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Based in California? Here Are 5 Ways to Prepare for Wildfire Season

In California and beyond, some realities of climate change are unavoidable. Here are five ways to prepare for wildfire season.

Written by
Lindsey Anderson

Inhabitants of the Golden State are becoming far too familiar with the harsh realities of wildfire season, which typically extends through most of the summer months. The 2021 fire season was witness to 5,743 fires, burning a total of 1.4 million acres of California landscape. Born from a downed power line in dry conditions, The Dixie Fire spread through five California counties, destroying 1,329 structures and burning 963,309 of the aforementioned 1.4 million acres.

The current fire season cycle has been looking more hopeful with only 181,252 acres burned in 2022 thus far, leaving the state well below the five-year average of 623,202 acres burned per season. But given that the state is in the midst of a drought and a heat wave (and a potential superstorm, apparently, which could quell fires but does nothing to calm nerves) California isn't out of the woods, or the smoke, just yet. 

But there is good news, Californians: Hope is not lost. You are, above all else, residing in one of the most beautiful landscapes in the world, and you can't give up on her just yet. Although we don't have the power to keep Mother Nature at bay, the predictability of wildfire season (at least in terms of timing) has provided ample opportunity for preparedness.

Read on for five ways to feel confident and ready as you head into wildfire season. Whether or not you're based on the West Coast, increasing temperatures mean that it's likely these tips will come in handy at some point.

How to Prepare for Wildfire Season in California

1. Build Smart

Structuring your home to increase resilience to wildfires is both cost-effective and sustainable, and can save you from rebuilding should a fire sweep your neighborhood. Here are several ways to prep your home for fire season:

  • Replace wooden siding with non-combustible materials such as stone, brick, metal, or concrete. (Stone is widely recognized as one of the most sustainable building materials.)
  • Replace wooden roofing shingles with Class A fire retardant material such as clay, slate, metal, or fiberglass asphalt. Although all are sustainable options, slate and metal rank highest when it comes to their eco-friendliness in this capacity. 
  • Clear your driveway of any overhanging branches and encroaching vegetation. This is your exit route, and should you find yourself leaving in a hurry, you'll want to guarantee a clear path.

2. Create Defensible Space

According to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, defensible space is the buffer between your home and the combustible vegetation surrounding the structure. Here are a few simple ways to create defensible space around your home:

  • Clear out dead and dry weeds, brush, leaves, and branches within 100 feet of your home.
  • Remove any combustible vegetation (grasses, trees, bushes, etc.) in close proximity to the structure and replace it with non-combustible materials such as concrete, gravel, or mulch. Bonus: This switch will also save water. Win, win!
  • Thin out surrounding trees to keep wildfire spread at bay.

3. Plan for Time Inside

A secondary aspect of wildfire season in California is the copious smoke. Depending on the speed and direction of the wind, smoke from a fire miles away could sock you in with unhealthy air loaded with particulate matter.

If you're faced with an awful air day, it is best to remain indoors. But have no fear—as we've all learned, this can be both fun and productive. Here are several solutions to a smokey day spent indoors:

  • Reach for your eco-friendly cleaning products and go to town. It's never too late for spring cleaning!
  • Grab your shovel and a hand rake and plant an indoor herb garden.
  • Sort through old clothes and set aside a pile that can be donated, gifted, or consigned.
  • Refurbish some old furniture to make it feel like new (or even older, depending on your aesthetic).
  • Prepare a home-cooked meal.
  • Sort through your trash and set aside a new bucket for organic material. Say hello to your new compost bin!

4. Pack a Go Bag

It's always a good idea to have a go bag packed and ready. Grab an old, sturdy backpack and toss in practicals and valuables. Here are a few basics to always have on hand in case an evacuation order arises:

  • Full reusable water bottles
  • Money and credit cards
  • Toothbrush + toothpaste bits
  • First-aid kit and essential medication
  • Canned food (and a means of opening them)
  • A change of clothes
  • Flashlight
  • Batteries
  • Reusable lighter
  • Portable charger
  • N95 masks
  • Waterproof map
  • Identification documents
  • Emergency propane

5. Have a Plan

Now that you've prepared your home and packed your bags, it’s time for the final and most important step in preparedness: ensuring your own safety. It's vital to have an evacuation plan set in place should you find yourself faced with an evacuation order. Here are a few simple steps to follow when creating an evacuation plan:

  • Set a communication plan in order should anyone in the family become separated. Always have a contact who's located outside the fire zone.
  • Locate a safe place for you and your family to stay. Ideally, you'll have two or three locations in mind to accommodate different evacuation routes and limit the amount of required driving.
  • Know your route away from home to safety. The quicker you leave the better, so prior knowledge of the nearest and most accessible route away from the fire can save you time and increase your efficiency.
  • If the time comes, grab your loved ones and your pets and go! You've done all you can do to protect your property. It's time to leave your trust in the hands of the professionals and prioritize your safety.