The level of fire activity in May in California is not completely unexpected, but dramatic nonetheless. Fire officials and environmental monitors alike have been worrying and warning for months about the severity of the statewide drought conditions and their potential to give the fire season calendar a 180-degree spin. Forget the classic Santa Ana winds of late October - there is no more "in-season" for severe fires, it appears.
The images and stories coming out of the region further reinforce the need for property owners and community leaders to take action to prepare home ignition zones by limiting the opportunity for wind-driven embers and flames to ignite vulnerable roofs and decks or enter vents in homes and other structures. The image above from the Poinsettia fire in Carlsbad shows homes igniting from embers that have blown into attics or onto roofs and gutters while the green vegetation around them is intact.
These same stories also tell about the broader impact of fires. Thousands of people have been evacuated and many more may have to take shelter elsewhere as fires burn around the region. Children have been kept at school for extra hours in places where it is too dangerous to let them go home or for anyone to drive on smoky roads. Schools and business have been forced to close, and a power outage along with the local fire conditions forced the popular Legoland California amusement park to evacuate guests and suspend operations. Firefighters are challenged to fight fire and attempt evacuations and rescue simultaneously, all under extreme fire and heat conditions.
NFPA's Firewise program advises people to start with their home and work their way out to prepare it to resist ignition from wildfire. We champion the IAFC message, "Ready, Set, Go!" that includes preparation that can save lives. Ultimately, all of us faced with the reality of wildfire must take these steps but also do more to work with the local governments that maintain our infrastructure and services, the businesses that employ us, and the schools that educate - and shelter - our children. The need to apply the concept of Fire Adapted Communities becomes very clear at times like these. It's our whole community that will be affected during an extreme wildfire event. It should be our whole community that comes together ahead of time to plan, prepare and act to reduce our risks and losses.
Photo credit: NBC 7 San Diego