A wildfire is an unplanned, unwanted fire burning in a natural area, such as a forest, grassland, or prairie. Many of us think a wildfire won’t really affect us as we don’t live “in” the forest, grassland or prairie. Could A Big Fire Happen Here? The most obvious answer is, “Yes”, a big fire could happen here in our beautiful Black Hills, in the grassland areas or closer to some of our more urban areas along the outskirts of Rapid City or right in the middle of town like the “M” Hill fire that recently started on July 13, 2016.
Our current, hot, drier than usual conditions are increasing the fire danger all over Pennington County and our forest is especially ripe for a fire, with lots of dead trees from mountain pine beetles.
Now that we know it could happen, what would you do if it did happen? Your first goal for protection, is to take precautions before a fire happens. Make your home or business and surrounding area more resistant to catching fire and burning. This means reducing the amount of material that could burn easily. Clear away debris and use fire-resistant materials for landscaping and construction. How does your property stack up again these “Firewise” principles?
These firewise tasks as a whole are not actions may be difficult to complete in a day, but don’t let that stop you. Start with a few simple tasks you can knock of your list quickly, like attaching a long garden hose or cleaning the chimney and then keep working until you’ve completed all of the recommended tasks. Often homeowners are aware of the their danger and risk based on where they live, but need guidance and cost assistance. Check out the options available. Learn more about the Rapid City Survivable Space Initiative and visit the Firewise website for more information.
So you say, “I don’t live in the forest areas.” Your property may not be right up next to trees where a fire could be burning, but you might be close. Close enough that your home could provide a perfect landing spot for a burning ember from a wildfire. Burning embers can travel up to a mile if the right wind conditions exist, landing in yards, wood piles, and gutters. If you have flammable materials on and around your property that will catch fire easily, an ember could start a fire. Lieutenant Tim Weaver of Rapid City Fire Department shared these two photos and comments:
Photo Credits: Steve Shopper, Colorado Springs Fire Department
“When you look at these 2 pictures, ask yourself “What is not on fire?” Most people will take a minute to realize that it’s the trees. Hmm, a house is burning down in a forest fire and all the trees around it are not. This is a good conversation starter about burning embers, and what homeowners can do to mitigate the ember threat to their homes. The homes pictured here are homes burned in the Black Forest Fire in Colorado that were completely destroyed by fire. They were not on fire from direct flame impingement, but by the ember storm associated with the fire occurring in the area. Visit www.gpfiresafecouncil.com to learn more about ember mitigation and how you can keep a fire like this from happening to you.”
Once you have completed these Firewise tasks does it mean you are done and you don’t need to worry about it anymore? No, most likely not. Even a once a year cleaning may not be enough. Run through this check list around your property 3-4 times a year especially if you are in a higher risk area. Work towards keeping your property in tip, top, Firewise shape all-year round. Fires can happen any time of the year.
Next, practice how you will communicate with family members if there is a need for evacuation and you are not together. For a family with working parents, busy schedules and extracurricular activities, being apart when an emergency happens is definitely a possibility.
Practice fire prevention by never leaving an outdoor fire unattended, never use equipment outside that can create a spark on dry, windy days and keep your gas grill and propane tank at least 15 feet away from any structure.
Another layer of protection for you is to take an inventory of your belongings. It can sound like another big task but it doesn’t have to be. At minimum, take a video of each room in your home so you can see what you own should you need to leave quickly and a disaster takes your home belongings. There are also different tools you can use to help you complete this task. You could use a simple spreadsheet, but another idea is to let your smartphone or tablet do the work for you. Download an App to help you, like this free one from Encircle. Encircle is available using your smart phone, tablet, or laptop and helps you to take photos of your home and organize them so you can keep an inventory of what is in your home and aide you in figuring out what your stuff is worth. You can take photos room to room, or if you so choose, dig deeper and take photos of belongings behind closet doors and drawers, so you know everything you might have to replace if lost in a fire or other disaster. You can even add photos of receipts. This information is then stored safely in the cloud, retrievable by password, from any computer with internet access and not in your home where it is susceptible to loss in a fire or other disaster. Once you complete an inventory, you can determine if you have enough insurance coverage for your belongings.
When and if you are notified that you need to leave your home and evacuate, there are a few things you want to prepare ahead of time. Here are some good tips to help you define some important items you don’t want to forget.
The 5 P’s of Evacuation: people, prescriptions, papers, personal needs and priceless items.
If you do receive an evacuation warning notification, the last thing you want to be doing is spending precious time trying to think of all the things you meant to do and wish you would’ve done. Whether you have a few days notice, a few hours or a few minutes notice to evacuate, consider these tips in protecting yourself, your family, your property and the valuables inside, from wildfire. Press on and continue to make progress and don’t let complacency get the better of you. When and if the time comes, you will be so glad you took these preventive and protective actions.