Preparedness Corner
May 2002
By Paul Vircsik

Hi Neighbors,

That crackling you here isnít static from the phone or the TV. Itís the dry vegetation. Fire season is here and here early. Witnessed by watching the news throughout the Colorado/New Mexico region. I know that California is 1000 miles away but our local USFS says that the fuel moisture in all of our brush is the lowest he has seen in his career. For us on the ranch, it is not going to get any better until the rains come and with the rain comes lightning. Oh boy.

During the spring, yard work is the dirty word as the weather warms and the whine of chain saws and mowers can be heard all over the ranch. This year it is doubly important to mind what you are doing with power tools and take the precautions recommended by the US Forestry for spot fires while sawyering. A bucket of water, shovel and phone are the gospel according to USFS and anyone scoffing at any of the three shouldnít be running the saw. Mowing the brush now is also a reason to have the three out there next to the work. With all the rocks on the ranch, sparks from the mower blade, or sparks from any power tool into our brush can quickly result in a major blaze. Sure, laugh, but every year in the same canyon my fire department responds to a brush fire started by a mower contacting a rock and the operator never sees it until minutes later. Every year and the lesson is never learned. Every year. I can see the hillside in my mind and I know we will be there this year too.

Now how to use the tools. The shovel is for tamping out and throwing dirt. Dig a small pile before you start work because I know how hard our dirt is to dig in. If you need instruction, ask one of our fire personnel. The phone is for 911. Check it to make sure you can get out where you are working or find a place that can and make a mental note. Call and get the help responding. Now the water bucket. We have practiced with this. Get a bucket with a lid. A 5 gal dry wall mud bucket works great and I think there are a few contractors on the ranch with supply or buy one. Drill about 4 to 6- Ĺ inch holes in one side of the lid grouped together and one 2-inch hole on the other side. The 2Ē hole is for filing and the others are for pouring out like a heavy sprinkler. In addition, you can add a quick squirt of dish soap into the water as a surfactant to help soak into the burning material better.

This diagram should help in fabrication. You want the water to be a heavy shower, not just pour out, as this will waste valuable water. Throw the dirt, use the water, and make the call. This will help prevent a small fire from devastating our ranch.

For the firefighters, its time to make sure your gear is ready, your tools are sharp and you are in good shape. Start training again, aerobically and procedurally. Also, help your neighbor when you see things that are not fire safe. Here are some questions to ask yourself:

  1. Is your personnel protection equipment ready; rips, tears, dirty, does it fit.
  2. Boots; leather in good shape, mink oiled, laces ready.
  3. Goggles; got some, fit right.
  4. Shrouds; for your helmet, does it fit, clean.
  5. Bandana; clean, used dry not wet.
  6. Fire shelter; no cracks, practised at deploying, do not leave without it.
  7. Web gear; buckles and straps in good working order and adjusted.
  8. Water; canteens cleaned out, fresh water in.  (The hillside is not the place for bad water if you get my drift).
  9. Radios; got em, good, check the batteries, spares, radio freqs.
  10. Headlamps; bulbs, batteries, spares.
  11. Tools; clean, sharp.
  12. Pace yourself; donít race the person next you, know your limitations.
  13. First aid kit; know what you need.
  14. Food; take enough for 12 hours, aspirin, prescription drugs too.

Be careful this spring and Iíll see you all soon,

Meet the author: Read about Paul Vircsik's background