In my day job, I’ve been working on “fuels reduction” projects in northern California, and it’s never as easy as people like to think it is. Blaming the California fires on “tree huggers”, lack of forest management, or the need to rake the forest floor is the easy way out and not true; it is a combination of factors that caused the devastation.

Paradise, California, is built on a slope, in an area born to burn. When it did burn, the area had not seen rain for two hundred days. But that’s not what I want to write about. Just viewing the homes and lives lost, and looking at the sad cats with burnt paws and no owners, is a different view of fire than I had back in the day. The times I wrote about in Fire in the Heart were of fires, for the most part, deep in the wilderness. Sure, we saved a house now and then and sometimes a subdivision. We saw houses that we could not save. But we were insulated from the heartbreak most of the time. Nobody seemed to care if trees burned, except for “My grandchildren will never see what I saw.” (Not a big deal in my opinion)

I look at fire a completely different way now. I still think there is a place for wildfire to burn. But I will be more prepared. Some of the things that are important to do if you live in a fire prone area:

  • Photos: you should have video or photos of your house and the valuable things in it. (When my office burned down in 2010, none of us had this. We had to guess what we had there. Often, we missed things.)
  • A fire safe or a “go box.” If you have neighbors like my friend Jan, who are mostly always at home, they can grab your go box. It would have passports, birth certificates, laptop: all those things that seem essential. If you don’t have the neighbors or worry they won’t be able to grab it, a fire safe would be a good choice. When I was trying to pack in a hurry during our level 2 evacuation a couple of years ago, I basically spun around the house in a tizzy, not knowing what to take. Placing a cat carrier at the ready would be helpful.
  • A secondary go box, or at least a list. When someone calls you and says, “get the dogs out now”, you aren’t really thinking about how it might be nice to have exra contact lenses, or clothes, or shoes. These aren’t the essentials, but are nice to have.
  • A power bank, charged up. Like it or not, it would be hard to find a working pay phone after a disaster. I have both an Anker power bank and a solar charger. It might be good to also have a couple two way radios to communicate if you get separated from loved ones from the same house.
  • Fire tools at the house. Rakes (not kidding), pulaski, know where your hoses are. 
  • And of course, “fire proof” the area. When I used to patrol with the Division of Forestry, we would shake our heads when we would see houses completely buried in palmetto. Others, we knew we could save. During the Hurricane creek fire, crews put pumps around our house, but looking at our location–in a one way box canyon, surrounded by big trees–it seemed a futile effort. However, it is worth trying.
  • Get pets microchipped or have a collar with their name and your number on it. In the Camp Fire, people spray painted their number on horse hooves.
  • I personally would do anything I could to gather up the animals before fleeing. Dogs are easier to gather. Cats, not so much. If all else failed and I had to leave, I’d leave a way out for them. I know leaving a door open allows for a fire to come in easier, but at least it gives the animal a fighting chance. 

I hope none of us are in this situation. If you have any other tips, go to the contact form and send me a note. I will add them here.