to these wind patterns and understand their basics. This will determine your actions and escape from any fire in Zone 3.
Zone 2 is the immediate structures buttressing up against your property. Don’t let the neighbor’s deep-fried Thanksgiving turkey on his wooden deck threaten your safety. Survey your property lines and alert your neighbors or officials or help with any cleanup efforts to create a safe fire zone around your properties. Make sure you have hoses that stretch to the perimeters of your property. If you have a pool or other large contained body of water, make sure you have the means to pump that water onto the fire. An above-ground pool can be opened in the direction of the fire. An in-ground pool or pond can be pumped through hoses onto the fire or the potential fire zone. Just as you have a generator for disasters, if you have a large body of water in your Zone 2, consider a chemical and clear water transfer pump. This will provide you somewhere around 150 gallons per minute to combat a fire in Zone 2 or douse the zone to protect it from a fire moving through Zone 3 towards you. In a grid-down situation or after a disaster, a transfer pump of this nature will also allow you to move floodwaters, irrigate crops, or move large bodies of water to where you need it.
If you live in an apartment and your neighbor is a reckless hoarder, there isn’t a whole lot you can do about it. This is where an electronic barrier of protection is beneficial. Having both fire and carbon monoxide protectors through your house or apartment and, in particular, on the most dangerous areas of your perimeter provide you an alert system that will allow you to either spring into action or flee. Consider putting a fire alarm in your garage if the ambient heat of your garage in the summer won’t trigger it. The garage is often sealed off from the rest of the house but contains many of the house’s combustibles.
Finally, Zone 1 is contained within your walls. Take out your papers and trash. Make sure you have fire extinguishers on hand. The fire extinguishing balls you may have seen are, actually, not very effective, and I don’t recommend them. Even a 13 ounce Cold Fire spray canister https://amzn.to/3w2e0gA will be enough to put out your typical kitchen or small debris fire. Consider having one fire abatement device like a fire extinguisher or fire blanket for every room of your home, including wet areas like your bathroom, and make sure you understand how to use them. You don’t want to be fumbling for reading glasses when you need to be springing into action. Have a fire ladder if you live on a second story, and always have at least two means of egress from every room of your house.
The set phase of the Ready, Set, Go can be summarized in a single phrase, “Have a plan.” Have a plan for when your structure is on fire. Have a plan for when a fire is approaching your structure. You can’t outthink an unpredictable fire, but you can think and develop solutions for potential fires. Walk around your home and have the family review what they would do if a fire were in that room. Walk around your yard or property and decide what you would do if a fire were anywhere 360 degrees around your property, above you, or below. Fire raining down from the floor above, or even the sky, isn’t improbable. An explosion can send flaming debris hundreds of yards away, and a fire on just the floor above you may not be noticeable until it has opened a hole in your ceiling because the heat, flames, and many of the gasses will be rising. +Map your property. Walk it, and decide the best actions for both putting out fires and escaping the flames. Make an evacuation checklist, so you can just check the boxes and get out, if you have to, instead of wandering your property and wondering if you have everything while a fire races towards you.
Don’t forget your pets. If you can’t take them with you safely, set them loose. Animals have been escaping fires since they first roamed the planet. If you can take them with you, make sure you have pet food in reserve for when you get to safety. Evacuating with pets can be very complex, and there is much to consider. That’s why I did a whole video on it. I will link to that at the end of this video. For right now, just don’t forget that getting your pet to safety is an essential part of getting set.
Understand your building, community, and local area evacuation plans and emergency communication channels. Find out in advance the critical websites and media you will need to remain alert with the current up-to-the-minute reports. If you do have to flee your home, you can’t rely solely upon a general idea of where the fire is, as it may have spread around you and across your anticipated evacuation routes so staying informed could mean the difference between life and death.
Have a family communication plan in place. Pull out a map and determine family rendezvous points away from known fire zones. Download apps that make location and offline communication possible. Plan out evacuation routes many miles from your location and in every direction. Pull all contact information and routes onto a central source and place copies in your home, vehicles, Emergency Bugout bags, and Every Day Carry bags. Have important documents like social security cards, birth certificates, deeds, pink slips, wills, medical information, meaningful pictures, digital image files, digital files, even cash in a central place so you can grab them if you have to quickly evacuate. Walk around your house with a digital camera and fill the card with pictures of every single thing in your home, especially the things of value. Photograph essential documents and receipts. Put that digital card in your evacuation bag or upload all the files to a secure data storage platform like Dropbox. If you need to file an insurance claim, you will be glad you took this one afternoon to photograph everything as they will only replace exactly what you can prove you own. If an expensive T.V. gets destroyed and you add T.V. to the list you submit to them, they’ll get you the cheapest T.V. they can buy unless you can prove otherwise. You want to be able to grab anything you may need and get to safety quickly. Many people perish as they scramble around an area on fire, struggling to grab that one last thing, or because they have grabbed something they truly didn’t need and struggle to get to safety.
