California is entering its most dangerous time of year for wildfires, and so here are five things residents in potential burn areas should keep in mind.

1. What is the wildfire outlook for 2022?

Cal Fire says climate change has led to continued dry conditions and longer peak wildfire periods in California. Those conditions, coupled with this year’s warm spring temperatures are likely to leave fuel moisture levels lower than normal in 2022, Cal Fire stated on its website.

Battalion Chief Jon Heggie said those conditions could open the door to another year of extreme fires in California.  

“Really, there is a huge correlation between that amount of dead fuel and what we see on the mega fires we’ve been having over the last few years,” Heggie said. “It’s just a ton of available material to burn throughout California. And that’s really what’s driving a lot of these things, and it can be contributed back to climate change.”

Heggie says extended past droughts combined with our present drought conditions have left a devastating effect on the landscape of California.  

“I would say they both act together. The amount of fuel from the last extended drought. And then now we’re dealing with it compounded with really the lack of precipitation that we got this year. They all play in with each other and unfortunately the results for all of it is bad and really increasing fire danger throughout the west,” Heggie said.

2. Cal Fire is preparing for peak fire months and so should you

Increased staffing and inspections are just a couple of ways Cal Fire is preparing for this year’s peak fire months.

During the typical rain months, Cal Fire will drop down on its staffing levels before going into a transitional period in early spring. But, once we reach late May and early June, those staffing levels begin to spike.

“So, we are in the process of going to peak staffing,” Heggie sad. “Every county does it at different times but they’re all starting to trickle in right about this time of year.”

In addition, Cal Fire has begun inspecting properties for defensible space.

“We are very active with our defensible space inspections. So, we’re going out throughout the communities in California, inspecting people’s property. Ensuring they have good defensible space and that they’re clearing the vegetation away from their homes,” Heggie said.

3. Help mitigate fire danger by creating defensible space and hardening your home

Defensible space and home hardening are essential to improving your home’s chance of surviving a wildfire.

“Defensible space is the buffer you create between a building on your property and the grass, trees, shrubs, or any wildland area that surround it,” Cal Fire states on its website.

Creating the proper amount of defensible space can slow or stop the spread of a wildfire and protect your home from catching fire.

Three defensible space zones make up an area withing 100 feet of your home.

Zone 0 is dubbed the “Ember-Resistant Zone” and includes everything within five feet of your home. It requires the most stringent reduction of wildfire fuel. Officials recommend only using hardscape materials like gravel, pavers, concrete and other noncombustible mulch materials in this area. 

Zone 1 is the “Lean, Clean and Green Zone” and extends 30 feet from structures, or to your property line, whichever is closer. It requires the removal of all dead plants, grass, weeds, leaves and pine needles from your yard, roof and rain gutters.

Tree branches should also be kept a minimum of 10 feet from other trees.

Zone 2 is the “Reduce Fuel Zone” and stretches from 30 to 100 feet, or to your property line. Grass in this zone should be kept to a maximum height of 4 inches. All firewood and lumber piles should be moved from zones closer to your home to this zone.

More detailed information on preparing all three zones can be found here.

Cal Fire is also encouraging residents to look into “Home Hardening,” which involves protecting your home from direct flames, radiant heat and flying embers.

“What Home Hardening is is finding those areas on your structure that have the potential for getting an ember to be seated and ignite your structure and reducing that. So, if you have open eves or vents, putting mesh in there … reduces the potential for those hot embers to get in there and potentially ignite your home,” Heggie said.

Best practices for hardening your home can be found here.

4. Assemble an emergency supply kit

Each person should put together an emergency supply kit and have it readily available should they need to evacuate.

“Have a plan. Be ready to go at a moment’s notice. You don’t have to keep everything packed in your car ready to go but make a list of the things that you need so in the moment that you are given an evacuation order it’s easy to find those things,” Heggie said.

Cal Fire suggests keeping the following items in your supply kit:

  • Face masks or coverings
  • Three-day supply of non-perishable food and three gallons of water per person
  • Map marked with at least two evacuation routes
  • Prescriptions or special medications
  • Change of clothing
  • Extra eyeglasses or contact lenses
  • An extra set of car keys, credit cards, cash or traveler’s checks
  • First aid kit
  • Flashlight
  • Battery-powered radio and extra batteries
  • Sanitation supplies
  • Copies of important documents (birth certificates, passports, etc.)
  • Don’t forget pet food and water!

Cal Fire says to take these items as well if time allows:

  • Easily carried valuables
  • Family photos and other irreplaceable items
  • Personal computer information on hard drives and disks
  • Chargers for cell phones, laptops, etc.

Also, it is suggested that you keep a pair of shoes and flashlight near your bed in case you need to evacuate in the middle of the night.

5. When and how to evacuate

Residents should evacuate as soon as it is recommended by fire officials and not wait until they are ordered to leave.

This will help to avoid getting caught in fire, smoke or road congestion and keep roads clear for firefighters to get into the area.

“Once that order or warning comes be ready to leave at a moment’s notice … What we’ve seen with the fire behavior the past few years is, there’s not a lot of time before communities are being impacted by fires,” Heggie said.

When it’s time to go, be sure to grab your emergency supply kit. Also, cover-up to protect against heat and flying embers by wearing long pants, long sleeves, heavy shoes, a hat, a bandana or another face covering, and goggles or glasses. And be sure to locate your pets and take them with you.

Complete instructions being fire prepared are available at readyforwildfire.org.