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Keeping Safe During Wildland Fire Season

Posted on 07/15/16

By: John Pacheco

Keeping Safe during Wildland Fire Season
The recent Sage Wildland Fire that started up in Stevenson’s Ranch serves as a potent reminder that we are in Fire Season here in Southern California and the residents who live near our hillside areas need to be on special alert.
Many Sylmar residents still recall with alarm the devastation caused by the Sayre Fire in 2008. Our hearts and prayers go to the residents of Santa Clarita impacted by the recent Wildfire in their community. Given the fact that fire season is now well under way, the Sylmar Neighborhood Council would like to remind residents of steps they can take to reduce the potential impact of a Wildfire in our community.
Steps to Take Before the Next Wildfire
The Los Angeles City Fire Department gives the following advice to residents:
•Create a defensible space around your home. Fire personnel at both the Sage and more recent Sherwood Fire in Thousand Oaks; attribute their success in structure protection to residents who met the code for brush clearance. That code tells us that all grass and weeds within 200 feet of a structure to be maintained at maximum height of 3 inches.
•Keep brush/shrubs trimmed up from the ground ? their height and have a minimum separation of 18 feet from any structure and other native shrubs.
•Keep plants and shrubs 10 feet away from a combustible fence or roadway edge and maintain all grass and weeds within 10 feet of a combustible fence or edge of roadway to a maximum height of 3 inches.
•Keep tree branches at 5 feet away from any roof surface and 10 feet from the chimney.
•Even though you live a few streets back from the hillside remember that burning embers can travel over a mile from the site of a fire therefore keep the roof and gutters free of debris and keep yard free of hazards. With current watering restrictions I know it’s hard to keep all our shrubs and trees well hydrated. Consider some landscaping changes that reduce your watering needs and allow you to keep those plants and trees near structures well-watered. If landscaping changes are possible, consider changing out plants and shrubs for ones that that resist fire.
For specific brush clearance requirements visit the LA City Fire Department website; or follow this link:
If There Are Reports of a Wildfire in Your Area
•Be ready to leave at a moment’s notice. During fire season you need to be alert to your surroundings. Stay informed when any fire is occurring and remember that fire can spread quickly in windy conditions that we often experience in the summer. Even without the assistance of “Santa Ana Winds” firestorms can create their own dangerous winds that can spread burning embers miles away from the main fire.
•Listen to local radio and television stations for updated emergency information. Know where family members are on high hazard days and all family members should be alert to changing fire conditions. Consider installing Pulse Point on you cellular device. It is free from LA City Fire and gives real time updates on Fire Department activity.
•Plan and practice two ways out of your neighborhood in case of an evacuation and the primary route is blocked. All family members should know where you will meet if evacuated and just like for other disasters, all family members should have a contact number for someone who is out of the area to connect with if local phone lines are not working. Make a plan now for where you will evacuate to and communicate this information to all members of your family.
•Listen and watch for air quality reports and health warnings about smoke and if needed keep indoor air clean by closing windows and doors to prevent outside smoke from getting in. If smoke levels rise, use the recycle or re-circulate mode on the air conditioner in your home or car. If you do not have air conditioning and it is too hot to stay inside with closed windows, seek shelter elsewhere.
•If you have asthma or another lung disease, follow your health care provider's advice and seek medical care if your symptoms worsen.
•If you live in an area that might require an evacuation, take the time now to consider what you would want to take with you if an evacuation order is made. Many of us had less than 30 minutes to evacuate after the last fire. Trying to decide what to take when you have 30 minutes to decide is not a good idea. That decision should be made now.
•Put together a “Bug Out Kit” with supplies you would need if you are not able to return to your home for a few days, include food and water, change of clothes, flashlight & radio with extra batteries, extra medication and extra cash.
•Have on hand copies of personal documents (medication list and pertinent medical information, deed/lease to home, birth certificates, and insurance policies) that can be easily collected and taken with you before you leave your home.
•Consider what personal items like, photo albums, home videos, irreplaceable family mementos and other items like personal computers you want to save. These items should be pre-identified so that all family members know what and where these items are located. A good idea is to create a list the next time you get together with your family so that everyone has a chance to list their important items. Remember you may be away from home when an evacuation order is given and another family member might have to take responsibility for getting important items out of the house.
•If you or a loved one has mobility issues that would impede their getting out, make a plan now to get help evacuating.
•Don’t forget your pets in your planning. Confine pets to one room so that you can find them if you need to evacuate quickly. Keep leashes handy and for cats and smaller pets have a pet carrier available. For larger animals keep informed as to the location of designated large animal shelter location, they will be announced on radio and TV.
If Ordered to Evacuate
•First, if ordered to evacuate do so immediately. Fire personnel will do their best to protect our homes and businesses and can do so more effectively if they are not hampered by residents staying in their homes or worse yet, clogging roads by not leaving when asked. We want our fire fighters to be focused on saving our homes not on having to deal with residents who need to be taken out of harm’s way.
•Always back your car into the garage or park it in an open space facing the direction of escape.
•If you have neighbors that you know would experience problems evacuating their homes let 911 know about the situation and assist them if you can do so safely. •Shelter locations will be announced on radio and TV. If you don’t have another place go to wait until the evacuation order is lifted, go there. Remember, shelters are just a temporary place to stay safe during a disaster. Don’t expect hotel-like accommodations.
•You may wish to make arrangements for temporary housing at a friend or relative’s home outside the threatened area. Consider offering them the same opportunity if they ever need to evacuate their home.
•Don‘t attempt to return home until you are advised it is safe to do so.
•For additional advice and information on what to do before, during and after a wildfire, visit or follow this link:

This information was brought to you by the Sylmar Neighborhood Council, Emergency Preparedness Committee.

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