New Forecasts Warn of Increased Summer Fires in California

Tips on how to prepare for another potentially terrible fire season

Fire has always been part of Southern California’s ecosystem, but today’s wildfires are more intense, more frequent, and more dangerous than ever. The memories of massive blazes like the Woolsey, Camp, and Thomas Fires still fresh, leaving many of us wondering how to prepare for a wildfire.

While many experts say “fire season” is now almost year-round, it’s clear that incidents spike during the dry, hot months of summer and fall. This year’s projections call for a wildland fire potential outlook of “above average” starting in July, with the most recent report from the National Interagency Fire Center noting that “drought is expected to persist if not worsen across much of the West.” The report indicates the San Joaquin Valley region may be at greatest risk for increased summer fires.

“The large fire threat will likely become above normal in July due to the absence of significant moisture from the monsoon, especially given the fact that precipitation has trended well below normal for the entire water year and fuels will be abnormally dry and receptive to new starts,” the report reads. “Any lightning will be problematic in July due to the anticipated drier nature of storms especially if a lightning outbreak coincides with an extreme heat event.”

wildfire prevention fire season fire forecast
National Significant Wildland Fire Potential Outlook / NICC

Preparing for a wildfire means first doing everything you can to prevent one from ever starting, though choosing the right plants for your area and maintaining your property with a mind for fire safety. The second prong is developing a plan and being ready in the event you need to evacuate. Here are some basic tips on where to start.

Mitigate and Prevent

Many fire events are wind-driven, with small sparks flying through the air. Where that ember lands can make all the difference. Will it land on something dry and quick to burn, or a more fire-resilient surface? When it comes to building or remodeling your home, go for fire-smart materials like concrete and brick rather than wood. In the garden, opt for native, drought-tolerant plants are naturally adapted to the environment–and whatever you plant, keep it moist and hydrated, and consider hardening a zone of several feet around any structures.

Make Your House Fire-Safe

The National Fire Protection Association recommends having at least one fire extinguisher on each floor of your house, ideally located near doors and exits of rooms so it can be grabbed quickly, plus one in the garage. If you only have one, put it in the kitchen–but keep it far from the stove or oven. Once they’re in place, be sure to keep an eye on expiration dates; most last five to 15 years. It’s also wise to make sure everyone in your household knows where the electric, gas, and water shutoffs are in your home and how to cut them off in the event of an emergency.

Pack an Emergency Kit

As a sensible California-dweller, you likely already have a go-pack ready in the event of an earthquake. If you don’t, this step will help prepare for a wildfire or other emergency at the same time. Be sure it has plenty of nonperishable food and water; experts estimate it’s best to start with about three gallons of water for every person in your household. In addition to the basics like first aid supplies and important personal documents, you’ll also want to consider adding analog items like a whistle, a hand-crank radio, and paper maps, in the event that mobile signals are interrupted. If you can get ahold of them, filtration masks can also be good to have.

Plan for an Evacuation 

If an evacuation order is issued, you’ll want to be ready to grab your kit and go. Make sure everyone in your family is on the same page about how you’ll leave and what route you’ll take out of your area (have multiple options planned, if possible). Have a destination where you’ll take shelter arranged in advance if you can. And don’t forget to plan for how you’ll move any pets or animals.

RELATED: These Maps Track Every Wildfire Burning Around L.A.

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