As Cambria Fire Department personnel worriedly watched over their shoulders on a recent warm, dry afternoon, 18 wildfires were burning out of control elsewhere in California.
According to fire engineer Emily Torlano, firefighters know it’s going to be a long August and September, maybe even October.
Wildfires across the state have significantly depleted county fire resources, as mutual-aid requests have area personnel and equipment deployed elsewhere.
That could leave tinder-dry Cambria at increased risk in a wildfire during this historic drought, when the town is so short of water. The town’s trademark Monterey pine forest is struggling, too, which increases the amount of potential tinder in town.
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As firefighters prepare for the worst, Torlano said, they’re urging residents to take steps now to be prepared — to know what to do and where to go.
If evacuations are ordered in part or all of Cambria, county officials and Cambria Fire will notify the public through a telephone-notification system known as “reverse 911.” This automated system is designed to contact all landlines in a designated area, such as Cambria, and provide instructions.
Alerts also would be sent out on the Television Broadcast Emergency Message, National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration emergency radio, wireless alerts and by door-to-door evacuations.
Those who don’t have landlines are urged to register their cellphone numbers into the system; go to www.slocounty.ca.gov/OES/Reverse911.htm or contact the Sheriff’s Office by leaving a voicemail message at 788-6018.
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Here’s a wide range of recommendations on how best to get prepared for a devastating fire:
- Have an escape plan. Post it someplace obvious, and tell everybody where it is. Make sure everybody has copies in their vehicles or backpacks. Update the plan as needed. Rehearse the plan.
- Make a list of things you need to take with you.
- Know where to meet your family members in an emergency, and make sure they know, too.
- Locate escape routes and Safe Refuge areas (Free copies of the Cambria Area Evacuation Plan and other wildfire-prevention information can be found at the Cambria Community Services District website at www.cambriacsd.org, the San Luis Obispo Fire Safe Council at www.fscslo.org, the Cambria Fire Station or at Cookie Crock. The Cambria Area Evacuation Plan includes maps that show safe refuge areas — critical information, since Cambria has so few routes out of hilly residential neighborhoods and residents may not know all of them.
- Choose an out-of-area friend or relative as a check-in contact. Give the person a list of people to notify. Have the contact’s information available with the escape plan.
Be fire alert
- Provide defensible space around structures.
- Clear flammable materials from rain gutters, roof.
- Trim branches at least 10 feet from a chimney.
- Retrofit vents to eliminate places where embers can get into the attic, basement and concealed spaces.
- Clear a minimum of 10 feet around propane tanks.
- Use fire-resistant materials for roofing and siding.
- Move woodpiles and downed trees away from structures.
- Eliminate flammable vegetation.
- Keep water tanks full and make sure hydrants are accessible and visible.
- Have garden hoses and ladders available for firefighters to access roof.
If fire is approaching
- Plan to leave early!
- Keep keys where you can find them.
- Park vehicles facing outward.
- Tune to the Emergency Alert System on any local radio or television station.
- Put valuables, important documents and medications in your car.
- Secure pets and prepare them for transport. Horse owners can call the Horse Emergency Evacuation Team at 466-7457, or (in advance) email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Close shutters, windows, heavy drapes and fireplace dampers; remove thin drapes and other flammables near windows.
- Turn on outside lights; leave some inside lights on.
- Wear long pants and shirt, bandana, hat, goggles and other protective clothing. Cotton is best.
- Turn off gas at meter, and propane tanks.
- Safely make your way out of the area.
- Drive with headlights on. Do not interfere with or block emergency vehicles.
If you become trapped
In your home
- Close all windows.
- Keep all doors closed, but unlocked.
- Keep family together and remain calm.
- Stay inside until the fire passes.
- Remember, if it gets hot inside your house, it will be much hotter outside.
In your car
- Park away from vegetation. Roll up windows.
- Cover mouth and nose with dry cloth.
- Cover yourself with blanket or jacket.
- Stay in the car until the fire passes.
- If the vehicle catches on fire, exit only after the wildfire passes.
- Find an area away from vegetation.
- Lie face down.
- Cover mouth and nose with dry cloth.
Source: Cambria Fire Department