Friday Jun 26 2009
Are we prepared?
By: Mark D’Ambrogi, fire chief, City of Auburn
If you recall about this time last year we were overwhelmed with acrid smoke in the air, our firefighting resources were stretched thin due to the thousands of wildfires statewide and the premiere events of Auburn, Western States Run and Tevis, were soon to be canceled. Last year citizens throughout California lost their homes and property to wildfire, firefighting personnel lost lives and others succumbed to injuries. Lives changed forever, and it was only June. Here we are again, and so far the wildfire season has been relatively mild even though we started out in May with a response to Santa Barbara to assist another community with firefighting efforts. The May response was part of the great California Mutual Aid System developed in an effort to combat large-scale and multiple incidents: fire fighting agencies helping each other in the time of need. The City of Auburn has relied on this system and will most likely be a recipient in the future as well as continue to respond to needs of other communities in distress. Wildfire season is approaching and in no way is our community immune from potential disaster. What is our approach to wildfire? It is two-fold. First, when there is a wildfire we initially respond with as many resources as possible to control the fire. The objective is to suppress fires before they can overwhelm our resources. Fire agencies in western Placer County realize we need to work together and do so through a long-standing cooperative agreement of responding to each other’s incidents right “out-the-door.” You could see an Auburn City fire engine in Meadow Vista, or a Newcastle fire engine in the City of Auburn, or a Placer County engine in Foresthill. Along with Cal Fire, western Placer County fire agencies have adjusted resource response in an effort to provide the closest, quickest and most efficient level of fire services to all. In these fiscally challenging times no one fire agency can “stand alone.” The demand for fire services continues to increase while our resources experience limits. Secondly is prevention; more specifically addressing our flammable natural vegetation. This is where we really need your help. I’m asking for “all hands on deck” for this one. As residents we need to take responsibility to best prepare ourselves and our properties to prevent wildfire. It is our responsibility. Removing and reducing flammable vegetative fuels should be a re-occurring event just as mowing the lawn and maintaining landscape. The best approach to wildfire prevention is by creating “defensible space.” “Defensible space” is the clearing of flammable and combustible vegetation from around the home or business. This includes dry grasses and weeds, brush such as manzanita and berry, removal of trees that are dead or to “open up” to make additional clear space. Keep limb tree branches 10 to 12 feet off the ground. Also, clear debris such as leaves, needles and tree branches that overhang roof areas and provide visible address signs so we can find you. Although defensible space may not totally defend your home from wildfire it will provide an upper hand for firefighting personnel performing the task at hand. To use a long-established phrase: “You provide the defense, we’ll provide the offense” is how we need to collectively work together. We, your fire service providers, continue to prepare ourselves through training and education, so we can deliver that “offense.” Help us with defensible space along with fire safe practices during high fire danger times so we can reduce the risks of wildfire. Together, now more than ever, the fire service and citizens of the community need to take a proactive approach towards our wildfire threats. As I look over my many years in the fire service, I think of the evolution of the smoke detector. At first it was met with reluctance, and doubt of its performance and reliability and simply questioning the cost and hassle of installation. Now we know by installing a simple smoke detector lives and property can be saved, even before the fire department arrives. I sure hope it won’t take us 10 to 20 years to realize taking responsibility in creating defensible space around our homes can also save lives and property, even before the fire department arrives. So, are we prepared? Mark D’Ambrogi is the fire chief for the City of Auburn.