FIRE SEASON STARTS EARLY
MONDAY,JUNE 19, 2006
Los Angeles: Southern California's fire season started ahead of schedule this year. June 5, 2006 was declared the first day of the 2006 fire season.
According to a news release issued by Unit Chief Bill Holmes of the Amador-El Dorado unit of the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, California's fire season officially began on June 5. Holmes indicated that "the term 'fire season' is simply a state of readiness."
The official start of the fire season varies geographically throughout the state and country due to weather conditions, fuel types and the number of fire incidents. "Temperatures are rising, the abundant grass crop is drying out and the summer weather patterns have begun," the CDF release said. "The declaration of fire season gives CDF the opportunity to remind residents that it's time to take action."
Southern California famous for its many seasonal wildfires is not alone.
Wildland fire activity increased during the past few months across parts of the Southwest U.S., with fires developing in New Mexico in early May. In early June, fire activity began to affect parts of Alaska, with large fires developing in the Yukon Delta region.
Since the beginning of 2006, large fire activity focused primarily in the central and southern plains, the Southwest and the Florida peninsula. As of June 7th, over 44,000 fires and over 2.6 million acres have burned across the contiguous U.S. and Alaska, according to estimates from the National Interagency Fire Center (NIFC). Of the total acreage, approximately 1.88 million acres have burned in the southern area (which encompasses 13 states, Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands and the District of Columbia).
Fire activity also increased across Canada over the past few months. As of May 31st, there have been 2180 fires 103,307 acres burned across Canada so far this year.
Each year, more than 4,000 Americans die and more than 25,000 are injured in fires, many of which could be prevented. Direct property loss due to fires is estimated at $8.6 billion annually.
To protect yourself, it is important to understand the basic characteristics of fire. Fire spreads quickly; there is no time to gather valuables or make a phone call. In just two minutes, a fire can become life threatening. In five minutes, a residence can be engulfed in flames.
Heat and smoke from fire can be more dangerous than the flames. Inhaling the super-hot air can sear your lungs. Fire produces poisonous gases that make you disoriented and drowsy. Instead of being awakened by a fire, you may fall into a deeper sleep. Asphyxiation is the leading cause of fire deaths, exceeding burns by a three-to-one ratio.
The CDF reminds residents to create 100 feet of defensible space around their homes. Last year a new California state law became effective that extended the defensible space clearance around homes and structures from 30 feet to 100 feet. Proper clearance to 100 feet dramatically increases the chance of structures surviving a wildfire and provides for firefighter safety when protecting homes during a wildland fire.
According to the "Why 100 Feet?" information released on the CDF Web site, a cleared area of 30 feet surrounding a home creates a "lean, clean and green zone" and an additional 70 feet in the remaining defensible space creates a "reduced fuel zone."
The "lean, clean and green zone" includes the clearing of an area of 30 feet immediately surrounding a home, which is an area that requires the greatest reduction in flammable vegetation.
However, some jurisdictions may have additional requirements for tree removal, or special procedures for avoiding erosion, threatened or endangered species or the protection of water quality. If in doubt, the CDF asks that residents check with local officials.
The "reduced fuel zone" depends on the steepness of the property and the type of vegetation. Spacing between plants improves the chance of stopping a wildfire before it destroys a home.
The CDF offers two options in reducing the fuel zone, one of which involves creating horizontal and vertical spacing between plants. The amount of space will depend on how steep the slope is and the size of the plants.
The other option is eliminating a vertical "fire ladder." "You can have trees - it's the lower brush underneath and around them that needs to be cleared," said Assistant Fire Chief Dale Fishback of the Jackson Volunteer Fire District. "Keep the grasses mowed and the weeds cut back."
Further CDF wildfire prevention steps include removing the build-up of needles and leaves from roofs and gutters, as well as trimming dead limbs that may be hanging over the house or garage. Keep tree limbs trimmed at least 10 feet from any chimneys. California law requires screens over chimney outlets of not more than 1/2 inch of mesh. Clear all flammable vegetation from within 10 feet of propane tanks.
Large areas of dry weeds and brush, in combination with radiant heat, create a fuel that can be easily ignited and spread rapidly with the intensity of the fire increasing as it burns the dry vegetation. The CDF reminds homeowners to use care in operating equipment when clearing vegetation, as one small spark may start a fire. All equipment with an internal combustion engine must be equipped with an approved and operable spark arrestor. Metal blades striking rocks can create sparks and start fires.
The regulations regarding fire prevention may vary locally in each state, county and city through out the country. For more information check with your local fire depatment.
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