On Feb. 25, the Angwin community packed the Fireside Room at the Pacific Union College Church to learn how to prepare for the likely possibility of increased fire danger in the surrounding areas.
Angwin was fortunate during last October’s firestorms in that Angwin proper has not had a major fire. But, according to JR Rogers, chief of the Angwin Volunteer Fire Department, the history of fires in Napa County points to the potential for catastrophe if homeowners are not prepared.
“There have been fires on either side of Howell Mountain,” Rogers said. “There was the Deer Fire in 2008, the Valley Fire in 2015, the 2016 Deer Fire, and last October the Tubbs and Atlas Fires.”
Rogers was just one of several presenters at the Sunday meeting, which included Napa County Supervisor Diane Dillon, Napa County Fire Chief Barry Biermann, Napa County Sheriff John Robertson, and Kevin Twohey of the Napa County Office of Emergency Services. The large Fireside Room of the PUC Church had very few empty seats, and along the walls tables were set up by volunteers and professionals to distribute information and answer questions.
The presentations started with an address by Dillon, and was followed by talks of “Lessons Learned” from the October fires.
“The fires last October showed us that, when a fire comes, it’s sometimes not possible to get a fire engine to your house,” said county fire chief Biermann. “This is why it’s important to build that defensible space around your home.
Biermann said the department’s first priority in the rapidly moving fire is to help people evacuate safely.
Sheriff Robertson said that it was important to connect with neighbors and keep an eye out for those who may need help evacuating. “It’s about what you can do to help one another in situations of fire. It’s up to all of us to work together.”
Twohey from the Office of Emergency Services talked about the lessons his organization learned during the fires.
“We had four disasters in four months,” Twohey said. “During the Lake County fire we learned we could in fact harbor small pets. And we worked with local rescue groups to coordinate the rescue of large animals. During the October fires there were over 700 horses rescued to two shelters in the first hours of the fire.”
Twohey also said that the county had established shelters with professionals who could advise evacuees with mental health and other services.
He stressed that everyone should have “disaster kits” and to be prepared for 72 hours of self-sufficiency. Planning for evacuation was imperative.
“Know your evacuation routes,” he said. “Help your neighbors. Have someone to act as a contact in the event of an evacuation.”
He also stressed the importance of registering with the Nixle Alert System, the open communication forum that connects public safety, municipalities, schools, businesses and communities that sends alert messages to warn individuals on the status of emergencies.
Twohey acknowledged that the October fires showed a weakness in the communications channels when cell-towers lost power, but he said the county is working on resolving these kinds of issues. He also recommended that evacuees – after reaching a shelter — register with a service called Safe & Well offered by the Red Cross which enables family and friends to locate you during an emergency. Using these services, according to Twohey, helps to keep the main communications channels and phone lines free so that emergency personnel can better communicate.
Rogers spent the majority of his talk digging into the requirements of building a defensible space around homes and buildings. “Thirty feet of defensible space is a minimum, removing brush, lower limbs of trees, cleaning gutters and removing debris around the home. A hundred feet of clearing is better, and if you can do more, do more,” he said.
Rogers also stressed the importance of everyone to recognize that living in the wildlands-urban interface, which includes most of Napa County, people must come up to speed concerning the dangers and the planning for fast moving fires. He recommended that everyone connect to the CAL FIRE website ReadyForWildfire.org where there are links to instructional videos and apps that can help citizens become better prepared for the inevitable fire seasons that plague the wildlands-urban interface.