Wildfire safety: Simple steps could save homes during a blaze

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By Missy Hodgin
Texas AgriLife

The wildfires of last spring and summer are still fresh on people’s minds.  And because of the moisture we have been blessed with since late summer and early fall, pastures are now carrying a heavy fuel load.  I have recently visited with Kent Neville, Clay County Emergency Management Coordinator, about a new program he and local fire departments will be implementing in the next few weeks to prepare residents, homeowners and ranchers for wildfire.

Each year, wildfires consume hundreds of homes in Texas.  According to Mike Roberts, Henrietta Volunteer Fire Department chief, many of those homes could have been saved if the homeowners followed some fire-safe practices.  In fact, studies have shown that as many as 80 percent of home losses could have been prevented if the owners had only followed a few fire-safe practices.

Fire is, and always has been, a natural occurrence.  Wildfires, fueled by a build-up of dry vegetation and driven by seasonal hot, dry winds, are extremely dangerous and sometimes impossible to control.  It is not a question of if but when the next major fire will occur.  Homeowners and residents should understand the impact a fire could have on them and be prepared.

The Ready, Set, Go! Program will share information to create heightened awareness and a more fire-safe environment for Clay County residents. The following is a summary of the different segments of the program.

Residents living next to a wildland area should create buffer zones around their homes by removing weeds, brush and other vegetation to keep fire away and reduce the risk of flying embers.

Construction materials and the quality of defensible space, or buffer zones, surrounding it are what give a home the best chance to survive a wildfire.  The program discusses the different structures of a home, what are the most vulnerable structures and measures that can be taken to protect the home.  For example, clearing the pine needles, leaves and other debris from your roof and gutters will reduce risk to a home.

Go! Early

Evacuate your family, pets, livestock and cherished possessions to a safe area and monitor for updates.  According to Billy Carlton, president of the Clay County Fire Fighters Association, nothing you own is worth your family members’ lives.  Leave to a predetermined location.  Take your emergency supply kits.

Some supplies that should be included:

  • 3-day supply of water.
  • Non-perishable food for all family members and pets.
  • Important family documents and contact numbers.
  • Prescriptions or special medications.
  • Charges for cell phones, laptops, etc.

Stay and defend.  Call the local fire department.  Landowners should have spare gate keys and combination lists ready.

Get Set!

There are checklists that homeowners and residents should follow both inside and outside the house such as:

  • Shut all windows and doors, but leave them unlocked.
  • Remove flammable window shades and curtains and close metal shutters.
  • Do not leave sprinklers on or water running.  They can waste critical water pressure.
  • Have a ladder available.
  • Leave exterior lights on.

Get Ready!

A family disaster plan that includes meeting locations and communication plans should be created and rehearsed.  Large animal evacuation plans should be included.

Some fire tips for ranchers include offering knowledge of your area to fire crew who might not be familiar with the area.  This should include access roads, location of structure, location of water sources, fence lines and geography.  Communicate with fire operations.  Ask questions, offer assistance and give permission.  Be patient and understand that there are many moving parts to a fire operation.  Don’t panic or jump to conclusions.  Firefighters and landowners have the same goals: to protect lives, property and livelihoods.

For further information about this program, refer to the following websites: http://www.wildlandfirersg.org/  or http://www.firewise.org/ or contact Kent Neville at (940) 538-5042 or via email at ccemergencymgmt@claycountytx.com.

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Pioneer Sentinel

The Pioneer Sentinel is an online newspaper designed to deliver the news of Clay County, Texas, in a concise and community-friendly format.

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