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Tips to be prepared for wildfires

 July 3, 2024 at 2:15 PM PDT

S1: Welcome. In San Diego , it's Jade Hindman. Wildfire season is upon us. So we'll take a look at the forecast and how to be prepared. This is KPBS Midday Edition connecting our communities through conversation. So right now , firefighters continue to battle a wildfire in southeastern San Diego County that's burned more than 1300 acres. The fire broke out Monday near Hot Springs and is now more than 50% contained. So far , no structures have been damaged and most importantly , no lives lost. Still , though , the recent fires do make one thing clear. Wildfire season is here. Mike Cornett works with Cal Fire and joins us to talk about how we can be prepared. Mike , thanks for joining us on midday.

S2: Thank you for having me.

S1: Glad you're here. So often it is people who accidentally start wildfires.

S2: 95% of our wildland fires that we see are human caused. Of those , 95% of the wildland fire. 100% of those are preventable. So those can include things like people using the wrong tool for the right job. So if you're out doing your defensible space around your home , trying to clear that that land , don't use a lawn mower , especially if the grass is dry , because that could potentially strike a rock. Create a spark and create a devastating wildland fire.

S1: Well , we often hear about that term. You just mentioned defensible space , especially when it comes to protecting homes or property from wildfire. What is that exactly and why is it important ? For those who don't know.

S2: Defensible space is an area around your home that's 100ft from the the actual house to the edge of your defensible space. And that's an area where you're modifying the fuels. You're getting rid of all of the hazards and trying to make your house more , more survivable if wildland fire were to come up to your property. The most important area in that 100ft is the 0 to 5ft around your house. We call that the zone zero , and that is the most important because a lot of the the embers or creeping fire can get up into things like wicker furniture or dry rotted wood. and that could create a fire that could eventually take down your house. Wow.

S1: Wow.

S2: So the , uh , the fire season has been more active this year than than previous years. Statewide , we're looking currently at 2731 wildland fires that have burned this year. Total totaling over 122,000 acres burned. That is a drastic increase compared to last year. Um , so we're already off , uh , off to the races.

S3: Well , when we.

S1: Look at important things to do to prevent wildfires , to protect our homes , you know , you talk about defensible space , but if for some reason property owners are unable to clear the brush themselves for some reason.

S2: Uh , you can reach out to your local fire safe council. They , uh , they have a lot of good information on it. Uh , there are some home hardening and home , uh , defensible space programs that you might be able to apply for. You would be able to get assistance to come out and do some of those home hardening projects and defensible space around your home. Hmm.

S3: Hmm.


S2: The first thing is to practice the ready , set , go that we talk about so often in the wildland fire season. Uh , you want to stay ready by hardening your home and maintaining that defensible space around your home ? Like I said , up to 100ft. Uh , if not more. You want to get set and make sure that your , your home and your family are ready for evacuation by preparing an evacuation kit and a personal disaster plan. And then the last part of the ready , set , go is go and go now. Uh , you want to increase your family's chances for survival by being ready to leave at a moment's notice. And it's also advisable to leave sooner than than later. In wildland fires , we do see a lot of congestion on our evacuation routes , so if you have the more time and you can get out sooner , the sooner the better on that.

S1: Speaking of congestion on evacuation routes , I mean , before that even happens , it's often drivers who will see the smoke or flames of a wildfire first.

S2: We want to get 911 on the road right away. The quicker that we can get water on that fire , the quicker we can put it out and the quicker that we don't have to , uh , set up all our evacuation orders and warnings and that. So I think time , time is of the essence when we're , uh , reporting a wildland fire or any emergency in San Diego County.

S1: This is KPBS midday Edition. We're back after the break. Welcome back to KPBS midday edition. I'm Jade Hindman. We're continuing our conversation about wildfire season preparedness and a look ahead at what's to come.

S2: We do have a system of of mountaintop cameras that are able to pan , tilt and zoom all in high definition. And we can see and detect wildfires 60 miles in the daytime and 120 miles at night. Uh , this is very important for us to be able to detect wildfires and also to give us a situational awareness. So when we're responding to a wildland fire , the dispatch captain can look at the camera , look at where the smoke is , and if it looks like it's going to be a very large fire , uh , in the fire engine is is kind of a long ways away or is in route to the fire because it's in a remote area of our county. They have the ability to augment the response , send more resources , send more aircraft , crews and dozers to assist in the suppression efforts. Wow.

