Napa Wildfires–Lessons Learned

by Gary Howes
Guns and Gunsmiths Editor

Well, we have survived what has probably been the worst set of wildfires in California history–over 214,000 acres burned along with over 5,700 houses and businesses destroyed and the tragic loss of at least 40 lives at this time. And as I write this, some areas are still burning.

We were very lucky here at Lake Berryessa with only two homes burned that I am aware of, but it was a tough week with choking smoke, closed roads, no electricity for 6 days, mandatory evacuations in some ares, and all of the stress that goes along with that.

AGI managed to stay operational throughout, though with a much reduced staff, and have asked for your patience with any orders placed during the last week.

Now it is time to take stock and reflect on what happened, including any lessons learned. Here are a few of my thoughts, plus some more from a local retired firefighter. Remember that these ideas are also mostly applicable to your preparations for ANY natural disaster–floods, storms, hurricanes, wildfires, earthquakes and more.

HAVE A PLAN

We were woken up by deputy sheriffs at 11:30 at night and told that we needed to evacuate. Because my wife and I had already had this discussion, we knew exactly what we needed to grab and were able to be packed into our cars and out of the area in less than 30 minutes. You do NOT want to be trying to figure this out at the time and when you are half asleep. Things you need to pack include people, pets, paperwork (including insurance details), prescriptions, cash and some clothing. If you have the time and space to pack anything else that is a bonus.

When it comes to firearms, most of us have an extensive collection so decide now which ones you would be able to take along and how much ammo to take as well. If you can’t take them all, you need a good fire rated safe that may protect them if the fire is not too intense.

You should also discuss with your family where you could meet up in case you are not all together at the time of evacuation.

COMMUNICATION

One of the worst feelings is not knowing what is going on. Phone lines and cell phone towers are destroyed, electricity outages means no TV news. Keep a battery or crank powered radio in your house so you can at least listen to news reports, and consider if walkie-talkies might be good in your situation, or even a satellite-based device such as the In-Reach unit that I have discussed here on G&G before.

THINGS TO HAVE IN YOU PREP EQUIPMENT

By far the best thing we had in this fire was a small generator. You don’t necessarily need one big enough to run your entire house–ours is a 2,000 watt Honda, which is quiet enough to not be annoying and enough output to keep a refrigerator, a freezer, a couple of lights and even the TV running (but not all at the same time). Of course you also need fuel for your generator. We ran ours for about 12 hours a day and it used close to 1-1/2 gallons each day. Plan on storing at least 10 gallons in approved containers.

One thing we did not have, and will buy soon, are good quality particle masks. Here is what it looked like driving into Napa last Wednesday. You don’t want to be breathing this stuff.

Looks like Beijing on a bad day!

Having a supply of clean water and freeze-dried food has always been a part of my preparation plan. As it was, we did have limited access to a small market about 15 miles away, so food was not an issue. But our small water district got very close to running dry the last day before power came back on. Fortunately I live next to a large lake and have a good water filtration system so I knew I would not get too thirsty, but after 6 days I was starting to get a little ripe.

Lastly make sure you have a number of flashlights (LED lights last the longest) and a supply of batteries. Have one light for every person and make sure they understand that is THEIR light and they are responsible for knowing where it is at all times.

I’m sure you all have other things you could add to this short list, so please add them in the comments below.

ADVICE FROM A PROFESSIONAL

Lastly, following is a list of things to remember from a local retired firefighter that was sent to AGI President Gene Kelly. Great advice from someone who knows their stuff!

Simple Home Preparations for Wild Land Fires

Know your evacuations routes, at least two different directions in case you can’t evacuate as planned.

Back your vehicles in the driveway for fast use under limited visibility conditions. Park extra vehicles at the curb to keep them from being exposures from your home or visa versa.

If you have ladders that can reach your roof deploy them at opposite ends of your home. This will allow quick access to you roof if embers are blown on your roof.

Flying embers ignite most homes, they will exploit weaknesses of your home. Remove combustible debris on roof/gutters, roof vents, wood stacks and fences.

  1. Clear roof and especially rain gutters of combustible debris.
  2. Clear yards of combustible items, patio furniture, umbrellas, etc… place inside away from windows.
  3. Place ladders for easy roof access.
  4. Prepare all hoses with nozzles, lay them out and test them.
  5. Remove curtains and combustible window treatments
  6. Disconnect electric garage door opener to allow manual access to your garage in case of power failure.
  7. Close all interior doors, vents, skylights and chimney hampers to reduce interior draft.
  8. Turn on all exterior and interior lights.
  9. Shut off gas supply if you smell gas, or are instructed to do so by first responders, or if the fire is approaching.
  10. Help your neighbors. Besides being the right thing to do, your house is only as safe as theirs is.

If you are trapped by the fire, based on individual circumstance, it is usually best to remain inside a structure as it will typically burn slower that the vegetation around the build. Allowing you to escape after the main body of the fire has pass.

It is less desirable to remain in your vehicle and worse yet to be exposed without cover at all. This can change based on your distance from fuels, wind strength/direction and slope.

In the event you are trapped by the fire call 911 and be able to provide them with your exact location and situation. Tell them “YOU ARE TRAPPED”.

As the fire approaches it will become dark and visibility will drastically decrease due to smoke. Your eyes will burn from embers and blown debris, best to have goggles. The wind may drastically increase because of the fire conditions and it will become very loud. Be prepared and expect this, remain calm. Think, plan then act. Don’t drive your vehicle too fast for conditions, roll up windows, head lights on, put your air conditioner on recirculate.

Above all, don’t wait till the last minute to leave. No house is worth your life. Prepare your clothes, medications, non-replaceable items, and pets/food early. Have them ready to go so you don’t waste time when ordered to evacuate.

The purpose of this document is to give you something constructive to do while we all wait for this to be over and for you to be part of the solution rather that contributing to the problem. Sign up for Nixle alerts by texting your zip code to 888-777. Listen to your local radio with a battery powered radio.

If you see winds like we experienced on Sunday night leave immediately, all bets are off. Based on our current forecast that shouldn’t happen. I believe the professionals can keep us safe. Think positive thoughts. Best of luck to all.

This is by no means a complete or exhaustive list, and is just my opinion. Just a brief one to help you and your neighbors. We are stronger together.

From your friendly neighborhood retired Firefighter

Larry Anderson
Retired Fremont Fire Department Deputy Chief

 

 


One Response to Napa Wildfires–Lessons Learned

  1. I agree with your list of things to pack and steps to take and I’d to recommend two more items; a first aid kit leaning towards the type of emergency(s) you expect and train everyone in household on how to use, get trained; be sure to use /add a fuel stabilizer to the fuel and run your generator at lease once a month for a minimum of ten minutes. Again train on operation and how to connect the generator. Good luck to all your plans, stay safe and I hope you’ll never have to use them!

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