The Chimney Fire of 2016: Just One of Many Large Wildfires
UPDATE: The Chimney fire is now out, but the experience is common to all who have large fires burning near them. The tips on being prepared and fire prevention won’t go out of date as individual fires come and go.
I’ve lived my entire life in California, and there have always been fires in summer and autumn. This has been true both in Southern California and here on the California Central Coast. Many of the fires were later determined to have been set by arsonists. Currently, as I type there is smoke in the air from the Chimney fire at the north end of the county, and it’s still threatening Hearst Castle in San Simeon. Here is how a sunset looks through the smoke.
The latest report an hour ago says that after burning for 14 days, the fire is now 52% contained. There are still almost 4,000 fire personnel on the scene and 324 fire engines.
The video below lets you see the fire on the first day.
On Day 9 firefighters gather near Hearst Castle and Lake Nacimiento. You can see that it takes much more than fire engines and hoses to fight a forest fire. Firefighters need helicopters, bulldozers, and many other vehicles to kill the fire and protect property. In the videos you will see many planes dropping fire retardants over the flames and bulldozers making fire breaks.
Not too far north of the Chimney fire is the Carmel Garrapata Soberanes fire in Monterey County. It was too close for comfort to a rental property we have in Carmel Valley. Fortunately for us, our tenants did not have to evacuate, but they did have to be ready to. I get the latest fire information on the Cal Fires website, which also links to the fire maps showing the progress of the fires and their containment. You can also find road closure and evacuation information there.
These fires are only two threatening Californians all over the state now. Drought conditions have made California a tinderbox.
A Fire Too Close For Comfort
When I lived in Ventura County, we once had a fire burning only a couple of miles from our home. Our area was less developed then, and we had more open space surrounding our tract. I can’t remember when this fire occurred, but it was probably in the late 1980’s. We could see the smoke getting closer and closer, and we began to collect anything important to have close at hand should we need to evacuate. Fortunately, it didn’t come to that, but when you live in California, you always live with the knowledge that a fire might someday consume your home. This is especially true if you live in an area that is mountainous with lots of brush around you. These are usually areas where only the wealthy can afford to buy homes — areas like Bel Air, Brentwood, and the hills around Santa Barbara and Los Angeles.
If a fire begins to burn in your area and you anticipate you might need to evacuate, you can find information on how to get ready to evacuate here.
Pack Yourself an Emergency Preparedness Kit Before You Need It.
If you are told to evacuate for any reason, you need to be ready to take what you need to survive. It’s a good idea to keep important documents like car pink slips, property deeds, insurance policies, copies of your tax returns for the past three years, and other important papers you don’t need to have with you at all times, in a safe deposit box at the bank, except when you actually need to use them. When you are finished using them, put them back. Then you won’t have to worry about what will happen to them in the case of burglary, fires, flood, or earthquake. Be sure to take the key when you evacuate.
Here are some other things you should take with you.
- Important contact information — family, friends, doctors, insurance providers, etc.
- The key to your safe deposit box.
- Medical insurance cards, cash, credit cards
- Copies of important documents
- An emergency supply of food and water — enough to last three days. Food should be as ready to eat as possible and non-perishable. Be sure to include a can opener, bottle opener, scissors, and anything else you need to make use of the food.
- A Swiss Army knife
- Basic First Aid supplies and any medications you need to take.
- Flashlight and Batteries or a solar-powered radio/flashlight you can also recharge by hand cranking.
- Hygiene products, including your toothbrush, comb, sanitary supplies, and anything else you need to stay clean and healthy.
Here’s more detailed help in knowing exactly what to include in an emergency pack you make yourself. If you’d rather have someone else do the work, here are some suggested products.
American Preparedness SLING-21 64-Piece One Person Basic Emergency Preparedness Kit with Shoulder Bag />California Basics 115 Piece First Aid Kit for Home, Car, Travel, Includes Eye Wash, Cold Pack, Emergency Blanket, Earthquake Kit, EMT Approved, RedReady America 70280 Emergency Kit, 2-Person, 3-Day BackpackSafe-T-Proof Solar, Hand-Crank Emergency Radio, Flashlight, Beacon, Cell Phone ChargerMountain House, Just In Case… Classic BucketMountain House Just In Case…Breakfast Bucket
Fire Prevention Needs to Be a Way of Life In California
We need to make sure all brush is cleared from around our homes by the beginning of fire season, usually by the end of May here. It is so important it is mandated by law. Homeowners who live on large lots have to take extra precautions when the brush around them is dry from late spring until winter. Here are some things they need to do:
- Make sure there is a clear road so that emergency vehicles can access the property.
- Mark emergency water sources with signs and make sure that fire personnel can access them.
- Keep vehicle exhaust systems free of carbon build up.
- Don’t use power tools after 10 AM or on windy days.
- Keep motor vehicles on the road and don’t let them drive onto dry areas where there is dry grass or brush.
Most fires in my county are caused by motor vehicle exhaust, tow chains, power tools, illegal campfires, and arsonists. We can prevent fires with the first four causes by being careful. We may not be able to prevent arson, but we can stay alert to suspicious activities near dry brush. If you see a vehicle or person who seems out-of-place in an area prone to fire, take a photo of the license plate and vehicle or person and note the location in case any fires start in that region. At least you might help catch the arsonist.
Has your home ever been threatened by fire? Have you ever lost a home to fire? Feel free to share your experiences in a comment below.