A wildfire is an unplanned and uncontrolled fire typically burning in a natural area such as a forest, brushland, grassland, prairie, or other regions with combustible wildland vegetation.
The devastation and disruption that a wildfire can cause are so severe that they can affect human settlement, communications, transportation, power, gas services, water supply, and overall health with the decrease in air quality. In some extreme cases, it could also cause the loss of human lives. Circumstances like these could potentially result in a wildfire lawsuit.
This article reviews some best practices and provides fire information to better prepare you for wildfire season.
California Wildfires Through the Years
California’s geography makes it prone to wildland fire, given its landscape and hot and dry climate during summer, the perfect combination for ignition. In 2022 alone, there have already been more than 3,000 fires recorded in the state of California. Even the San Francisco Bay Area has experienced quite an active summer season this year, with small wildfires erupting almost daily.
So far this year, the largest one is the Mosquito Fire that burned in the Sierra Nevada, affected homes by the east Sacramento hillock, and burned structures on Volcanoville Road. It began near the Oxbow Reservoir at the Tahoe National Forest and was contained after more than six weeks, according to the U.S. Forest Service.
There is also the Mill Fire that started near an old lumber mill in Siskiyou County, in the town of Weed, in Northern California. According to the county sheriff’s office, two casualties occurred in the Mill Fire incident.
It is becoming worse in recent years as nine of the ten largest fires since 1932 happened in the past ten years. This includes two of the largest wildfires in California, the Dixie fire in 2021 and the August Complex fire in 2020, which burned around 1 million acres of land each.
While climate change, the summer heatwave and public utility negligence could be blamed for starting many of these blazes, human activities like leaving a campfire unattended may also cause devastating wildfires to spread.
This happened in the 2020 El Dorado Fire, where the fire started from a colored smoke-generating pyrotechnic device used at a gender reveal party. The California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, known as Cal Fire, noted that 7,000 acres of land in Southern California were burned.
Two more recent wildfires that resulted in fatalities, personal injuries, and destruction of properties are the McKinney Fire and the Fairview Fire of 2022.
How to Prepare for a Wildfire
It is difficult to predict when a fire incident will ignite. If you live near fire-prone areas of the state, the best practice is to ready yourself, your family, and your properties.
Here are ways to prepare for a wildfire:
Schedule a Fire Inspection
Before the fire season, you should have your property assessed by the local fire department for its level of severity as a fire hazard. If you live in a more at-risk community, perform an inspection even without prior request.
Some of the things that your local inspector may look for are the following:
Trees and bushes
If you have giant trees on your property with branches that could hang above the roof of your house or touch any part of it, especially the chimney, you should address this and ensure a 10-foot gap between your house and tree crowns. Trees are a wildfire risk because they are highly combustible during the dry season, especially during a drought. Keeping them away from your house can prevent fire activity from spreading.
You should also pay attention to the vertical separation between the ground, the dead branches, and the dangling limbs of trees and bushes. Fires could also start on the ground and work their way up through the dry extremities.
Grass and weeds
Overgrown vegetation can also be a hazard, according to fire officials. Fires that start from the ground or a tree can creep through dry grass, consequently spreading through hundreds and thousands of acres of land. Ensuring that grass is fresh to prevent ground erosion and cutting them to no more than 6 inches tall could help limit the chances of them being sources of ignition.
Roofs and gutters
Roofs and gutters collect dead leaves, branches, pine needles, and other combustible objects. Clear these areas of debris that may start a fire with extreme heat. But it’s even better to install mechanisms to keep tree debris from accumulating in your house’s roofs and gutters to decrease wildfire risk.
If you have wooden fences, give them some attention, too. Steer clear of any vegetation, like tree branches, vines, shrubs, weeds, and grass, that touch them as they could be flammable when dry. This could spread quickly through your wooden fences and keep you trapped during a wildfire.
Firewood and other combustible materials
Store firewood in an accessible place in the house. Put it on a balcony, in the basement, or under a deck for use in the winter. However, as summer approaches, fireproof your home by storing your firewood and other combustible materials, such as papers, haystacks, and other rubbish, at least 20 feet away from your property.
Access to fire hydrants
Finally, check if you have quick access to fire hydrants and make sure that there is nothing that can easily catch fire blocking your access to them should a wildfire start to spread.
Create a Defensible Space
Homeowners in some areas located in wildfire-prone prone regions, and thus are within the California State Responsibility Area (SRA), are legally mandated to comply with the statewide Defensible Space Law. According to Cal Fire, this law requires homeowners to create a 100-feet buffer, or “defensible space,” that is cleared of vegetation and other combustible materials near their properties and is maintained to lower the risk of catching fire.