S1: Wow. Thank goodness for technology with that. Another way that you all mitigate the impact of wildfires are through controlled burns. And I know Native Americans and those tribes indigenous to this area have always used controlled burns for that purpose.

S2: Prescribed burns are one of the one of the the tools that we use. We also do roadside clearing of evacuation corridors , have some fuel breaks that we do around communities. The indigenous people have used prescribed fire in their favor for many years , uh , prior to our , uh uh , but we are starting to see a trend back to prescribed fire and , uh , more fuel breaks in this county.

S1: Well , aside from what individuals can do and and what you all are doing , are there any things that would be helpful for wildfires , like maybe , you know , are there certain building codes , fire suppression systems or anything like that ? Yeah.


S2: So our fire code has adapted over the years to the changing wildland fire environment. Uh , some of the standards now include sprinklers and new construction. Uh , but the biggest thing , I think , for white when it comes to wildfires is to maintain that defensible space , make sure that all the 0 to 5 , everything that's flammable in that area is , is taken away from the house. Uh , some of the areas on the house that you want to check for , or any of the gable vents or events in the eaves to make sure that they have the metal netting or on the vents. Uh , so the embers can't make it into the attic or into the living space and catch the the house on fire. You also want to make sure that all of the gutters are clean of any , uh , any leaves or terial as well as the shingles in the roof. Yeah.

S3: Yeah.

S1: So San Diego desert areas are under an excessive heat warning , where temperatures are expected to be in the triple digits this week into next.

S2: Uh , the deserts are very hot this time of year. And if you want to go down and recreate in the desert , uh , we we encourage you to do so , but we encourage you to do so safely. Uh , the first step of doing that safely is staying hydrated , drinking plenty of water throughout the day , and avoiding any of those energy drinks or excessive caffeine that could act as a diuretic and lead to dehydration. A major thing is to recognize signs of heat illness. You always want to continue to continuously monitor yourself and your friends for the symptoms of heat exhaustion and heat stroke. Um , and if you do start to see that your friend or yourself are getting hot and , uh , and exhibiting those signs , move to the shade , maybe get a wet cloth around your neck. If you have some ice packs , put ice packs under your armpits and you want to lower your body temperature. Um , if you do experience , uh , heat exhaustion or heat stroke and you're not able to , uh , to cool that down , it would be time to call 911 sooner than later to get that that prompt response out there by the the fire department to get those paramedics to , uh , to assist you , uh , in that , uh , you want to wear lightweight , loose fitting clothing ? Uh , light and color. You want to use sun protection , uh , SPF 30 sunscreen or higher. And then , uh , we also also want to watch out for our vulnerable populations , such as our , our pets , uh , our elderly friends and neighbors and , uh , and children , because those are , uh , that population is more susceptible to heat. Yeah.

S3: Yeah. Well , where.


S2: Org. And that gives you an emergency map that will show you all the cooling areas throughout the county. And it also gives you tips for evacuations , for emergency preparation. Uh , and to get those those evacuation kits and those evacuation plans in place so you can talk about them with your friends and family.

S1: That's excellent.

S2: You can register your cell phone to receive emergency alerts through Alert San Diego to receive real time information on emergencies in evacuations to your phone , and you also want to stay informed by following Cal Fire San Diego , SD Sheriff and Alert San Diego Co on X and Facebook for emergency updates and information.

S1: Excellent information. Mike Cornett is a fire captain with Cal Fire. Mike , thanks again for being here.

S2: Thank you for having me.

S1: That's our show for today. I'm your host , Jade Hindman. Thanks for tuning in to Midday Edition. Be sure to have a great day on purpose , everyone.

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Firefighters walk towards the McCain Fire on Tuesday, July 2, 2024 near the DeAnza Springs Resort in southeast San Diego County, Calif.
Firefighters walk towards the McCain Fire on Tuesday, July 2, 2024 near the DeAnza Springs Resort in southeast San Diego County, Calif.

From Torrey Pines to East County, wildfires are impacting communities throughout San Diego, and they're signposts marking the return of San Diego's busiest season for wildfires.

On Midday Edition Wednesday, we were joined by Cal Fire Captain Mike Cornette to talk about some of the ways people can prepare for and protect themselves from wildfires.

Cornette said one of the biggest things is making sure you have 100 feet of defensible space around your home.

“The most important area in that 100 feet is the zero to 5 feet around your house. We call that the zone zero. And that is the most important because a lot of the embers or creeping fire can get up into things like wicker furniture or dry rotted wood,” he said.


Mike Cornette, fire captain, Cal Fire