California Wildfires

In this photo provided by the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, the Pawnee Fire wildfire burns northeast of Clearlake Oaks, early Sunday, June 24, 2018.

It’s happening again.

The pictures are stark and depressingly familiar: Homes reduced to piles of ash, vehicles burned by flames so hot that rivulets of metal run down the driveway, fire crews struggling amidst a raging inferno.

Less than a year after our own brush with fiery disaster, we are back in the heart of fire season. Just this past weekend, four major blazes broke out across Northern California. Most serious was the Pawnee Fire in Lake County, which has scorched almost 14,000 acres and destroyed 22 structures as of Friday.

Even areas blackened by last fall’s wildfires are not immune. On the same day the Pawnee fire broke out, firefighters in Sonoma County scrambled to put out a fire, possibly sparked by a lawnmower, in a neighborhood that was leveled by the Tubbs Fire and is in the early stages of rebuilding, the Press Democrat reported.

“People definitely need to remain vigilant,” Napa County Fire Chief Barry Biermann told us in the spring, as temperatures climbed and the rainy season petered out.

It could all happen here again, and as our experience last fall demonstrates, it’s not just remote rural homes that are vulnerable. Were it not for good luck and diligent firefighting, parts of Napa and Calistoga could have suffered the same fate as Santa Rosa.

Now is the time to protect your home and property, even if you live in an area that we once thought of as safe from wildfire.

For information on proper fire-safe landscaping and land management, visit the Napa Communities Firewise Foundation at napafirewise.org.

They offer a detailed guide to preparing “defensible space” around your home to give it a fighting chance in a blaze.

“Simply put, defensible space is a zone where vegetation and fire fuels have been modified to reduce or stop fire spread,” the foundation explains. “The goal is to save homes and lives.”

But defensible space is not enough. Be prepared with an emergency plan. Know the possible escape routes out of your neighborhood and discuss them with your family. Know where your vital records and heirlooms are in your home so you can be prepared to leave as quickly as possible.

Check now to be sure your insurance coverage is adequate, whether you are a homeowner or renter. Catalog or photograph your major possessions in case you need to file a claim. Remember that some highly valuable or collectible items, such as jewelry, firearms, professional tools, art, electronics, and camera equipment, often require additional coverage beyond the standard insurance policy.

Subscribe to Nixle, nixle.com, the web-based system for receiving government alerts. The system worked imperfectly in last fall’s fires, but it is better than nothing while the county examines its options for more robust emergency notification, including the federal Integrated Public Alert and Warning System, which allows cell phone alerts targeted to specific areas.

You can also help prevent wildfires by some simple changes in behavior. Use lawn equipment, such as lawnmowers early in the day, when grass and underbrush is cooler and moister. Limit debris burning and light campfires only in approved receptacles. Cal Fire has a guide to summertime fire safety at preventwildfireca.org.

And most of all, heed the warnings when they come. If authorities tell you to evacuate, leave as soon as you are able. The harsh fire experiences in our region in recent years demonstrate that fire can start and spread with astonishing speed and change direction with little notice.

When the fire comes, don’t leave your fate in the hands of luck and the winds.

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The Napa Valley Register Editorial Board consists of Publisher Brenda Speth, Editor Sean Scully, and public members Cindy Webber, Ed Shenk, Mary Jean Mclaughlin and Chris Hammaker.

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