Fire preparedness key to protecting lives, property

Residents of Temecula and the surrounding communities felt the effects of wildfires that swept through San Diego County recently when smoke settled into the area prompting officials to issue an air quality warning due to unhealthful conditions.

The warning, issued shortly before 11 a.m. on Friday, May 16 by South Coast Air Quality Management District, stated that smoke from the fires created unhealthful conditions, especially for people medically compromised. Residents of the area were told to avoid any vigorous outdoor or indoor exertion, to keep windows and doors closed and to run air conditioning if it was available.

The fires were just the beginning of what CAL FIRE officials are referring to as an extremely active fire season.

“Fire Season really never ended last year in many parts of California,” said Chief Ken Pimlott, CAL FIRE director. “We continue to have very dry conditions and experience unusually early fire behavior that is extreme for this time of year.”

Drought conditions, low humidity and strong Santa Ana Winds created the perfect storm as nine fires broke out across San Diego County. More than 27,000 acres and dozens of homes were lost as the fires raced through the hills in San Marcos, on Camp Pendleton, through Carlsbad and across the hills along I-15 near Deer Springs Rd.

While Temecula and the surrounding areas were spared from any wildfires during the outbreak, the fires were a grim reminder of the dangers that exist due to the ongoing drought.

“It is unseasonable for us to see fires like we did in San Diego County just a few days ago,” said Captain Lucas Spellman with CAL FIRE Riverside. “Back in 1976-77 we had a drought that is equal to this time, then in 1978 we had a very bad fire season. As you know, history repeats itself so we are just looking at the fuels the way they are, acting like they are at the end of the fire season instead of the beginning. You can imagine how bad they will be come September, October and November when the Santa Ana winds really kick in. It’s going to be so much worse because the fuel is just so dry right now.”

According to the state’s final snow survey on May 1 the statewide snowpack water content is only 18 percent of normal. Since January CAL FIRE has responded to over 1,200 wildfires, nearly triple the number of fires in the same time period in 2013 and more than double the average year for the same time period. The average is fewer than 600 wildfires according to a press release issued by the agency.

CAL FIRE is reminding Californians that when it comes to wildfires, to remember “Ready, Set, Go!” Being ready for a wildfire starts by maintaining 100 feet of defensible space and hardening homes with fire resistant building materials.

“If you don’t prepare your structure with defensible space it makes it very hard for us to fight the fire, especially when there is a fire in the wildland urban interface areas or those areas up in the foothills where the roads are narrower. The properties are larger and there is a lot more brush and fuel around the house,” Spellman said, noting if homes are fire ready with no nearby fuel, a home can virtually defend itself. “If you have done your due diligence by cleaning up it becomes easier for us to defend your property.”

Pimlott said with this year’s drought it is absolutely critical that residents be prepared for wildfires by ensuring they have 100 feet of defensible space around their homes.

“Most wildfires are preventable and we need residents and vacationers to be extra cautious outdoors because one less spark means one less wildfire,” Pimlott said.

As part of the Ready, Set, Go program people should have their belongings together and be ready to evacuate should the order be issued so that teams can respond and residents can get out safely.

“A lot of times people wait until the very last minute to leave their home,” said Spellman. “Then the fire engines are using the same exact streets and roads that the residents are using to leave so you can imagine the traffic problems. Sometimes people wait too long and get stuck on a road and could also perish. In those times it’s very important that they are ready, set and when it’s time to go, they go.”

Homeowners looking for additional information on how to prepare themselves, their families and their homes for wildfire can visit The site offers tips for residents to make their homes more resistant to wildfires and to ensure that their families are ready to evacuate early and safely when a wildfire strikes.

CAL FIRE recommends homeowners do the following to keep homes safe from wildfires:

* Remove all dead grass, plants, leaves, pine needles and weeds from your yard and roof tops.

* Create horizontal spacing between trees and shrubs, trim trees regularly to keep a minimum 10 feet of space between them and create spacing between them and items that could catch fire such as patio furniture or swing sets.

* Remove dead branches that hang over the roofs of homes and outbuildings. Keep 10 feet between branches and chimneys.

* Remove or prune flammable shrubs near windows.

* Remove vegetation and items that could catch fire from around and under decks.

* Relocate woodpiles at least 30 feet from residences and outbuildings unless they are completely covered in fire resistant material.

* Keep lawn heights down to a maximum of four inches.

* Mow before 10 a.m., but not if it is windy or dry.

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