How Santa Clara County Residents Can Prepare for Fire Season
With warm temperatures, dry vegetation and little rain last year, parts of San Jose and Santa Clara County are threatened by wildfires. Here’s what residents can do to prepare for this year’s fire season.
Buildings near the Wildland Urban Interface (WUI) are most at risk, said Erica Ray, spokesperson for the San José Fire Department. This area includes the Diablo Mountain Range, also known as the San Jose Foothills, as well as parts of the county near the Santa Cruz Mountains.
Last year, WUI experienced thunderstorm-triggered wildfires, including the Santa Clara Unit Lightning Complex (SCU) fire, which burned 393,624 acres. Residents can consult with the Santa Clara County Fire Safety Board Resource to see if they live in risk areas.
Matt Tuttle, president of Local 230 San Jose Firefighters Union, said his team is preparing for the fire season by training, gathering equipment and studying past wildfires. Depending on where the wildfires struck, his team could be dispatched to fight them across the state, meaning they need to be ready at all times.
“The sad truth now is that fire season is becoming a year round event,” Tuttle told the San José Spotlight. “It starts earlier in the year and continues later in the year.”
His advice to residents?
“Expect the unexpected,” he said. “The threat of a forest fire is still there. All it takes is a simple change in wind direction or strong gusts or a thunderstorm and it changes things dramatically.
San Jose District 4 Council Member David Cohen hosted a town hall on May 20 with Corey Condren, Community Liaison Officer for the Firefighters Union, on steps residents can take to prepare for the unexpected. Last year, some members of his district, which includes Alviso, Berryessa and North San Jose, had to evacuate.
“In San Jose, you get a feeling of comfort because it’s such a big city,” Condren said. “But I think people forget how big San José is. Last year there were evacuations here.
Francisco Villalobos, a political assistant for District 1 of Santa Clara County, advises all residents to sign up to receive emergency notifications via SCC Alert. During a forest fire, the alert system will notify residents of nearby forest fires and whether they need to evacuate. District 1, the largest in the county, includes southern and eastern San José, Monte Sereno, Los Gatos, Morgan Hill and Gilroy.
Tuttle and Condren advised residents to prepare to charge their phones during wildfire season in order to receive emergency alerts.
Condren said in his presentation that most forest fires are started by humans, whether intentional or not. Fireworks, which are illegal in San Jose and most of Santa Clara County, can cause dangerous fires. Gilroy is the only town in the county that allows the use of “safe and sane” fireworks.
On July 4, all 33 engines of the San Jose Fire Department responded to calls related to illegal fireworks, which Tuttle said delayed responding to other 911 calls.
“It’s unfortunate to see these calls where someone who lights illegal fireworks ends up setting fire to their neighbor’s house or catching fire on a hill,” he said.
To deter the use of illegal fireworks, lawmakers in San José are considering passing the Social Host Ordinance, which would fine tenants and landlords for fireworks launched from their property.
Prepare your house
Condren and Ray advise residents to create a defensible space that will withstand the flying embers. It means removing dead plants, grass and weeds; clean debris from gutters; prune trees that protrude from roofs and keep branches at least 10 feet from a chimney or other trees.
Condren also urged those in rural areas who have wood shingle roofs to replace them, as they are likely to catch embers and burn.
Villalobos encouraged communities to sign up to become FireWise sites. These groups can form community plans on what they can do in an emergency and have the local fire department examine their neighborhood for any fire risk. More information about the sites and how to register can be found here.
Families are also advised to prepare a communication plan containing contact details for family members, doctors, insurance, etc. An emergency communication plan template for families is available here.
Go to bags and evacuations
In anticipation of a potential evacuation, Ray said residents should prepare emergency kits with first aid, a three-day supply of prescription drugs, as well as non-perishable food and water for each. household member. She also suggested including copies of important documents such as home insurance and medical information.
Other items to put in a travel bag include phone chargers and pet supplies. The bag should be placed in an easily accessible location, Condren said.
In the event of a forest fire, the local security forces are responsible for enforcing evacuations. If anyone needs oxygen or has difficulty evacuating due to medical needs or other issues, Condren recommended calling the police for help.
The return of the wildfire season also brings back PG&E public safety power cuts, which the utility is using to reduce the risk of power lines catching fire if there is a warning red flag regarding forest fires in the area, low humidity and high winds. In the event of a power outage, refrigerators can keep food cool for four hours and freezers for 48 hours if left closed, Condren said.
Last October, PG&E cut power due to hot, dry and windy conditions in the mountains of North Bay and East Bay. The closures affected 50,000 customers in 19 counties, including Santa Clara County.
the state fined PG&E $ 109 million for allegedly violating power outage guidelines in 2019.
The Santa Clara County Emergency Management Department provides additional resources, including a disaster preparedness guide and a 12-month emergency preparedness guide, which can be found here.
Contact Patricia Wei at [email protected].