California’s drought may be over, but the wildfire risk is far from past. As temperatures rose last week, fire danger rose as well. A fire that broke out in Sun Valley around 1:30 p.m. on Friday had burned three homes by Saturday morning and prompted an evacuation order for areas around Los Angeles. By the time a brief shower knocked the flames back on Sunday afternoon, the La Tuna fire had burned 7,000 acres, making it the largest wildfire in the county’s history.
Once a wildfire starts, it can grow quickly, threatening lives, homes, and businesses in a matter of hours. Businesses and homeowners need to be aware of the risk of fire, and be prepared to get out quickly.
Weather Watches and Red Flag Warnings
The National Weather Service (NWS) issues Red Flag Warnings & Fire Weather Watches to alert fire departments of the onset, or possible onset, of critical weather and dry conditions that could lead to rapid or dramatic increases in wildfire activity. These watches and warnings are available on the NWS webpage, and are updated frequently, with up to an 8-day forecast available, depending on conditions.
- Red Flag Warnings are issued for weather events which may result in extreme fire behavior that will occur within 24 hours. A Red Flag Warning is the highest alert. During these times the NWS urges everyone in the area to practice extreme caution, because a simple spark can cause a major wildfire.
- Fire Weather Watches are issued when weather conditions could exist in the next 12-72 hours. A Fire Weather Watch is one level below a warning, but fire danger is still high.
Weather patterns that can cause a watch or warning include low relative humidity, strong winds, dry fuels, the possibility of dry lightning strikes, or any combination of the above.
When fire danger is heightened, CAL FIRE places additional firefighters on duty, staffs more fire engines and keeps more equipment available 24 hours a day to be able to respond to any new fires.
CAL FIRE recommends that occupants within the wildland-urban interface (any developed property that borders an undeveloped, forested, or wild area) need to make sure they are prepared to protect lives and property. Because fires start suddenly and move quickly, you need to be ready to evacuate immediately when fire threatens.
CAL FIRE’s “Prepare for Wildfire” advice is geared toward residents, but can be adapted for businesses. According to CAL FIRE, a quick and safe evacuation depends upon:
- Pre-evacuation preparation, including securing flammables to the extent possible, and getting onsite equipment that could be useful to firefighters ready to go – for example, setting up ladders for roof access and connecting hoses to spigots.
- A wildfire action plan, that includes escape routes from the area (not just the building), emergency supply kits, and plans for contacting and accounting for everyone.