Today and this weekend, much of the Bay Area has been placed under a red-flag fire alert, due to expected high winds and low humidity. This is the second such warning for higher elevations in the Bay Area this week.
I urge everyone to be aware of fire risk generally and want to take this opportunity to offer the following information to help you become prepared for a possible emergency.
The Marin Coalition recently featured a presentation on wildfire preparedness by Mark Brown, Deputy Chief - Marin County Fire Department and Bob Norrbom, Jr., Battalion Chief - Sonoma Valley Fire and Rescue Authority. They provided a tremendous amount of information about (1) how to defend one’s home against wildfires and (2) what to do to prepare for such a calamity if it should occur in our community.
You can view the event on video:
Even if you don’t have an hour to hear the presentation, I urge you to look at the information below to help you increase your awareness of the risk of a fire catastrophe in Marin and to help you prepare if it occurs.
Many of us live in a high-risk area for wildfire and now have essentially a year-round fire “season”. Three key points were made by these fire officials. Each of us should:
1 Register with “Alert Marin” (for Marin residents) in order to receive emergency telephone notifications from authorities in the event of a fire situation: see below
2 Prepare for evacuation in the event of fire
3 Create “defensible space” around your home to reduce fire risk
Item 1 is easy. Go to www.AlertMarin.org.
Item 2 is similar to what one does to prepare for an earthquake: Know how to turn off your gas; have an emergency kit with food, water, clothes, medicine, backup phone chargers, etc.
But for fire, you’ll more likely need to leave quickly (as opposed to riding out an earthquake disaster in your backyard). So one should think about:
- How do you manually open your electric garage door if power goes out?
- Who will you use as an emergency contact point in case mobile service is interrupted?
- What are your options for evacuation routes, in case some roads are closed?
- Is your insurance adequate to rebuild if your home is destroyed?
You also should prepare for fast collection of essential items if evacuation is needed, as well as pets and small children. Think about having a quick grab-bag for:
- Insurance records;
- Computers or backup drives;
- Passports and other ID;
Item 3 is more involved. Here are a few things you should be aware of:
WUI Zone and Defensible Space
A huge area of Marin (not just West Marin!) is located in a zone designated as a “WUI”: i.e., a Wildland-Urban Interface zone. The zoning places additional building and remodeling requirements on homeowners within the zone, including guidelines respecting building materials, landscaping, fire sprinklers, etc. The objective is to “harden” your home and create “defensible space” to enable you to survive and protect your property in the event of catastrophe. You can check to see if you live within the WUI here:
WUI or not, it is important to know how to create a defense against fire, and helpful guidelines are given here:
Also, I found a great website from UC which list all sorts of considerations for defending your property against fire. This means clearing debris and fire fuel materials from areas near the home, modifying landscaping to eliminate dangers, evaluating venting of the structures, assessing structural factors that weaken a home’s resistance to fire (e.g., roof material, presence of dry-rot, deck composition, etc.). The UC site home page is here:
The quickest way to get an overview of the topics, I found, is to look at the various appendices, available here:
What Else Can/Should You Do Now?
Lastly, consider some pro-active measures. Many local fire agencies will provide a free inspection to review defensible space and evaluate potential fire hazards at your home.
Also, review your fire insurance: Is coverage adequate in case you need to rebuild? (Rebuilding costs can be $400-600 per square foot or more in the Bay Area and many policies won’t cover full replacement costs.) In addition, is your insurance company financially stable enough to survive in the event of a massive fire with thousands of claims? Consider checking the carrier’s financial condition at a credit rating service, such as:
This is just the basics, so I encourage you to find out more at any of numerous sources for additional information. Some of these prevention items (e.g. get a different roof) are clearly a heavy lift, but there are many things that can easily be done to improve your chances in a wildfire.
Scott Pinsky, an attorney, is an associate broker at Alain Pinel Realtors and serves as Chair of the Marin Coalition.
Organization: Marin Coalition
Contact: Scott D. Pinsky, J.D.
Contact Phone: 4154566163