(Continued from Part 1. This concludes the article.)
We did the usual pre-fire prep as soon as we heard the fire broke out, putting all the patio cushions in the house, closing drapes / blinds etc. We have lightweight patio furniture that we stacked up. For folks that cannot do that and do have a pool or stock tank, throw the patio furniture in there is our suggestion. We turned all the interior and exterior house lights on and unlocked all doors and disconnected the garage doors from the electric mechanism so every door could be opened easily. I am so glad we did that, because in the absolute midst of the worst part of the fire, our neighbor’s pump had a problem and I told the son to get the spare pump out of our garage and to take it to his house, which he did and it saved their house. Had their house started on fire, it would have caught ours on fire. We filled every available container with fresh water in the house.
We suggest using the Phos Chek product on the yard – it goes on clear (not like the Phos Check dropped from aircraft which is colored red so they can see where it lands). We bought it at the local hardware store, but it is also available online. We use an electrostatic sprayer to apply it and it lasts for 3 – 6 months in our area which has limited rain in the summer. It can go on vegetation and does not kill it. We also now have purchased a product called Barricade gel, which is sprayed onto the house and was developed by a fire fighter.
Fighting On Two Fronts
When the fire split and started to come around towards us on both sides, up from the canyon on our side of the street and down from the ridge on our neighbors’ side of the street. Winds were between 50 and 80 MPH, visibility was very limited due to smoke and firebrands were racing throughout the community ahead of the fire. The wall of flame sounded like a freight train. We went down to neighbors’ homes at the end of the street and put out spot fires as best we could – the shovel and fire flapper worked well for that. But the fire was overwhelming and we had no water sources there. All those homes caught fire and burned to the ground – nothing left. Only one house on that street, which had been remodeled and hardened, survived.
The fire then came towards us first on our side of the street. My husband was defending one side of the house and I defended the other. I saw that 50’ flame wall and felt the heat through all the nomex gear. It was interesting to watch multiple 5 foot palm fronds sailing through the air on fire, like paper airplanes, setting the neighbor’s yard on fire when they landed. We also had to deal with our other neighbor’s huge old pine tree that blew up like a firecracker and continued to spew sparks and firebrands into our yard for hours, catching our deck on fire. We strongly suggest no palm trees or pine trees in fire-prone areas.
We did have some decorative wood chips around the yard trees that kept catching fire and we kept having to put them out. We have now replaced those with rocks. After seeing our Rubbermaid garden shed keep reigniting, I suggest if anyone has that situation, just take the wrecking bar and knock it to the ground because it is very hard to put out. Another suggestion is that if there is any indication that the fire’s winds have gotten a spark under the roofing material, then do not hesitate to rip off the roofing immediately and put out the fire before it gets into the attic. That’s what we had to do when the 70 mph winds blew embers under the roof tiles and we saved the house by doing that.
It is critical to not let the fire get into the roof. Fire engines in our area only hold 500 -1,000 gallons of water and their policy / practice during a wildfire is to not attempt to put out a house fire using the truck’s water if the fire has gotten into the attic – they let it burn. They will only use the truck’s water for stopping fire transmission between houses. If they had access to a hydrant, they will use the hydrant water on a house fire; but in our case, there was no water in the hydrant since the whole community was out of water because the community water tank had been run dry trying to fight the early part of the fire.
The fire came on us, we fought it and it then kept reigniting in various areas during the night due to the winds. One of our neighbor’s fences caught on fire and the fire was headed to the house; the “geezers and millennial” fire team put it out since it would have endangered all of the other homes on the street including ours.
We were utterly exhausted at about midnight when we stopped for a few hours’ sleep. We used our LED and solar lights to light the house. We slept in the camper because we were concerned if the house caught fire we could be trapped. It was so nice to have the generator, the air conditioning, the frig and stove! It also gave me a chance to check the computer for news / websites about the fire status. The next day we continued to put out spot fires and fires that kept reigniting.
Piped Natural Gas Fires
When we ventured further in the community, I was shocked to see how many gas fires there were – people had evacuated without turning off their gas. We used our gas turnoff tool when it was safe to do so. The authorities kept the community locked down for 5 days before allowing owners to return. Because we were on the inside and never left, we took it upon ourselves to post on Next Door and ask if anyone wanted us to check on their house. We were flooded with requested and so we drove around the community and responded to all of them as best we could.
One suggestion we have is to continuously take stock of the “team”. My husband and I do that already, but we checked on the other half of our fire team as they had never been through a fire like this before. When the son came to tell us the fire was bearing down on them and their pump had malfunctioned, he got sick to his stomach from fear and was immediately ashamed for doing so. I told him how we were all afraid and his reaction was normal, his body freeing him for optimal performance. We then solved his problem by loaning them our spare pumper. Later on, we sat and talked about the fire experience, the four of us sharing what we felt and saw. He told us that this experience had forever changed him.
Our overall strategy to fight the fire was to keep the fire off our property and to divert it, if we could, around the houses on our street. Our street is like the shape of a thumb surrounded by wildlands on all sides except the bottom and our house is 2/3 the way up the thumb with our firefighting neighbors directly across the street, the fire had split in two around our street, coming down both sides. We had the fire rushing up on us and the neighbors had it rushing down on them. The way the wind was blowing (southerly) if our house had caught fire, it would have caught the rest on fire. So, at our house on our side of the street, we focused on pushing the “head” of “our” fire around us; our neighbors across the street did the same. Once we got the “head” past us, we worked to keep the “flank” off also. We then kept the “head” from attacking the other houses to our right. To attack the “head” we followed the protocol of hitting the base of the fire with high pressure water.