This 100-feet defensible space is divided into three zones, each with recommendations on maintaining and keeping fire-free.
Zone 0 is the first five feet from your building or habitable structure, including its surfaces. This is also called the “Ember-Resistant Zone.” As this is the area closest to your house, it may include your other possessions like outdoor furniture, the patio or porch and its furnishing, exterior coverings, and some plants and landscaping elements.
This makes it most vulnerable and may need to be more regularly and aggressively maintained to be freed from combustible materials.
Zone 1 is called the “Lean, Clean, and Green Zone” and extends from your building’s exterior walls to the property line 30 feet away.
This area aims to spread the vegetation around the building perimeters, providing adequate spacing in between, get rid of dry weed and plant debris, and keep plants, trees, and grass fresh and irrigated, making the area lean, clean, and green. This could then help prevent fire from creeping through the property.
Zone 2 is the rest of the area up to 100 feet away from the structure, otherwise known as the “Reduce Fuel Zone.”
Only some properties have a 100-ft zone or more around the habitable structure. In this case, the priority is executing the instructions under Zones 0 and 1, then collaborating with your neighbors to maximize your individual efforts.
However, large properties covered by Zone 2 guidelines need to minimize vegetation density by thinning and pruning trees, mowing grass, cutting shrubs, trimming bushes, and providing adequate horizontal and vertical space between them. This allows for a safe evacuation and emergency access should a California fire spread and reach the property.
Preparing to Evacuate
Sometimes, no matter how prepared you think you are, you may still panic when active fires ignite near your area. During this time, it becomes very important to remember the following emergency fire safety response guidelines even before receiving evacuation orders to survive.
Inside the House
As soon as you detect wildfire smoke from afar, make sure to perform the following steps to minimize the damage the fire may cause to your property:
- Avoid sparks from blowing inside the house by closing all windows and doors.
- If you have curtains or drapes that are not fire-resistant, take them down. Otherwise, close them properly to block heat radiating through the windows.
- Keep furniture away from glass partitions, windows, and doors, so they don’t ignite from the heat.
- Fill buckets, bathtubs, sinks, and other containers with water. Fire responders can use these as water sources.
- Remember to shut off gas valves in the kitchen or inside the house.
- Keep the lights turned on in all rooms, including the outdoor areas, so fire officials can easily spot them even when enveloped with heavy smoke.
- Prevent fire from quickly spreading from room to room by closing all doors inside the house.
Outside the House
Creating a defensible space is only the first step in ensuring that you minimize the damage brought by the wildfire on your property and possessions. However, follow these steps to fireproof your property outside your house further.
- If you have outdoor furniture, move them either away from the house or to an indoor area that can be sealed closed so it does not catch fire.
- Cover any opening to the house, even the smallest ones, such as the eave and sub-floor vents, to keep sparks from blowing into areas that are hard to find.
- Garden hoses can be attached to faucet spigots, and trash cans and buckets can be filled with water for easier access for firefighters.
- Water sources, such as a portable pump or emergency generator that can supply water from a swimming pool or tank, should be marked so fire responders can easily see them.
- Leave lawn sprinklers on if there is an imminent threat to the property. If not, ensure that sprinklers are strategically located primarily in hard-to-reach areas like the roof and leave them closed to avoid reducing the water supply of the fire officials.
If you have pet animals, make sure you know where to find them and keep them somewhere you can quickly locate them should you need to evacuate as soon as you see wildfire smoke from a distance.
Farm animals may also be transported and relocated to a safer location as they may be in danger of being on dry, hot ground. Make sure you have a safety and evacuation plan before fire weather comes and prepare them for transfer should a fire incident in your property ensue.
If You’re the Victim of a Wildfire, Speak to the Experts at Frantz Law Group
After a thorough inspection and fireproofing of your properties, creating a defensible space, and doing all the necessary steps to prepare to evacuate, you should be able to minimize casualty and destruction of your property and possessions.
However, suppose a wildfire in your area has caused significant disruption and devastation in your life that caused you to evacuate or lose your property and possessions. In that case, the California wildfire attorneys at Frantz Law Group can assist you by providing representation.
To date, Frantz Law Group has led and co-counseled the litigation of some of Southern and Northern California’s largest wildfires and has collected over $15.5 billion in damages. Apart from this, our wildfire lawyers have broad experience handling cases of negligence among public utilities, resulting in damage to property, personal injury, and even death.
If you have experienced these devastating consequences of a California wildfire, speak to our expert wildfire attorneys for a free consultation.