I remember clearly the Oakland Hills fire in October 1991. It was truly one of the most frightening scenes I ever witnessed. We watched on live television as house after house literally exploded from the heat of the fire. One minute there stood a gorgeous million-dollar home, and in the next it was fully engulfed by the inferno. Before the fire was contained, 25 lives were lost, and 3,354 homes and 437 apartments or condominiums were destroyed in this upscale community that overlooks Berkeley, Oakland, and the San Francisco Bay Area. The economic losses totaled 1.5 billion dollars.
This week another San Francisco Bay Area community experienced a devastating fire caused by the explosion of a gas pipeline. Officials are still investigating and totaling the losses in San Bruno, California (near the San Francisco airport). At this writing, thirty-seven homes have been lost with seven dead, six missing, and more than 60 injured. Fortunately there was a school open house at the time of the explosion, so many families were away from their homes.
There are over two million miles of natural gas pipelines in the United States. Gas is carried in pipes under 1,000-lbs psi pressure. Currently, only seven per cent of pipelines are inspected.
When the pipe in San Bruno exploded it sent a fireball 660 feet in every direction and the flume reached over 1,000 feet. The question on many minds is – could this happen in my neighborhood? Sadly, the answer is “probably so”.
Just as with wildfires, neighborhood fires can spread quickly and fast become overwhelming. They are propelled by accelerants such as gasoline from cars, explosions in propane tanks, or by gas leaks, as in San Bruno. Residential fires can quickly ignite brush, trees, outbuildings, cars and homes. No household sprinkler system, fire extinguisher, or garden hose is up to the task of containing such fires.
During most natural disasters there will be an interruption of electricity and natural gas delivery. Can you imagine the number of fires that are possible in the event of a 7.5 earthquake? There are earthquakes of that magnitude possible in many areas including Seattle, San Fransisco, Salt Lake City, Los Angeles, and along the New Madrid Fault in Tennessee. Earthquakes are not the only risk for precipitating fires. Hurricanes, tornadoes, even blizzards can create conditions which lead to firestorms in quiet neighborhoods, far from a wildfire area.
Before Fire Threatens – Create a Family Plan
- Teach children about fire safety. Keep matches out of their reach.
- Teach older children to use a fire extinguisher.
- Teach your family to have a bucket of sand or water nearby when barbecuing, using tools or toys that create sparks, or when using fireworks.
- Post fire emergency telephone numbers.
- Plan several escape routes away from your home – by car and by foot – and practice them as a family.
- Review with your family how officials will warn you if there is danger.
- Create a plan in case you are not at home when the emergency arises and your children need to evacuate.
- Teach your family about the importance of keeping your property clean to help prevent fires.
- Plan two exits from your home in case doors or windows are blocked by an exterior fire. Practice evacuating using both exits.
- Practice evacuating your home in the middle of the night.
- Plan how your family will stay in touch if you are separated by a wildfire. All family members should know the name and phone number for your out-of-state contact.
- Choose a meeting place outside your neighborhood in case you can’t return home. Hold a drill to practice gathering at this location.
- Be sure your children know to go to this spot if you are separated during an evacuation. If they are home and you are not when the firefighters tell them to evacuate, they should go to this location.
- Post emergency telephone numbers by every phone and teach your children how and when to use them.
- Determine which items you will retrieve when forced to evacuate quickly. Always plan as though you will never see your home again.
- Determine which items you will take if there is more time.
- Assign family members the task of collecting items. You may want to have children place the items on a table while mom or dad actually load the car.
- Post lists of evacuation items in a convenient place for easy access and to remind you of your plan. We all forget when we are under pressure to perform quickly.
- Practice, practice, practice.
Create a Neighborhood Plan
Talk to your neighbors about what they are doing now to prepare for the fire season and how they might be able to respond to fire reports in the area.
There may be things you can do together to prevent the spread of fire, and to survive if one occurs.
- Gather and distribute a list of home and cell phone numbers for emergencies.
- Decide on a channel to use on walkie talkies to communicate during a crisis.
- Identify potential fire hazards.
- Determine which hazards can be corrected by working together.
- Notify the proper authorities to correct the problem
- Identify roadways which are blocked or poorly marked. During a fire the line down the center of the road may be your only guide. If roads need attention notify the city or county authorities.
- Create a plan for how the neighborhood could work together after a fire. Make a list of your neighbors’ skills such as medical, construction or technical.
- Consider how you could help neighbors who have special needs such as seniors or people with disabilities.