When my husband and I worked together, one of us dialed the hose nozzle to create a wide spray “fog” to protect us and the other used a narrow high pressure stream to hit the bottom of the fire. This is where the variable nozzles were critical to our success. When we were alone, we alternated between patterns. We used more than 11,000 gallons to fight the fire.
Some things we will do differently next time:
1. I had headsets for the radios but we had not deployed them because we were wearing the helmets, etc. We will be sure to use them next time.
2. We will warm up the chains saws in advance of the fire coming on to us.
3. We need to do a better job of keeping hydrated – there was “water, water, everywhere” from the fire hoses, but we did not drink enough and got mildly dehydrated from the heat.
4. Our neighbors did not text their family and they became very concerned. We will remind the team to, if they can, let their loved ones know they are ok and to keep their cell phone in their pocket. One thing happened that we laughed about as a group later is that, at one point during the fire, the millennial took a video of it and posted it online! husband and I did not think to do that!
5. We plan to apply the foam to the roof of the house to guard against embers getting under the roofing material. There are foaming attachments for sale to attach to a fire pumper.
6. Ash gets everywhere in the house during a fire. We can keep it from spreading inside the house by damp mopping the hard surfaces as often as possible (if we are not exhausted).
Here is the list of the equipment we used:
Tools For the House:
Water meter key – 27″, get on amazon.com
Gas turn off handle, get on amazon.com
Axe – Pulaski fireaxe is best, get on amazon.com, $55. Be sure to get the special blade cover.
Shovel – flat bladed square head metal shovel with wood handle, get on amazon – $35
Fire Rake – 60″, get on amazon.com, $55
Fire flapping tool to put out embers – it’s a long handle with rubber flap, you can DIY this also
Rake – fan style regular metal garden rake with wood handle for raking landscaping
Rake – bow style metal regular garden rake HEAVY DUTY with wood handle for raking brush
Wrecking Pry bar – Long with lever on one end and point on the other, get on amazon, $35
Wrecking Pry bar – about 36″ long, get on amazon.com, $18
Long-handled sledge hammer
Personal Protection Equipment (“PPE”):
I got most of our equipment on this list from:
Extreme Cold Weather FR Clothing
Store all the PPE in a large duffel bag so it can be grabbed quickly!!!
COTTON underwear ONLY!
COTTON or Merino Wool socks ONLY!
Nomex FR Wildfire Shirt
Nomex FR WIldfire Pants
Boots – steel toed and fire resistant
Gloves – Wildfire type
Gloves, regular leather (deer or pig skin) garden gloves for use in advance of or after fire
Glove holder with velcro and belt hook
Bullard Wildfire type Helmet – full brim with visor, suspension and nomex neck shroud
Goggles that snap onto helmet, brand: Firepro Ex
Goggle plastic lens shields that stick onto helmet goggles to protect them
Goggles – regular to wear against flying ash, brand: Bolle Backdraft
Safety glasses, get on amazon.com
Respirator, brand: Sundstrom
Respirator cannisters, brand: Sundstrom
Face protector that accomodates particle masks, brand: Hot Shield
Particle Mask to use during fire fighting, brand: Hot Shield USA
Breathing Masks – 3M N100 or N95 – GET LOTS OF THESE FOR AFTER THE FIRE
Consider self-contained breathing tank with full face mask
Headlamps, Petzl LED E-Lite PLUS with white and red lights, get from amazon.com or rei.com and spare batteries
Bandana – 100% cotton – get 2 or 3 per person to wipe away soot, etc
Bistek lip protection
Intensive hand lotion – Gold Bond
Murine eye drops and lubricant
Stainless steel water bottle with clip carabiner
Pool fire hose pump – Waterax VS2-9EC VERSAX® FIRE PUMP 2-STG HONDA GX270 and SELF PRIMER, get it on www.shopwaterax.com
Fire hose – ONLY GET double layer type hose, from firehosedirect.com
Connectors: Wye valve to split the water supply – 1 1/2″ to 1″ NH $303
Connectors: Aluminum, Red Head
Nozzles – aluminum is preferable, the plastic ones melt in the heat; you want the lever on off function
Gas cans to store fuel – make sure you rotate the fuel EVERY 60 DAYS, GET ONES THAT ARE EASY TO USE
PRI-G gasoline preservative – get on amazon.com, note: Sea Foam and STABIL are NOT as good as this product
Fuel siphon to get gasoline out of vehicle fuel tanks if needed, GasTapper 12v pump, get on amazon – $98
Fuel pump to transfer from gas cans to pool pump, Terapump battery operated pump VERY QUICK AND NO SPILL. (Get on amazon.com.)
55 gallon water drum Plastic, with full opening lid so you can dip bucket into it Get on craigslist.org – $55
Buckets: stainless steel (preferred), get on amazon – $15 – $30
battery or solar lights for use at night or during power outage, we used Vont LED Lantern (4 pack on Amazon, $26)
plus Luci inflatable solar charged LED lanterns, also available on Amazon or REI, $10 – $20 each
Spray on Fire retardant to protect house and landscaping: gel: brand name Barricade, spray on: Phos Chek (clear for home use) etc.