Monday, June 13, 2011

More fire ramblings

Today I posted a comment on Rourke's site  He was writing about the fire in Arizona.  I've written numerous posts on fires and other natural disasters.  It's part of my professional life so I am very free with providing comments, especially when it comes to wildlands and what can happen to you there. 

On the Wallow fire, the biggest fire that's happening in Arizona now (and it's looking pretty good although the report says 10% contained).  Not including the land and trees that have burned, the fire put about 4500 buildings (commercial, homes, outbuildings) at risk.  They have less than 350 engines on that fire.  There are about 4000 people assigned to the fire, but only 350 engines.  Normally you'd want one engine per house.  That's not happening. 

They do draw a really big circle around the fire and projected fire perimeter and add up all the structures to give a threatened number.  In the past few years the agencies have all done that.  In that way they can say yes the fire cost $10,000,000 to fight but if you add up the value of the structures saved it was well worth the cost.  The same is done with timberland.  They add up the value of the commercial timber to give a comparison of how much was saved vs how much was lost. 

So if a fire is coming your way, should you stay or should you go?  That will all depend on what is surrounding your home and property and what materials your home is constructed with.  Is your home worth protecting or should you just evacuate and take some of your stuff?  This question does not have anything to do with the value of the home.  If you think about it, someone in a million dollar home probably has good insurance but someone in a broken down motor home on an acre in the middle of nowhere may have nothing but what's in that motorhome.  In the fire department's view, is it worth protecting?  It depends on how safe it can be for the firefighters to protect it.  That's the question that needs to be answered. 

How do they figure out where they can protect and where they can't?  There are never enough fire engines to put one engine per house for protection on anything other than the smallest incident.  We all know that we need to keep the area around the house clear of "ladder" fuels which will carry fire up to the treetops and keep flammable items away from the buildings.  But there is so much more to evaluating which home is protected and which isn't. 

Unfortunately, for those who want to keep their homes invisible from the road, this may be the exact reason why your home will not be protected.  I just read on Survivalblog that the best way to keep your house looking like nobody is there is to keep the brush not cleared, to have junk laying around, and to not have the roof cleared of debris, stuff like that.  That's great if the SHTF in some governmental breakdown and mobs of people are coming your way.  It's the worst possible thing if you want to protect your house from wildfire. 
What is the road like to your house?  It's not just getting an engine down your road or down the driveway but is there turn around space?  Is the road more than one vehicle wide?  How steep is the road or even the driveway? 

Are trees overhanging your house?  Do you have a wood deck surrounding your house?  What's the roof made of?  Are brush and plants growing near the house?  What's the topography of the area?  Are you in an area where a fire can come roaring up a chimney?  Are you in a box canyon?  What's the slope?  Are the winds going to be erratic or will the heat be overwhelming due to your location?

Do you have a water source that the engine can use?  During the Jesusita fire in Santa Barbara I told my brother to put a big sign in front of his property: 50,000 gallon water source behind the fence.  Having a pool of that size will ensure that engines and water tankers will pump from the pool.  More protection for his house!

 Remember, the firefighters are going to put their safety first.  It's more important than your property.

I've seen plenty of burned homes.  I've seen metal sheds melt.   I've also seen plenty that have weathered the firestorm.   I've seen rock homes with metal roofs survive.  Most likely if you've prepared your property to make it firesafe, the fire isn't going to come right up to your house.  It will probably be set afire by cinders flying through the air like rain.  When these land on your roof, your wood patio, or get sucked up into your attic you are in trouble.  If you have water available, even without power and you keep your roof watered with sprinklers then it will have a chance. 

1 comment:

  1. In 1980 my home was threatened by the Panorama Fire in Southern California. I spotted a very small fire on the hills above the city at about 11 AM. By 1:00 PM the fire was quite extensive. By about 2:00 PM I decided to leave work and get my kids out of school and get some clothes from the house. By 3:00 the fire had traveled several miles and heavy smoke was overhead at my home and ash falling like snow. I got out with my kids and some necessities and spent the evening at a friends. But with no sleeping accomodations at about 2:00 AM we decided to try to get back home. In the night we could see where the fire was and it had more or less passed the area where my home was. When I got near home all the streets were blocked and they weren't letting anyone in. But I guess I knew the side streets better then the police and found a way past them. There was a fire truck in almost every driveway and parked as far as the eye could see up the main road. Somehow they got close to 500 fire trucks into the area in 14 hours or so. My house was still there, thank you firemen!!!