In 2007, a fire started by downed power lines and driven by 60-80 miles-per-hour wind, swept through Malibu. The Sheriffs’ Department came to our home at 4:30 AM and told us we had 15 minutes to evacuate. If it happens to you, I guarantee you, you will not be thinking clearly. You will be frantic getting your spouse, children, pets, and maybe Aunt Millie’s picture into the car and out of the neighborhood. Fortunately, even in the most serious circumstances, you should have more than 15 minutes notice, and there are some simple things you should do.
First, understand how fire protection works. If fire weather has been predicted, Fire crews may be predeployed, which means they will be somewhere nearby, ready to respond. They are divided up into “strike teams” each of which consists of five engines, four men to an engine, and a battalion chief or some other officer in command. Strike teams are going to be doing several things at once. Along with other fire crews, they are going to be trying to stop or divert an oncoming fire and, as it nears homes, they will be engaged in “structure protection,” trying to prevent your home from burning down.
If there are strong winds, there may be little they can do but get out of the way. If there is a possibility of defense, they will try. One engine or more may be on your street, ready to defend nearby homes. This means 4, maybe 8 or 12, firefighters might have to defend your entire street. If they must to decide which homes to protect, they will pick the ones which are most accessible.
Make it easy for the firefighters to defend your home. Here is a list of things you must do before you evacuate:
First – leave the gates to your yard unlocked. Leave your driveway gate open. I have watched firefighters using rotary saws, heavy bolt cutters and crowbars trying to gain access to yards and driveways. If there are several homes to defend, they may not have the time to cut their way into your yard and may move on to the next house. Don’t let your automatic driveway gate roll closed behind you.
Keep the doors and windows to the garage and house itself closed, to prevent any wind blown embers from entering. Leave the doors unlocked in case fire personnel have to enter to gain access to a rear deck or other area.
Leaving open access to your property is critical. Of all the instructions concerning fire protection, this is the least mentioned, and one of the most important.
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