Wildfires happen. Are you prepared?

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Our respite from the seasonal dangers of wildfire here in the region is coming to an end. With temperatures climbing, relative humidity lowering, and afternoon winds blowing across Lake Tahoe, the basin will become susceptible to wildfire.

This year’s Lake Tahoe Wildfire Awareness Month theme is, “Wildfires Happen: Is your community prepared?” It’s a question we all need to ask ourselves.

Once a fire starts, it’s too late to start preparing. So, prepare now and practice often. Have a family meeting and get everyone on the same page. Because when the flames are racing toward you or somebody is knocking on your door telling you to evacuate, you won’t have time to think. You may very well be running for your life.

Prepare an emergency kit

Prepare an emergency kit or what we call a GO Bag ready and waiting. Pack financial documents, insurance documents, medications, water, flashlights, radio and pet essentials. Having your GO Bag ready will save you precious time.

Tahoe Fire and Fuels Team has compiled the information you need to complete an evacuation tool kit. This Web site houses great resources to help you put together your family wildfire action plan. | tahoelivingwithfire.info

Download the Red Cross Emergency and First Aid apps, and read their tips for preparing for an emergency.

Defensible space

Now let’s talk defensible space. Your property has a much better chance of surviving a wildfire by creating defensible space.

Here are a few simple rules of thumb:

  • Ensure there are no combustible materials within 5 feet of the house.
  • From 5 feet to 30 feet, have a zone that’s lean, clean, and green. This is the area that typically makes up a residential landscape. Maintain this area with very little combustible material.
  • Rake pine needles and keep landscaped areas moist.
  • Clear dead vegetation away from homes and out to the property line.
  • Shrubs and trees should be thinned, creating a safe separation of space around plants and trees.
  • Work with neighbors to ensure defensible space between adjacent properties.

Remember, trees less than 14 inches in diameter don’t need a permit to be cut. You can also remove low-hanging branches and clear shrubs under trees that create a ladder for flames to climb. If you still have questions about defensible space, most fire districts will provide a free defensible space evaluation for your house.

Think about asking your neighbors to band together to join the Tahoe Network of Fire Adapted Communities. Tahoe Resource Conservation District sponsors this program and works with neighbors and local fire agencies to create communities that can be defended against fire.

Power outages

Another new reality for which we must prepare is that public utility companies such as PG&E, Liberty Utilities and NV Energy will increasingly be cutting power to customers during extreme weather events. High winds and dangerously dry conditions may prompt the National Weather Service to issue red-flag fire warnings.

This means conditions for explosive wildfire growth exist and that utility companies may proactively turn off the power. This is known as de-energization or Public Safety Power Shutoff. Utilities will attempt to give customers notice through social media and local news outlets, but again its incumbent to have a proper plan in place. Most importantly, make sure your contact information is up-to-date with local utilities, so they can notify you about potential power shutoffs. | prepareforpowerdown.com

Prevent wildfires

Did you know that most wildfires are caused by human activity? Lawn equipment, debris burning, target shooting and vehicles can all cause sparks that may ignite a wildfire when used under the wrong conditions.

Lawn mowers, weed-eaters, chain saws, grinders, welders, tractors and trimmers can all spark a wildland fire when used during hot, dry and windy weather. This type of equipment should be operated before 10 a.m. when the humidity is higher and never when it’s excessively dry, hot and/or windy.

Residential burning is only allowed under specific conditions and in certain areas with a valid permit. Check with local fire districts to determine if burning is allowed in your area and if restrictions are in place.

Target shooting under hot, dry conditions can spark a fire. When target shooting, choose an area free of dry vegetation and avoid shooting on hot, windy days. Use proper targets, such as clay pigeons and avoid shooting at metal targets or rocks.

Vehicles should be properly maintained with nothing dragging on the ground. Dragging chains or any other type of metal can cause sparks that may ignite a wildfire. Practice proper towing by using appropriate safety devices and hitches that secure chains or other equipment. Avoid driving or parking on dry vegetation because hot exhaust pipes, mufflers and catalytic converters may ignite grasses and other vegetation. Properly maintain brakes and tires as exposed wheel rims and brakes worn too thin can cause sparks. | fireadaptednetwork.org