- Make plans to take care of children who may be on their own if their parents can’t get home.
- Make a list of neighbors with heavy equipment and other fire fighting tools.
- Develop a neighborhood plan for things that need to be done.
- Develop a neighborhood phone tree.
- Plan a neighborhood meeting with the fire department to have questions answered and to get advice.
Create a Safety Zone Around Your Home
Design and landscape your home with fire safety in mind. All vegetation is fuel, though some trees and shrubs are more flammable than others. The greater the distance between your home and the vegetation, the greater your protection.
- Cut and water lawns often.
- Move shrubs and other landscaping away from the sides of the house.
- Prune branches and shrubs to allow for 15 feet between vegetation and chimneys and stove pipes.
- Prune tree limbs 15 feet above the ground.
- Prune tree limbs so they don’t overhang the roof.
- Replace highly flammable vegetation such as pine, eucalyptus, junipers and firs with less flammable varieties. If in doubt, ask your local fire department or landscape professional for suggestions.
- Remove vines from the walls of your house, out buildings and garden walls.
- Remove all dead tree branches from the ground-level up (these act as ladder fuels for the approaching fire).
- Clear the area of leaves, brush, and fallen limbs.
- Remove debris from under sun decks and porches.
- Replace wooden decks with non-combustible materials such as concrete, brick, rock, or man-made materials. Building a deck structure at ground level will eliminate the danger of a fire starting under a deck.
- Use non-combustible patio furniture and covers.
- Adding a brick or rock wall around your property will help prevent a grass fire from threatening your home.
- When possible, install electrical lines underground.
- If you notice branches around power lines ask the power company to clear them.
- Avoid using bark and wood chip mulch.
- Stack firewood 100 feet away and uphill from any structure.
- Store combustible or flammable materials in approved safety containers away from your home.
- Keep the gas grill and propane tank at least 15 feet from any structure. Clear an area 10 feet around the grill.
- Clear at least a 10-foot area around propane tanks.
- Dispose of newspapers. Do not allow them to stack up.
- Place stove, fireplace and grill ashes in a metal bucket far from structures. Soak with water.
- Have garden hoses that are long enough to reach any area of your home and other structures on your property.
When Fire Threatens
If you are warned that a fire is threatening your area, listen to your radio for reports and evacuation information. Follow the instructions of local officials immediately. While you wait for the order to evacuate:
- Back your car into the garage or park it in an open space facing the direction of escape. Shut the doors, but do not lock them, and roll up windows. Leave the key in the ignition or make sure it is in your pocket at all times. Close garage windows and doors, but leave them unlocked. Disconnect automatic garage door openers, just in case the electricity goes out.
- Gather your family members if they are at other locations or make arrangements for them to remain where they are if they are in a safe area.
- Gather pets into one room, making them easy to find when it is time to leave.
- Evacuate large animals, such as horses, to a safe location.
- Arrange temporary housing at a friend’s home outside the threatened area.
- Notify your out-of-state emergency contact of your plans and give them the phone number and address of the place you will evacuate to.
- Load your 72 hour kits and important family possessions in your car.
- Place pet supplies and leashes in the car.
- Place maps in the car with at least 2 evacuation routes clearly marked.
- Change into protective clothing including long pants, long-sleeved shirt, heavy socks and sturdy shoes.
- Have hand towels or bandannas ready for each member of the family.
- Contact your neighbors to make sure they have heard the warnings.
- Close all windows and vents.
- Move flammable furniture into the center of the home away from windows and sliding-glass doors.
- Move all flammable patio furniture indoors.
- Turn on a light in each room and also your outdoor lights, to increase the visibility of your home in heavy smoke.
If Advised to Evacuate, Do It Immediately
- Wet towels or bandannas and take them with you. Holding these over your nose and mouth will help you breath in a smoky environment.
- Lock your home.
- Call you neighbors as you are leaving. Warn them if you are aware of an escape route that is blocked.
- Call family members who were staying at other homes to inform them where you are going.
- Call your out of state contact to inform them you are heading for the safe location you have given them earlier.
- When you have reached your destination gather all your family members to that location.
A fire storm can happen to you. Prepare now an avoid heartbreak later.
For additional help with self reliance visit Carolyn’s website at: https://blog.TotallyReady.com
Join her every Tuesday at 6:00pm Pacific time, for her new show Ready or Not on the Preparedness Radio Network at: https://doctorprepper.com/current-show/readyornot
Future shows: September 21st: Saving money at the grocery store September 28th: Insurance, What you need to know