Have you ever considered attending an informational forum on an important topic, but wondered if you’d learn enough that would be helpful and useful?
A roomful of curious folks and I got the answer at the Cambria FireSafe Focus Group’s Feb. 27 forum on how to be better prepared for possible wildfires and other disasters.
I’m a fire survivor and reporter who has written about fire preparedness for more than two decades. So, I figured I already knew quite a bit about the topics and suggestions retired Cal Fire training officer Bruce Fosdike would cover.
Surprise! I learned a lot … which could be a good object lesson for others who are confident they already know enough about how to prepare their homes and themselves for emergencies.
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For instance, I learned that:
- There are alternatives to standard fire extinguishers, which spray fine, dry chemical dust all over everything. Fosdike said cleanup’s much easier after using the pricier Halotron versions, which suppress the fire with a rapidly evaporating liquid.
- Small-mesh metal screens on basement and attic vents may not stop every ember, but Fosdike said the screening diffuses a lot of the embers’ fire-starting level of heat.
- Solar-powered, lighted address-number signs can help first responders find your house faster, day or night.
- Rehearsing evacuation routes in the daytime isn’t enough; you have to practice at night, too.
- The best spot for sheltering in place is a windowless room in the middle of the house or on the windward side.
- Write various “we’re evacuating” lists now, itemizing important things to grab within 10 minutes, 15 minutes, and 30 or more.
- Every “ready-set-go” bag should contain cash (small bills and rolls of quarters).
- You’ll need your ID (with your street address on it) to get back into the area after the evacuation mandate is lifted.
Other Cambrians — including some focus group participants! — said they’d also learned some pre-emergency preparations they were going to go home and actually do.
Focus Group participant Ken Topping, an expert on grand-scale disaster recovery, said he learned how to shut off his home’s natural gas meter.
Ramona Voge, wife of sheriff’s Cmdr. Jim Voge, said she learned what to do if you’re sheltering in place because “you were caught in your house and it was too late to leave,” such as bringing water hoses inside so they don’t melt as the fire rages outside, “filling tubs with water … using a dry cloth (not a mask!) to prevent smoke inhalation, and placing wet cloths at the bottom of doorways” to block some of the smoke.
She’ll now store personal items, doggie things, water, food and clothing in buckets rather than plastic bags — “they’re easier to store, move, and more organized in a vehicle.” She’ll back up her computer to a portable terabyte, buy a crate for their dog, Barclay, “purchase a fire/earthquake kit with appropriate provisions, and ensure the fire extinguishers are still viable.”
They’ll get a professional review of their home and property and hire someone to regularly clean out their gutters. They’ll “leave at the first hint of evacuation,” she said, and they’ve already confirmed that their homeowners’ insurance covers any lodging needs they might have during an evacuation or fire recovery.
Former county supervisor Shirley Bianchi, who leads the Focus Group, said she learned that copies of valuable papers in their “go bag” should include duplicates of their dogs’ vaccination records.
Taylor Hilden said she learned that, in a wildfire battle, firefighters must triage homes for fire preparedness, so they know which ones are most likely to survive. “There will only be three to four houses the crew can work on at one time, and the rest will be sadly unprotected,” information Hilden called “interesting, helpful and brutally honest.”
She learned parents should ask school officials ahead of time “where your children’s evacuation center is, because that is where the loaded bus will take them.” Also, people should select ahead of time an out-of-town meeting place, in case family members are elsewhere when evacuation orders are issued.
Susan Oberholtzer said she “had no idea I was to turn off my gas line if evacuating, to bring a hose into the house if you cannot evacuate, fill buckets with water, keep doors and windows closed, undo latch on garage door.” She’ll make sure her cellphone is signed up for Reverse 911 and other emergency alerts.
Oberholtzer will prepare in advance for a possible evacuation, “rather than figuring out what to do and take at the last minute.” Also, it’s “very important to practice an alternative escape route. I have lived here 20 years, and I still do not know my alternate routes that well.”
She’s glad the Sheriff’s Office maintains a list of folks who are less mobile or impaired, so assistance can be provided to them.
Nancy McLaughlin said she’ll have someone clean her gutters, add wire-mesh covers to those vents, “add a wrench to my gas meter and check that my address is plainly visible” from the street.
Marie Christine Mahe likes the idea of a “go bucket,” rather than “a suitcase you might want to use otherwise.” Also, Cambria’s evacuation brochure showed her “a better spot to stand on at the beach,” and she pledged to “rehearse several alternate evacuation routes” that very weekend.
Jerry Gruber, general manager of the Cambria Community Services District, seemed to sum things up when he called the forum “extremely valuable,” saying that “what I learned is how unprepared I actually am and what I need to do to get ready. I brought the information home (to Heritage Ranch), and my wife and I are committed to starting the process of being properly prepared.”
The next forum
The Cambria Fire Safe Focus Group’s next emergency-informational forum will be from 6 to 8 p.m. Tuesday, March 27, at the Veterans Memorial Building. Speakers are to be Ron Alsop, emergency services manager for the county’s Office of Emergency Services, and former Cal Fire training officer Bruce Fosdike.
The topics are response and recovery, according to group leader Shirley Bianchi. She said that “our first two forums were about what can happen. The next two are about what we can do if it does happen.
“Whenever there’s a catastrophe in Cambria – flood or earthquake or whatever — the community responds beautifully and graciously,” Bianchi said. “But they could respond even better if they were organized, and they knew where they could be the most effective.”