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I first and foremost want to thank all of our hardworking first responders. These first responders include but surely are not limited to, the firefighters, the El Dorado and Amador County Sheriff’s Offices, the California Highway Patrol, the public safety dispatchers who were flooded with calls and coordinated the response, El Dorado County Animal Control and the Red Cross. These heroes put in long hard hours often putting their lives on the line to help protect the citizens and property in our community.
Each time a fire of this magnitude occurs, it is truly a wake-up call — or it should be. We, as residents, who live and own property in the “Wildland-Urban-Interface” have a responsibility to keep our properties fire safe. Incidentally, it is also state law (Public Resources Code 4291). Developed properties (properties that have structures on them) are required to have 100 feet of defensible space around each structure. The closest 30 feet to each structure is required to be “lean and green.” On properties located on slopes (many were in the “Sand” fire), the clearances have to be even greater as fire travels faster and more vigorously uphill. Homeowners who use vegetation as a privacy screen do not realize the dangers to their homes and families.
As I watched live TV coverage of the tragic loss of residences in the “Sand” fire, I could see many did not have defensible space and many had “ladder fuels.” Ladder fuels are combustible vegetation that starts low to the ground (i.e. tall dry grass) next to taller fuels (i.e. manzanita, other taller brush, or small trees) and ultimately next to tall trees and timber. With ladder fuels present, the fire can quickly spread from the grass to a “crown fire” in the tops of the tall trees. Crown fires are virtually impossible to stop, especially by ground firefighting forces.
With limited resources, the fire department has to triage which homes can be saved and which ones cannot. Homes with defensible space give the responding firefighters a chance to protect them, along with being able to do so in a much safer environment.
Residents can help their fire department by helping themselves before the fire starts by clearing combustible vegetation around their house.
You can obtain more information on how to make your properties more fire safe by contacting your local fire safe council, the El Dorado County Fire Safe Council or at readyforwildfire.org.
Chairman, Grizzly Flats Fire Safe Council