By Ray Sayre
Director of Emergency Management, Santa Cruz County
The 2017 fire season was very active with numerous wildfires in Santa Cruz County with several homes lost in Sonoita.
The National Weather Service sent an email to Emergency Managers last week: “Our winter has been abnormally warm and dry and that trend is expected to continue right into the spring. Drought is expected to persist and perhaps worsen with another potentially very busy fire season ahead.”
I encourage you to take a few moments and watch the NWS video on YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zvDNTXPgRw4&feature=youtu.be.
Of particular interest is the drought index, reported in the video as “Severe,” but which was changed to “Extreme” last Thursday. The last time we faced these conditions was 2011 when we had the Monument Fire in the Huachuca Mountains which burned or damaged 50 structures, and several mandatory evacuations occurred.
For us who live in Santa Cruz County we have had many notable fires:
• 2005 Florida Fire – 23,183 acres
• 2011 Murphy Complex Fire – 68,078 acres
• 2011 Empire Fire – 600 acres
• 2011 Empire II Fire – 2,009 acres
2012 School Canyon Fire – 7,049 acres
All County and Tribal Emergency Managers in the State met in Phoenix Wednesday with the primary topic of “Ready, Set, Go, Evacuate” for wildfires. We met with the fire management officer from BLM who presented the fire outlook. Without getting
overly technical, you should know two things: 1) Large fuels have less moisture than kiln dried lumber, and 2) The energy release factor (amount of heat that will be released when on fire) is the highest ever recorded.
As you know, California experienced several wildfires in December. This is not wildfire season. The largest wildfire in California history, the Thomas Fire, destroyed 1,063 structures, damaged 280 buildings- several injuries and deaths also occurred.
Now is the time to prepare and remove ignitable materials from your house or business! Plants near structures need to be pruned, and trimmed. Your roof and gutters need to be clear of leaves, pine needles, and other debris. Move all combustible materials near your house like patio furniture, firewood, plastic, propane tanks, and anything that will
catch fire away from the structure.
If you have roof vents, they need to have fine mesh screen covering the vent so embers do not enter your attic space. If you have windows, which we all do, metal screen is much better than fiberglass for preventing embers from entering your home.
Work with your neighbors to reduce fire load as well. You need to have a “go kit” packed with extra clothes, water, medication, credit card and banking information, glasses, and non-perishable food. If you have pets, you need a plan to evacuate them as well. For more information on emergency supplies go to https://www.ready.gov/build-a-kit.
Finally, if you are not on the County Wireless Emergency Alert System, now is a good time to enroll. It takes about a minute to do so, and this allows our 911 centers and Emergency Management to send emergency alerts to your cell phone: http://entry.inspironlogistics.com/santacruz_az/wens.cfm.