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Being wildfire ready should be a way of life in Southern California


Last updated 8/6/2021 at 2:26pm

Kim Harris

Managing Editor

The governors of California and Nevada called for more federal firefighting assistance last week as they toured the region blackened by the lightning-sparked Tamarack Fire, one of several massive wildfires that have destroyed dozens of homes.

Battling multiple large-scale fires with limited resources, the U.S. Forest Service decided in early July to let dozens of lightning fires burn, including the Tamarack Fire. This is something that could have been avoided had firefighters not been stretched so thin due to the large numbers of fires which are spreading earlier in the season due to hotter temperatures and drier weather.

The U.S. Forest Service manages the majority of wildfire-prone land in California. Gov. Gavin Newsom said the agency is understaffed, underfunded and in need of major changes.

“The world is radically changing as the climate changes. You may not believe in science, you got it with your own damn eyes,” Newsom said, gesturing toward the blackened landscape.

As the risk of wildfires grows, it is important to be wildfire ready and everything from creating defensible space around a home to creating a wildfire action plan, including plans for evacuation can help residents be ready should a wildfire occur.

A good place to start is at the website,, where readers can download Cal Fire’s Ready for Wildfire app. The app includes checklists with steps for everything from defensible space to evacuation plans, wildfire texts and push notifications and a fire map showing all active fires within the area.

Defensible Space

According to Cal Fire, in January 2005, a state law became effective that extended the defensible space clearance around homes and structures from 30 feet to 100 feet.

“Proper clearance to 100 feet dramatically increases the chance of your house surviving a wildfire,” Cal Fire said. “This defensible space also provides for firefighter safety when protecting homes during a wildland fire.”

According to Cal Fire, the most important thing people can do is to obey this law when it comes to defensible space.

“Law requires that homeowners in SRA clear out flammable materials such as brush or vegetation around their buildings to 100 feet (or the property line) to create a defensible space buffer. This helps halt the progress of an approaching wildfire and keeps firefighters safe while they defend your home,” the website reported.

Defensible space is defined as the property’s front line of defense against wildfire. Creating and maintaining defensible space around a home can dramatically increase a home’s chance of surviving a wildfire and improves the safety of firefighters.

Defensible space is divided up into two zones. Zone 1 should be 30 feet of “Lean, Clean & Green” area. Residents should remove all dead plants, grass and weeds as well as dead or dry leaves and pine needles from the yard, roof and rain gutters. Branches should be a minimum of 10 feet away from chimneys and other trees.

Zone 2 focuses on 30 to 100 feet of reduced fuel. In this zone, residents should cut or mow annual grass down to a maximum height of 4 inches and create horizontal and vertical spacing between shrubs and trees. Residents should also create vertical spacing between grass, shrubs and trees.

Cal Fire also recommends homeowners check with their local fire station about laws since many local jurisdictions may have more stringent requirements. For example, in San Diego County, the first and second zones in defensible space are 50 feet and 50 feet, while elsewhere it’s 30 feet and 70 feet.

Other tips include mowing before 10 a.m. and never on a hot or windy day. Weed eaters or other string trimmers are always a safer option than lawnmowers for clearing vegetation.


Creating a Wildfire Action Plan will help to keep residents prepared in the event they are evacuated due to a wildfire or any emergency that requires such action. This plan should be familiar to everyone within the household and should include a designated emergency meeting area, several different escape routes and information to evacuate pets and large animals such as horses and other livestock. Be sure to practice those evacuation routes so everyone is familiar in the event of an emergency.

Designate an out-of-area friend or family member as a point of contact for family members should they become separated.

Have fire extinguishers on hand and make sure everyone knows how to use them and ensure that everyone in the family knows where the shut-off controls in the home are for gas, electric and water and how to shut them down in an emergency.

Assemble an emergency supply kit for each person and maintain a list of emergency contact numbers posted near the phone and in the emergency supply kit.

Keep an extra emergency supply kit in the car in the event that the home cannot be accessed because of fire or other emergency.

Emergency supply kits should contain a three-day supply of non-perishable food and 3 gallons of water per person, a map marked with at least two evacuation routes, prescriptions or special medications, change of clothing, extra eyeglasses or contact lenses, an extra set of car keys, credit cards, cash or traveler’s checks, first-aid kit, flashlight, battery-powered radio and extra batteries, sanitation supplies and copies of important documents such as birth certificates, passports, etc. Don’t forget food and water for any pets that will also need to be evacuated.

If time allows, take easily carried valuables, family photos and other irreplaceable items, personal computer information on hard drives and discs and chargers for cell phones, laptops or other electronic items.

Cal Fire also recommends keeping a sturdy pair of shoes and a flashlight near the bed and handy in case of a sudden evacuation at night. It is also good to keep a portable radio or scanner handy to stay updated on the fire.

Planning sheets can be downloaded from

When to evacuate

Leave as soon as evacuation is recommended by fire officials to avoid being caught in fire, smoke or road congestion. Don’t wait to be ordered by authorities to leave. Evacuating the forest fire area early also helps firefighters keep roads clear of congestion and lets them move more freely to do their job. In an intense wildfire, they will not have time to knock on every door. When advised to leave, don’t hesitate.

The terms “Voluntary” and “Mandatory” are used to describe evacuation orders; however, local jurisdictions may use other terminology such as “Precautionary” and “Immediate Threat.” These terms are used to alert residents to the significance of the danger. All evacuation instructions provided by officials should be followed immediately for residents’ safety.

Do not return to the home until fire officials determine it is safe. Notification that it is safe to return home will be given as soon as possible considering safety and accessibility.

One final note on evacuation: when told to evacuate, evacuate. Trying to save property or sheltering in place is a foolish risk that no one should take. Remember, things can be replaced, people can’t.


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