As a resident in San Diego County, the potential of a wildfire is ever-present in our minds. I am uneasy as I write this; wildfire is a dreadful thing. In 2003, our community was devastated by the Cedar Fire—the largest wildfire in California history at the time—and again in 2007 with the Witch Fire. In our community and across the state, fire season is bad every year. When it rains, the brush and grass grow. If it doesn't rain, everything dries out. While we never precisely know when a disaster of any kind is going to strike, there are plenty of preventative and tactical things that we can do to prepare for them.
1. Clear and Keep Your Property Clear
Let me set the record straight, you can NEVER clear your property too much. Now, I'm not saying clear your property to bare dirt, but just because it is recommended that you clear two to three hundred feet around your house doesn't mean that it’s all you need to do. If you live on a hill, you need to clear more than two hundred feet.
There are two major ways to prepare your house for a wildfire to minimize the chances that your property will be ravaged by fire. First, you need to clear and remove anything away from your house that can catch on fire, especially if they are near windows and vents. It is best to have about 4 feet of bare dirt, gravel, or concrete around the edge of your house. This barrier will help naturally put out embers that may blow up against your house. Secondly, you will want to clear your property of any leader fuels. Grass, dead and dried leaves, and low hanging branches are all classified as leader fuels and encourage the spread of fire into the crowns of trees and other fuels found above ground. As a general guideline, tree branches should be trimmed so you can see the land surrounding them.
2. Know Where to Get Information
Back in 2003 and 2007, it was much harder to get information on wildfires. Unless you scanned a fire radio, our only option was reverse 911. With changing times comes advanced technology; there are multiple government-run alert systems, websites, and privately run social media pages and groups, such as Julian Alerts now. As proven in the 2018 California Fire Storm, a fast-moving fire makes it difficult for government personnel to send out alerts in an effective timely manner. The harsh reality is, we can't always depend on the government. We need to be self-reliant, if necessary. Here are a few places to get information:
Julian Alerts-Julian Alerts has designed multiple ways of notifying and informing the residents of the Julian and surrounding area with current information about local emergencies. Julian Alerts is a strictly neighbor helping neighbor. Get more information and sign up for emergency updates at:
CalFire Twitter- The CalFire Information officer will post-incident updates on their Twitter page. IMPORTANT: they tend to have a least a 20-minute delay between the time an incident is paged out to firefighters and the time they send out their first alert.
BrushFire Party Line Facebook Pages
CHP traffic- The California Highway Patrol officers post on scene updates to incents along the highway. Julian and the surrounding area falls under the “border” section.
Broad Castify scans the local radio frequencies. You can listen here:
3. Know Your Emergency Exits
Most emergency preparedness presentations will tell you to have an evacuation plan for when you need to escape your home. Knowing which roads to take when you are evacuating can prove just as important. For the Julian area, there are only three ways to get off the main part of the mountain: HW78 West, HW78 East, and HW79 South. If there's a fire in the area, at least one of these exits is going to be closed. Escape routes may also differ depending on the neighborhood you live in. In my neighborhood, there are only two exits. The main entrance/exit is far on the other side of the neighborhood and the alternative exit is halfway between my house and the exit. Depending on the circumstances and based on your relative location within a neighborhood, sheltering in place may be the best option. I cannot stress enough the importance of knowing your exit options and being comfortable driving them in all weather conditions.
4. Have Your Necessities and Valuables Ready
You may or may not have time to grab personal items from your home. If you do have some time, you need to make the most of every minute. Your pets should already be comfortable getting into your car, crates, and trailers...so start training them now to save valuable time! Keep collars, halters, and identification tags on your pets during fire season. Store your important documents in manageable labeled bins in easy-to-see and -reach places. You may know they're in the closet, but your neighbor trying to help might not. It's also a great idea to have a bag packed with a few personal care items and fresh clothes set out with your other important trinkets and documents. It is a good idea to take a video of your property and upload this video to an online server like Google Drive or Dropbox. If you have any damage, this video is proof for your insurance claim.
5. Keep Your Car Ready-to-Go
During an emergency, you need to be mobile and able to get to safety as quickly as possible; maintain your car diligently. Purchase good tires, keep your oil level up, and your gas tank full. As locals, we have to drive far for just about everything, so it is common practice to fill up your gas tank every time you come up the hill. It is especially important to do this during the fire season (Approximately June through November). Our towns’ little gas station gets busy, fast. If the power goes out, you won’t be able to get gas—unless the station installs a generator for the pumps. In addition to keeping your car maintained, keep extra water, food, pet food, and a go-bag with all other essentials in your car. Some locals even keep pillows and blankets just in case they are evacuated for an extended period of time.
Emergency situations are full of emotions. By doing some prep work ahead of time, you can help ease some of the stress associated with this topic.