If you do just one thing to prepare yourself for a host of disasters that might befall you, make sure you have a go-back or bugout bag for each member of your family. I have several videos on these and what to include in them. At the very least, have a backpack with face masks, a three-day supply of non-perishable food, and water containers you can grab in a central location. Specific for fire, if you are asthmatic make sure to have any inhalers or needed medications in your bag. Smoke will easily irritate bronchial tubes and impair breathing. Have three gallons of water per person or a personal filtration straw https://amzn.to/3x3j6cn. Have a map marked with evacuation routes, prescription medicines, and a change of clothes, especially footwear. Have extra eyeglasses, a first aid kit, and a flashlight. Have an extra set of keys and chargers for your cell phones. Put these bags somewhere safe and easily grabbable on your way out of your home structure.
Go is the proper action if you feel unsafe. You do not have to wait for officials to tell you to evacuate. The time to escape an out-of-control fire was a few minutes ago; the next best time is right now. If possible, grab your evacuation checklist. If you can, load your emergency supplies into your vehicle. Here, your advantage is having all these supplies ready to go from one place rather than having to run around a burning home to try and gather them up and load them. If you have a preset plan, family members can take charge and be responsible for certain parts of the plan. One person might be in charge of getting everyone’s packs into the vehicle. Another person might be in charge of getting the pets. Another person might be in charge of the crucial documents envelope. In this way, if someone is away from home, another person can easily know that the away person’s responsibilities will need to be covered.
Dress to prevent damage from high temperatures, falling ash, or embers. Natural fibers are better than synthetic fibers. Head protection, a dry bandana over the mouth and nose, and a hat are all important to wear when making your escape to safety. Here, too, the can of Cold Fire https://amzn.to/3w2e0gA I mentioned earlier will be helpful. Its compact size allows for easy, lightweight portability, and it is non-toxic. A person can be doused in it if need be.
As you head down the road, be aware of your surroundings, and obey the directions of law enforcement. Law enforcement and firefighters work around the premise of containment. When you move past their roadblocks and barriers as you move to safer environments, you can breathe a sigh of relief but go a little further. You don’t want to merely stay a mile ahead of a fire. A fire can move in forests at around 7 miles per hour and double that rate across grasslands. A fire in a city can spread even faster as combustibles and explosions can carry flaming debris hundreds of yards from their source in a matter of seconds. Keep moving until the flames are a distant pillar on the horizon. Your life and the lives of those you care for are more important than any property or physical possession.
Most importantly, if you don’t feel safe, you need to go. Don’t delay or put off your decision. If you have the time and the means to fight the fire before it consumes your structure, do so; but don’t sacrifice your ability to escape in the process. Hosing down your roof or property can have some effect but won’t do too much if the flames are raging and fanned by strong winds. Your gut will tell you when to escape. If there isn’t a chance of stopping the fire or it’s reached your neighborhood or building, it is time to go.
If you have to flee on foot, try to head to lower geographical areas away from the known fire direction. Never flee uphill, as fire will more rapidly travel uphill. Heading into the wind is a preferred path if it is away from the fire as well, as the fire will travel faster with the wind. If the wind is traveling in your direction from the fire and the smoke is thick, start moving away from the fire in the direction the smoke is traveling and keep moving until the visibility improves. Then begin moving forty-five degrees into the wind to get to clearer air. Remain upwind or perpendicular to the direction the fire is moving. Don’t stop moving until the air is clear and the fire is visible on the horizon in full scale. Try to put as much distance between yourself and the fire as possible.
There are disasters you can plan and pack a little for in advance of it befalling you. For instance, you know a hurricane may be heading your way days and hours ahead of time. Fires, however, don’t provide any advanced warning. They’re dangerous and deadly. A single spark can create an enormous disaster zone that can easily escape even the best efforts at containment. Before fire strikes, review this Ready, Set, Go system and make sure you are ready. I talk quite a bit about preparing for the most logical and pressing disasters first and the other disasters after that. Fire is the most pressing disaster you face. It is even more likely than natural weather disasters. Failing to prepare for fires both large and small is surrendering to them. A little preparation on your part goes a long way toward your future safety.
What do you think? What was the most recent fire that threatened your safety? Tell us in the comments below so other members of the channel can understand how serious of a threat fire really is.
As always, please stay safe out there.