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Threat of wildfires extreme this year

There has always been the threat of wildfire from the late spring through our first or second big storm, but with the drought, the threat has been year-round. We simply haven’t had enough rain to quench the thirst of the stressed trees and brush.

In 1961, the Harlow Fire scorched the land between Mariposa and Oakhurst on Stumpfield Mountain Road, and consumed the communities of Ahwahnee and Nipinnawasee.

It was one of the fastest moving fires ever recorded, burning three acres per second. It scorched a total of 43,329 acres, destroyed 104 structures and killed two people.

Not to sound like an alarmist, but this could happen again and the area is much more populated than in 1961.

The tree mortality and bark beetle epidemic add an additional component to fire season this year. It’s estimated that 90-98% of the Sierra will die. The dead pine needles and grass crop from this year’s rain provide a very receptive fuel bed that will easily ignite with one small spark.

Everybody needs to stay vigilant and be aware of their own actions to avoid starting a fire. Equipment use has been a major cause of wildfires. We advise people not to mow after 10 a.m., maintain their equipment, ensure a spark arrestor is present on gas-powered equipment and be aware of hot exhaust, mufflers and powerheads.

Towing trailers without having the safety chains secured and allowing the chains to drag has been known to start many multiple fires along the road. Everybody needs to be on the lookout.

A majority of fires in California, 90%, are human caused. The majority of these fires are caused by operating equipment incorrectly, without the proper clearance, and/or at the wrong time of day.

While fires are inevitable, there are things residents can do to help themselves and their homes survive a wildfire. Hardening their home and maintaining the 100-foot clearance around them is the first defense against a wildfire.

Removing thick vegetation, keeping grass short, removing dead trees and getting adequate spacing between bushes and trees will help slow the intensity of the fire as it approaches the home. It will also help keep firefighters safe and make defense of the structure more successful.

Hardening the home involves using noncombustible materials for siding, eaves and soffits, roofing, and decking, and making sure metal mesh is present over vents and gutters.

Pre-planning for an evacuation is extremely helpful. There are steps that make the process quick if homeowners are organized. Residents should make an evacuation checklist of important things they would like to take with them.

Include items such as critical medications, personal papers, photos, pets, pet supplies etc. It’s always a good idea to have a fireproof safe for critical papers. Plan escape routes and drive them on occasion to make sure the road is passable and always have a second way out.

The terms voluntary and mandatory are used to describe evacuation orders. All evacuation instructions provided by officials should be followed immediately. If the homeowner is advised that an evacuation is a possibility, they should locate their evacuation checklist and place the items in the car.

Locate all pets and keep them nearby. Prepare farm animals for transport. Place connected garden hoses around the house and move propane BBQ appliances away from structures. Leave the lights on in the house, doors unlocked, windows closed and air conditioning off.

Officials will determine when it’s safe for homeowners to return home. Once home, residents need to stay alert for downed power lines and other hazards, check their propane tanks, regulators, and lines before turning any gas on and carefully check the residence for hidden embers or smoldering fires.

What follows is a Cal Fire checklist as a reminder to all Mountain Area residents:

*  Use equipment to clear defensible space on your property before 10 a.m. when it gets too hot and too dry.

*  Remove rocks and old barbed wire before you operate equipment. Hidden rocks and wire can spark fires when struck by a metal blade.

*  Properly maintain and clean your equipment before you use it. Dry grass buildup on your equipment in or near the hot exhaust/muffler, or around the blades can and will cause wildfires.

*  When towing trailers, be sure the safety chains are not dragging on the ground. They will create sparks that can ignite multiple fires along the road.

*  Public Resource Code (PRC) 4427b requires anyone operating mechanical equipment, that may cause a spark, to have a tool and water source available.

Once a fire ignites its behavior depends on three factors: fuel (grass, brush, trees, home), weather, and topography (the lay of the land).

One factor residents can control is the amount and arrangement of the fuel. Public Resource Code (PRC) 4291 requires all homeowners to maintain 100 feet of clearance around their home. It’s a proven fact that by following established Fire Safety measures, homeowners can help to protect the future of their homes and families:

*  Clearance between shrubs and trees should be 4 to 40 feet depending on the slope of the land, size and type of vegetation.

For more information, visit ReadyForWildfire.org, which has helpful tools to ensure your defensible space and make your property ready for fire season.

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