As part of its new “Wildland Fire Protection Initiative” program, the Los Angeles County Fire Department held the inaugural “Living in the Fire Zone” fire expo at the Malibu Performing Arts Center on Saturday. The event educated members of the community on how to protect themselves, and their land and homes against damage in the event of a wildfire.
L.A. County Fire Department Battalion Chief Anthony Williams explained that the program is a paradigm shift for the department.
“When we declare mandatory evacuations, we want people to leave, but we recognize people want to stay and defend their homes,” he said. “We don’t endorse or encourage they stay, but we do want to prepare them.”
The need for increased education became especially apparent after local fires, such as that in Corral Canyon last November. Homeowners from the area immediately formed the Corral Canyon Working Group in an effort improve community action response by understanding what happened during the fires. The group was joined by Fire Chief P. Michael Freeman, and soon developed the “Wildland Fire Protection Initiative” to prompt internal departmental improvements and external community outreach.
“The stay and defend concept is based on five steps to help you get ready, as well as the tools to help you make the right decision to remain at your home,” Battalion Chief Williams said, explaining the department’s new focus.
The five steps include understanding your vulnerability, preparing your land, preparing your home, preparing your wildfire action plan, and preparing your evacuation plan. As a whole, the steps stress the Fire Department’s main message: plan, prepare and practice for a wildfire.
Malibu Realtor Beverly Taki, founder of the Corral Canyon Safety Committee’s Operation Recovery, agrees that despite pressure to evacuate, many citizens will decide to stay. “Those who make the choice [to stay] need to be educated,” she said. “You have to be smart and have a plan, and as a community, we need to be more prepared to handle a disaster. Know your neighbors and be aware of your surroundings.”
Personal and environmental awareness is the main factor in making an informed decision to remain at your home during a fire.
Chief Williams explained that you must ask yourself five questions: Are you physically fit to fight small fires in and around your home for up to 10 hours or more?; Are you and your family members mentally, physically, and emotionally able to cope with the intense smoke, heat, stress, and noise of a brush fire while defending your home?; Do you have the necessary resources and equipment to effectively fight a fire?; Does your home have defensible space of at least two hundred feet, and is it cleared of flammable materials and vegetation?; Is your home constructed to resist fire?
“If you answer no to any of these questions, you should plan to leave early and quickly,” Williams said.
He added that the Fire Department’s first priority is protection of life and second is protection of property.
A presentation on building standards was given by Los Angeles County Fire Captain Jim Jordan that explored the direct link between fuel-or vegetation and brush-and property protection.
Jordan described the construction guidelines for decks, rain gutters, attic and floor vents, and windows, as well as what he called the biggest causes of flames reaching the interior of the home during a wildfire: unsuitable doors and roofs.
“Any home in the Santa Monica Mountains must have a Class A roof, which relates to the way the roof is built and materials used, and can withstand severe exposure to heat,” he said.
Jordan also stressed the importance of cleaning your roof of debris, which can catch fire from falling embers and travel under the roof and into your house.
“Doors, both front and garage ones, melt and burn. Garage doors must be non-combustible and have a fire resistant rating of one hour,” Jordan added.
He also explained that embers can go under rubber stripping on the bottoms of doors, and in general there is no real, good method to keep embers out of your garage.
More information on fire protection, safety and damage protection, can be found online at www.fire.lacounty.gov
Five questions to ask if you’re prepared to stay and fight a fire
€ Are you physically fit to fight small fires in and around your home for up to 10 hours or more?
€ Are you and your family members mentally, physically and emotionally able to cope with the intense smoke, heat, stress and noise of a brush fire while defending your home?
€ Do you have the necessary resources and equipment to effectively fight a fire?
€ Does your home have defensible space of at least two hundred feet, and is it clear of flammable materials and vegetation?
€ Is your home constructed to resist fire?