Don’t bother looking at a map of current wildfires in California. The state is burning, and we’re all pretty much in a fire zone.
Firefighters last week called it the state’s “new normal,” referring to the potential for big wildfires year-round, instead of the old paradigm of a fire season starting shortly after the winter rains end, and lasting until the onset of rainy weather in the late fall.
Folks who believed last year’s Thomas fire was the wildfire to end all wildfires need to revise their thinking. The Mendocino Complex Fire has taken over as California’s biggest wildfire in recorded history. Full containment is predicted sometime in September.
There are many moving parts to this chapter of California catastrophes, and we’ll begin with the obvious — a rash of small brush fires breaking out all over the Central Coast in the past few days, mostly as a result of someone being careless or malicious.
The thing to remember is that even the smallest brush fire can quickly mushroom into a raging monster. All the little fire needs are dry conditions — which we have — stiff winds — which we have — and our usual summer blast of heat.
There was a red-flag heat warning early last week, and by week’s end officials also were warning beachgoers about high surf and super-high tides. All of which helps keep intact California’s reputation as a place of many potential/probable tragedies.
The Thomas fire that ravaged parts of Ventura and Santa Barbara counties late last year held its “biggest-ever” record until last Monday evening, when the confluence of two huge fires blended to become the massive Mendocino Complex, burning in the Clear Lake area of Mendocino County, and crossing into Lake County.
The Thomas fire destroyed more than 1,000 structures and damaged nearly 300 others, creating far more structural havoc than the Mendocino Complex Fire early on, but the latter blaze is still weeks from the end of its path of destruction.
California Gov. Jerry Brown has asked the federal government for help in fighting wildfires, in the face of President Trump’s criticism of California’s handling of such disasters. We’ll have to wait to see how that head-on collision develops.
Meanwhile, we feel compelled to repeat our annual mantra about wildfires, and how you can help mitigate their ruthless, uncompromising destruction.
First, have an evacuation strategy. These big, wind-driven fires move very quickly, so discard your bravado and admit you may not be able to outrun such a fire on foot. Discuss your exit strategy with family members, agree on a place to regroup if everyone has to make a quick dash.
Build a disaster kit that includes things you’ll need in the event your home is destroyed or severely damaged. Don’t forget to pack your required medications. Make plans to care for your pets.
Defend your space. Monster fires tend to ignore the recommended “defensible space” rules, but clearing away brush from around your home and other structures on your property could pay off. Don’t fool yourself into thinking you can save your home with a garden hose. That can happen, but testing a fire’s power is not worth losing your life. The bottom line is that you should treat big fires as a very serious threat, the kind in which you could lose everything.
Finally, do not be the person who violates all the rules of common sense by being the cause of a wildfire. Lit cigarette butts and piping-hot car exhaust systems in dry grass are major offenders — and totally avoidable.