As I write this, the Thomas Fire is still ravaging Ventura County, California. Three lessons need to be taken away:
- Gather your own intel,
- Be ready to go if it gets close, even if the threat seems remote; and,
- Live miles away from brushy or forested areas at risk of fire.
This gives people more time to evacuate with more of their possessions, or at least have better comfort about the fire. The more information that is available allows people to make better decisions in real time, rather than wait until the water is so high they need to crawl on the roof.
I believe that many more members of the public could have been informed and evacuated their homes with more than the clothes on their backs if the fire fighters communicated early concerns about the foothills of Ventura being threatened hours before it happened. It’s not so much the information; it’s the urgency, how it’s said. Reverse 911 is often treated as the boy who called wolf. People roll their eyes until the strike team arrives in the cul-de-sac, the deputies beat on the door, and the bushes in the back yard start to smoke.
Familiarity Breeds Contempt
Far too many people take evacuation warnings as routine. No one in the middle of a housing tract thinks their house will burn. Instead of regarding an evacuation as an inconvenience, what if the now-homeless understood they would have only what they packed up that night? If you have the chance, do you want to flee with as much of your stuff as possible, or just a suitcase or even your Bug-Out-Bag?
Also, the power went out for roughly 300-500k people. This was area wide, from Ventura County to Santa Barbara. In some areas, cell service was out or the Internet was slow. In a worse scenario, there may have been no cell phones, no Broadcastify, and no Twitter. To top it off, the local radio stations were on auto-play, and many young people are clueless about going to AM radio. This is the 21st Century and EMP hasn’t hit yet; we shouldn’t be spreading news via word-of-mouth, digital or otherwise, and running scared in the dark. Get your Ham license as well and program a handie-talkie to communicate with your friends, family, and community.
Get a Scanner
I’d advise preppers to get a scanner and not just the app. Get a trunking scanner like the Home Patrol II that does the work for you or at least know the frequencies and the radio plan in your area. Listen in and know your geography. If the fire fighters are describing a fire that’s closing a 10-15 mile gap in a matter of a few hours and saying it’s going to hit your housing tract while it’s still 10 miles out, it’s probably very, very bad.
My advice to local government is to Tweet and post online updates early and often. Too much information is better than too little. Ultimately, despite the best efforts of emergency services, there are Black Swan disasters that overwhelm everyone. You are often on your own more than you know. It is your responsibility to gather your own intel on the emergency and decide accordingly.
As for home sites for fire survival, live in flat areas well away from major fuel sources or in a modern, well built house (or development) that is not filled with tall, old trees, dense yards, and older less fire-resistant houses. The 2013 Springs Fire wasn’t horrific because the neighborhood it burned around consisted of modern fire-resistant homes, landscaping was well-maintained, brush clearance was good, and the development was well spread with good defensible spaces.
Thanks, – G.C.