Letter Re: Evacuating Quickly to Escape Wildfires

As a former California Department of Forestry (C.D.F. which is now Cal-Fire) wild land firefighter I would like to give some professional advice to persons living in wildfire prone urban interface locations.  The 100 foot clearance required is really a necessity in defending your retreat.  If infrastructure is still up, when told to evacuate, GET OUT ! From a roadway, I once had to listen to the screams of a woman who burned to death because she refused to evacuate her home.  It is a haunting memory.

Have an advance plan for safety zones and escape routes.  A safety zone is an area where you could weather the fire without the chance of being burned over as your escape route has been cut off.  A large area, void of vegetation is the best.  Sometimes you might come across grazed over areas or a large rocky area that would suffice.  Gravel and paved parking areas are best.

In an instance where you are about to be burned over, setting a fire ahead of you and the main fire’s path of travel and then moving into the “black”  might save you as fire cannot burn the area again.  

When a wildfire breaks in your area, put on as much 100% cotton clothing as you can. Long sleeves and ALL leather boots are also important.  Safety glasses and a bandanna over your face (not wet) .  Cotton resists flame where polyester melts.  Nomex is your best fire resistant material.

In a post collapse situation, I strongly suggest going to a bare earth policy around your retreat.  Strip all vegetation (yes that includes your landscaping, no spare water to care for it anyway) away for 100 feet.  Eliminate over-hanging tree branches, clear “ladder fuels ” which are the lower branches on the trees.  Clean your roof and eaves troughs of dead vegetation and leaves.

Lastly, “don’t put all your eggs in one basket ” in fire prone areas.  Have a back up pre-position or during high fire season have a stash trailer positioned somewhere else.  A root cellar or underground storage will also work.

After collapse, especially in the California foothills, many refugees will escape the city with very little survival skill knowledge.  The first thing they will do is start a fire to cook food during a high fire danger season.  Post collapse, wildfire danger rates at or above that of looters and gangs. – G.I. Jim