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The Northern California Wildfires and How to Prepare for Similar Disasters

A+fire+burns+along+a+ridge+during+the+California+wildfires+Oct.+12%2C+2017+in+Rough+and+Ready%2C+California.+The+9th+Civil+Engineer+Squadron+sent+a+four-man+team+as+a+part+of+the+initial+response+to+work+with+local+civil+authorities+to+combat+the+fires.%28Courtesy+photo%29
A fire burns along a ridge during the California wildfires Oct. 12, 2017 in Rough and Ready, California. The 9th Civil Engineer Squadron sent a four-man team as a part of the initial response to work with local civil authorities to combat the fires.(Courtesy photo)

A fire burns along a ridge during the California wildfires Oct. 12, 2017 in Rough and Ready, California. The 9th Civil Engineer Squadron sent a four-man team as a part of the initial response to work with local civil authorities to combat the fires.(Courtesy photo)

A fire burns along a ridge during the California wildfires Oct. 12, 2017 in Rough and Ready, California. The 9th Civil Engineer Squadron sent a four-man team as a part of the initial response to work with local civil authorities to combat the fires.(Courtesy photo)

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Kyla Giffin | Editor-in-Chief

October 8, 2017, marked the beginning of a series of vicious wildfires that would rip through the Napa and Sonoma counties of northern California. They have consumed tens of thousands of acres in several instances, to name the Tubbs Fire, as one example—described by The New York Times as being “the most destructive wildfire in state history, as well as one of the deadliest”—in which 36,390 acres went up in flames. And, in a more recent and local, albeit smaller, event, 118 acres were burned in the Fallon Fire in Dublin.

But it is not merely land that is being lost and put in danger—according to CBS News, as of October 20, close to 7,000 buildings have been destroyed, and 42 people killed.

In the midst of these disasters, residents of Livermore and the rest of northern California have more than enough just cause to wonder if they need to be prepared for such a fire to strike, and if so, how to be prepared.

Tracy Hein, the Emergency Preparedness Manager of the Livermore-Pleasanton Fire Department, is “responsible for the Disaster Preparedness Programs in the cities of Livermore and Pleasanton. This involves such things as training City staff on their roles and responsibilities following a disaster, plan development and public education.” Hein “also manage[s] the Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) Program. CERT members take a course put on by LPFD where they learn basic disaster response skills.”

A California Army National Guard crew chief watches from a hovering UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter as water is released from a bucket firefighting system onto a wild fire around the northern California fires near Santa Rosa, Calif., Oct. 12, 2017
Credit: California National Guard

Hein believes in the importance of preparing for a disaster because, “First and foremost, preparing could mean the difference between life and death. There are not enough first responders to address all the immediate needs during and/or following a disaster. By taking time to prepare it means that you are less likely to be one of the victims that first responders may or may not be able to get to.”

She continued, “Disasters can, and will, be devastating. Tragically, some people who took the time to prepare still lost their homes in the recent fires. But by having taken the time to prepare, they are much more likely to get their lives back in some semblance of order and normalcy much sooner than those who did not prepare.”

Despite the enormity of these wildfires, Hein said that the cause of them, and whether or not Livermore will be affected, are uncertain points, but “there are a lot of other factors that come into play…such as heat, wind direction and amount of ‘fuel’ (thing[s] that can catch fire). People should have 100 feet of ‘defensible space’ around their homes. This means cleaning away all debris, vegetation, and combustibles.”

“One cannot predict fires, but they can happen at any time,” Hein explained. “There is limited wildland/urban interface (unoccupied land that comes right up against the housing) in this area. That type of interface was just part of the problem as it related to significant damage in northern California, and Santa Rosa in particular.”  

But even if the origins and the extent to which these wildfires may spread across northern California may fall prey to guesswork, that does not take away from the importance of being prepared, should a similar disaster creep into our neighborhoods.

What we do know is that these fires have contributed to an immense amount of smoke in the air over Livermore and nearby cities, to which Hein remarked, “It is never good to breath smoke and can be especially problematic for those who have pre-existing respiratory conditions, such as asthma. It is recommended that you stay indoors, out of the smoke. Athletic practice and scheduled outdoor events are often cancelled when there is significant smoke in the air.”

Going further intro disaster preparation, Hein said, “We tend to focus on educating people to be prepared for an earthquake because if you are prepared for an earthquake you are likely prepared for any other type of disaster,” as “[an] earthquake can cause fires, flooding, etc.”

Her advice was “that people be prepared to be on their own following a disaster for at least five to seven days. This means having food, water, and other supplies necessary to take care of themselves and their families. I would recommend people go to www.ready.gov for a complete list of supplies and information about preparing for a disaster.”

A view of scorched houses, buildings and a park in Santa Rosa, Calif., Oct. 13, 2017, one of the hardest hit areas during the northern California fires
Credit: California National Guard

Hein added on, “An important thing to consider for fires is what ten things would they take if they only had ten minutes to evacuate.  If possible, they should gather those things in a go bag that they can just grab as they leave.  If it includes things that they like to display in some way (don’t want to store it in a bag) they need to know exactly where it is so they can grab it quickly without delaying their evacuation.”

As a another tip, Hein advised, “You should also know more than one way out of your neighborhood.  When we leave our neighborhoods, we tend to go the same way every time.  If we can’t get out our usual way, we need to know an alternative way…both by car and by foot.”

Knowing that, in an emergency, people will likely be struggling to figure out what to do or what to bring, Hein believes it to be a significant reminder that “if you are ordered to evacuate [then] evacuate….If you are being told to evacuate it means that your life is in danger.”

Because, said Hein, “Nothing is more valuable than a human life.”

Header Credit: California National Guard. A fire burns out of control along a ridge during the California wildfires in Rough and Ready, Calif., Oct. 12, 2017.

3 Comments

3 Responses to “The Northern California Wildfires and How to Prepare for Similar Disasters”

  1. Myah Bullis on November 15th, 2017 10:48 am

    During this reading you realize just how severe these situations can be. My heart truly goes out to the fire victims there is really no amount of money to be given that could ever stick back together the memories burned down. This article really puts you in the moment and how the survivors must be feeling. All in all, my heart goes out to the fire victims and to those who wrote the article thank you for the information.

  2. Kylie LAbbe on November 15th, 2017 11:39 am

    This article is very helpful. Many students, and parents, don’t know how they should even begin to prepare for a wild fire. This also helps spread awareness for people who have little knowledge on the wild fires. I think people that read this will not only learn about the fires but they also will know what to expect if one comes to their home. I’m glad this article is here because now people will be more aware of what is going on.

  3. Adithi on November 17th, 2017 9:12 am

    These natural disasters are always terrifying as their so close to home and we all have close family and friends who live near the area of the wildfires. There are ways to be prepared ,but there is nothing that can really prepare you for the complications that arise if the fire hits your home. No one really expects them to be on the front page of a newspaper for losing their home because of a wildfire. All we can do is go over procedures to follow in case it does happen to you and hope that nothing will happen to you or your family

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