7 Ways To Prevent Wildfires, Especially If You Live In California

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While most of the country is celebrating the arrival of the brisk bite of Fall, California is bracing itself as brush fires burn across the state and forced power outages impact people's everyday routines. So, for those living in or visiting the Golden State, it's important to know what you can do as an individual to prevent wildfires, as well as what you should never do if you're in a fire-prone area.

People who live in California are familiar with fire season: October to December when conditions are hot and dry. But you might not know that it's longer than it used to be. The California Department of Forestry & Fire Prevention reported that climate change is responsible for fire season increasing in length by 75 days.

To make matters worse, from January to October 2019 alone, California has experienced almost 5,000 fires. In 2018, the deadliest and most destructive wildfire season in California history, there were more than 7,500 fires. And according to the National Park Service, 85% of all wildfires are caused by humans. "Human-caused fires result from campfires left unattended, the burning of debris, equipment use and malfunctions, negligently discarded cigarettes, and intentional acts of arson," the National Park Service noted on its website.

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Since moving to California seven years ago, I am hyper aware that unintentional acts can cause fires that quickly burn out of control. Things you don't have to think about in other areas, like the safest time of day to mow your lawn to reduce the risk of starting a fire, are always top of mind in California. I've seen wildfires burning in the hills from my front yard and experienced days where the sky rained nothing but ash.

If you live in California, or you're headed here on vacation, it's important to understand that there are things you should never do in a wildfire prone area, like toss a lit cigarette anywhere, and things you should do, like clear your yard of brush and other fire hazards. Here's what to know so you can do your part to prevent wildfires during fire season 2019.

1. Don't Set Off Fireworks

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While fireworks are illegal in many counties in California because of the risk of fires, that doesn't stop people from setting them off for weeks at a time during the summer. According to the Los Angeles Fire Department, on July 4, two out of five reported fires are the result of fireworks, which is higher than any other cause of fire.

Sure, it's tempting to put on a fireworks display for your besties during your annual backyard barbecue, but it's not worth the risk. Once wildfires get started — if it's hot, dry, and windy — they can grow rapidly and cause catastrophic damage, like last year's Camp Fire in Northern California. The fire destroyed the town of Paradise and killed more than 80 people.

2. Don't Discard Lit Smoking Materials

According to a study from the University of California, Davis, cigarettes are a leading cause of fire globally. A news release about the study, published in the journal Preventative Medicine, reported that a lit cigarette is suspected of causing a fire in Oakland, Calif., in the early '90s that displaced 10,000 people and destroyed more than 400 homes.

Whether you're smoking a cigarette or lighting up a joint, never discard lit smoking materials without being 100% sure they're out. Run them under water and put them in a secure container before you dispose of them. And for the love of all things great and small, don't throw them on the ground.

3. Don't Leave A Campfire Unattended

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No doubt, one of the best parts of a camping trip is lighting a fire. However, according to the National Park Service, campfires are one of the leading causes of wildfires. The U.S. Department of the Interior Bureau of Land Management, noted that there are some things to keep in mind before you build your campfire.

Build your fire away from trees and vegetation and remember that less is more. "Avoid piling too much fuel on your fire; keep it under control by only adding one or two small logs at a time," the bureau reported. "You never know when the wind may pick up a spark from your fire and carry it into dry vegetation and then all of a sudden — whoosh — you have an uncontrollable wildfire."

In addition, never leave your campfire unattended. "Douse the fire with at least one bucket of water, stir it, then add another bucket of water and stir it again," the bureau's site advised. "Your campfire should be cold to the touch before you leave your campsite."

And in case you're visiting a national park, the National Park Service noted on its website that each park has different rules about whether or not you can light a campfire and how large it can be. If no information is posted, ask at the visitor center. In California, if you're making a fire on private property or federally controlled land, you'll need to apply for a fire permit, which you can do online.

4. Don't Do Yard Work After 10 a.m.

If it's been an especially hot, dry summer, you might not use a lawn mower or electrical gardening device the entire season because all of your vegetation is dormant. But if you do decide to mow your lawn, the California Wildland Fire Coordinating Group recommends doing so before 10 a.m. In addition, because the metal blades from this kind of equipment can ignite a fire if its blades strike rock, when it's excessively windy and dry, refrain from mowing or trimming altogether.

5. Don't Drive On Grass Or Brush

Driving your car over dry brush can create sparks that can cause a wildfire, the Bureau of Land Management reported. "If you are off-roading, remember that your exhaust can reach temperatures of 1000 + degrees! Driving or parking over dry grass often starts wildfire," the bureau noted. It added that you should make sure you're keeping up with mechanical maintenance, since sparks from the exhaust can also be an issue.

6. Don't Ignore Fire Danger Ratings

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If you're in a fire danger zone, you'll notice signs that say "fire danger" along with a rating of low, moderate, high, very high, or extreme. Familiarize yourself with what these ratings mean. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Forest Service, the National Fire Danger Rating System correlates to the types of activities that can cause a fire and how dangerous and difficult to extinguish a fire can become.

For example, when fire danger is high, fires can easily ignite and quickly burn out of control. Things like grass and pine needles can catch fire from campfire embers. Unless the risk for fire is low or moderate, it's probably best to avoid making a campfire.

7. Don't Leave Candles Burning Unattended

Hey, everyone loves a little mood lighting now and then, and candles provide a perfect soft glow. They're also super handy during a power outage. However, if you live in a fire danger zone, you're better off using twinkly lights and flashlights instead.

According to the National Fire Protection Association, fires started by candles cause an average of 80 deaths a year. If a fire starts from a candle, and conditions are right, that fire can quickly engulf your home and spread to neighboring buildings and land. If you do burn candles, never leave them burning when you're out of the room, especially if you have pets. Fido and Fluffy are curious creatures and can easily knock over a candle.

For those who live in fire danger zones, the California Department of Forestry & Fire Prevention offers up-to-date information about fire incidents in the state. Visit their website or follow them on Twitter to stay in the know about wildfires near you.

Studies referenced:

Leistikow, B.N., Martin, D.C., & Milano, C.E. (2000). Fire injuries, disasters, and costs from cigarettes and cigarette lights: a global overview. Preventive medicine, 31 2 Pt 1, 91-9 .