Recently our neighbors in Portola Valley held a fire prevention and safety meeting for their townspeople, featuring speakers from emergency responders and local schools. We sent a camera crew along to record it so You can check out the meeting on Mootube. We came back with lots of good information, as well as a question – isn’t it time Woodside held a similar meeting for COWs?
The meeting room at Hansen Hall at the Sequoias in Portola Valley was packed almost a hundred strong, showing the strong interest in fire safety. A representative from the Citizens Emergency Preparedness Program (CERPP), which is responsible for helping to train citizens to help their neighbors in a crisis spoke first. In Portola Valley, CERPP holds two disaster preparedness drills a year – one for fire safety, and one for earthquake safety. The representative talked about the San Mateo County Alerts program, which we’ve written about before. He laid down some scary, but important, facts about fire danger in a wildfire situation. He stated that most houses don’t actually burn from direct contact with flames, but from drifting embers drifting ahead of the main fire. The embers find refuge in eaves and roofs and decks, and start their own fires. That’s why Woodside’s new fire regulations are so important. We all need to go further and implement fire-wise landscaping and make smart choices in outbuilding and remodeling materials. It is essential to make sure the “fuel load” on your property (both in your landscaping and in making sure your roof and gutters are cleared) is kept low.
He also said that fires can spread faster than you can run, and you can’t always tell which way to go in an emergency. Firestorms are so chaotic, not even emergency providers can be certain to know the best way to flee. Accordingly, you should expect smoke, fire, horse trailers, etc. on the roads as you leave. He and later speakers all really stressed that you should evacuate as soon as you realize your home is in danger and not wait for the fire to reach you. He also stressed practicing fire drills with your family. You should be ready to leave in a five to ten minute time frame if necessary which means you should be able to lay immediately hands on important documents and “can’t lose” mementoes.
Next to speak was our own Fire Marshal, Denise Enea, from the Woodside Fire Protection District. Denise is a greatly respected official, who has always given good advice when she speaks to our Town COWncil. She spoke about small fires turning into large fires, the importance of topography on the way fire spreads. You should know your local terrain and, most importantly, create a defensible space around your house. She stated that homes without defensible space around them are most likely to burn. She showed some dramatic photographs of a house surrounded on all sides by flames but due to its robust defensible space, it survived.
She also spoke on the dangers of smoke inhalation, especially to those with respiratory illnesses, and gave some concrete advice on what to do when a fire alert is called. She suggested organizing family and pets, opening the garage door (since power could go out at your home), and grabbing documents. She did say there were some last minute steps to give your house a better chance when you evacuate such as leaving a ladder on the side of your house that reaches the roof, giving firefighters easy access to your roof; attaching a hose to any water taps you have, and taking flammable outdoor furniture and welcome mats inside the house to avoid giving embers a chance to catch. If you have time, you could also brush debris off your roof, and secure / cover any openings to your house. Especially important here in horse country, if you have large animals, don’t wait, but evacuate as soon as possible. She had a mnemonic reminder on how to stay safe: ‘PLEASE’, or Prepare, Leave Early, And Save Everyone.
The next speaker represented the San Mateo County Office of Emergency Services. He reminded people again about the SMC Alerts program, and also spoke about TENS, or the Telephone Emergency Notification System (aka reverse 911), a program that can call everyone in a region (with a landline) with an emergency warning. He stressed that these systems work better together, and that people should sign up for SMC Alerts even if they have a landline and would get a call from the TENS which he stated could alert the whole of Portola Valley in approximately four minutes. He also stated that emergency officials would go door to door if necessary to alert people to an emergency.
Representatives from both Woodside Priory and from the Portola Valley School District detailed their schools’ plans for fire safety. The event wrapped up with questions from the audience, many of which were Portola Valley-centric, but some of which resulted in good general advice, such as:
o The value of having an old-fashioned land line phone that doesn’t require electricity, in order to ensure contact with the TENS.
o Microchipping pets is important since it can help reunite lost pets with their owners after a disaster.
o The fact that wood chips actually burn relatively slowly. They are generally damp and, of course, are close to the ground which renders them much safer than standing brush.
The meeting wrapped up with some sobering talk about the recent 1,000-acre Santa Cruz fire which sprang up literally overnight. While our area is better served with roads it is unlikely that such a fire could spread so quickly here, it does point to wildfire’s frightening potential for destruction.
This was a great presentation. We hope you will take the time to view it on MOOtube. In our Public Service area we have other informational videos from Woodside and the surrounding area on various Public Service topics.
This type of public education is important and appreciated as witnessed by the number of people in attendance. We urge our Town COWncil to recognize the importance of providing such information and hold a Woodside meeting.