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California is having one of its worst wildfire years in recorded history, and there is no end in sight. At least not until winter rains come — if they do.

Last winter was wetter than usual, but you don’t need special mental skills to remember the previous several years that brought about severe drought conditions.

Last rainy season was a mixed blessing. We desperately needed the water to replenish reservoirs and groundwater basins, and end the drought. However, the rain made things green again, nourishing plants that have been undernourished for years.

The mixed-blessing part is that those plants are thirsty again, turning from green to brown, which is just more fuel for wildfires.

So far this dry season, more than 7,000 wildfires have been reported, some of them huge. Think Northern California right now, and deadly infernos. The 2017 wildfire count is already more than 1,000 above last year’s total.

All this has ignited a spirited debate on what’s causing the wildfire ramp-up, most of the talk focusing on climate change.

We’ll leave that debate for another day, because the focus here today is not on wildfires, but on house fires, and how best to stay healthy and alive if you become involved in such an event.

We are in the midst of National Fire Prevention Week, which was acknowledged by the Santa Maria City Council designating this as Fire Prevention Week.

The week’s theme is “Every Second Counts — Plan Two Ways Out,” according to local Fire Department officials, who speak with considerable authority on this matter. Santa Maria firefighters respond to about 10,000 calls a year. Not all of those are about house fires, but enough are to compel fire officials to implore residents to be prepared.

When they say “every second counts,” they’re not kidding. Fire in a closed space expands lightning-fast, as the flames suck up all the available oxygen. If you find yourself in such a situation, you literally have only seconds to make the right decisions.

The Fire Department conducts regular outreach, explaining about the every-second-counts concept, and suggesting everyone have a plan, including a quick escape route. Practice your plan, with your family, at least twice a year.

If you don’t have such a plan and want to put one together, a good time and place for you to start is beginning at 9 a.m. this Saturday, at Fire Station No. 1, 300 W. Cook St. That is the location of a Fire Department open house, at which you can learn the kinds of steps that could keep you alive in a house fire.

House fires can be awful, but fortunately local departments are so quick to respond that they generally do not turn into major disasters. Those massive wildfires are a different story, and because they can be so spectacularly catastrophic, they tend to grab the big headlines. Again, think Northern California.

But make no mistake, house fires too often are killers. That’s especially true when there are children in the house. And that’s why it is so important for a family to have an escape plan, and to practice it as often as is necessary to make sure the kids understand their role in the plan.

Santa Maria Fire Chief Leonard Champion explains it best:

“In a fire, seconds count. Every second that passes, if you don’t know what to do, the likelihood of you making it out safely decreases.”

Do yourself and your family a king-sized favor, and take this Fire Prevention Week very seriously.

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