Editorials ~ Sonoma Valley Sun

Sonoma Valley Sun


Where there’s smoke

Posted on August 1, 2023 by Sonoma Valley Sun

As the air was filled with the acrid smell of smoke recently and the sight of the hills was obscured by grayness, we were all reminded of the dangers of fire season. Although the controlled burn near Sears Point was announced in advance, the thick smoke still took many by surprise, triggering fears and flashbacks to the fires of 2017. 

The controlled burn was successful, accomplishing its objective of safely removing the highly combustible fuels produced by this past winter’s ample rains. But the extreme negative effect on life in the Valley, including the closing of the library and some businesses, and restricting children to remain inside all afternoon were uncontrolled. This did, however, have the positive effect of reminding our community that fire hazards are real and that being well prepared is more than essential; it can save your life.

A rainy winter reduces the fire hazard for a while, but at the same time it stimulates the volume of weeds, grasses and undergrowth. As summer dries out this vegetation, it becomes vulnerable to sparks, lightning, and lit cigarette butts that can quickly ignite and become fast-moving conflagrations. None of us want to see that happen again.

So what does being well-prepared mean? First, it means clearing overgrown weeds and grass and trimming bushes and other vegetation from around structures. Clearing gutters of accumulated leaf litter is also important. Keep your garden waste-can full and don’t let dry, fallen leaves build up too much in your yard. Preferably, use electric yard appliances instead of gasoline-powered ones; the sparks from a gas lawnmowers can set off unintended blazes.

Then there’s personal preparation; have your “go kits” ready. A good “go kit” has what you’ll need to take care of yourself if you need to quickly evacuate your home and hit the road. It should include four days of water, food, medicines, clothing, flashlights, batteries, N-95 masks, phone chargers, and important personal papers. Make sure you have enough packed for all the members of your household. Keep your vehicle gassed-up or fully charged; you never know when you’ll have to leave in a hurry.

Prepare an evacuation plan for yourself and your loved ones and make sure everyone is on board. Do a practice run, which means knowing where to meet and how to communicate during an evacuation emergency. 

There’s no substitute for being prepared. During a fire emergency it’s easy to feel panicked, but understand that 911 will be jammed, so having a plan and supplies ready can save your life. If you use a smart phone, sign up for NIXLE and the FIRES app alerts about fires and road conditions. Familiarize yourself with the best evacuation routes, but understand that roads may be jammed and it could take even hours longer to get to safety than you imagine. Contact your neighbors now to create a phone-tree in case things get serious; helping each other protects everyone.

Much of the country is now finding out what it’s like to live with wildfires and their smoke, and the likelihood is that this now the new normal. Those of us who have already experienced uncontrolled fires have the advantage of experience, but it’s all too easy to get complacent and put off what we know is necessary to be prepared. Don’t. Now is the time to get ready, before an emergency hits. 

Sonoma Sun | Sonoma, CA