Preparedness Corner
August 2002
By Paul Vircsik

Hi Neighbors,

132 fires were reported today with 30 active large fires currently burning over 597,000 acres throughout the nation.

The Whispering Pines fire headed by Team 7 is burning up the San Diego Julian Mountains.  In twenty minutes it grew to 300 acres.  The weather is mild but due to the dry fuel conditions it is burning with intensity that hasnít been seen in 30 years.  Homes and buildings have been lost because they were not defensible.  In one day it is over 10,000 acres and is being slowed down from over 1800 firefighters on the line and more than 20 aircraft.  Because of the conditions everything in the state is being thrown at this fire.  It has the potential of growing larger than the Laguna fire in 1970.  That could all change if other fires start and resources are diverted.

Two months ago I was watching a documentary on the health of our nationís forests on The Learning Channel.  I thought now that the current fires around the ranch have gone out it would be a good time to mention some of the more poignant points.  To be blunt our forests are not as healthy as they could be and our ranch falls into that category.  In 1910 there was a huge fire called the Great fire.  Maybe some of you have heard of it.  I hadnít.  Of all the major fires in the United States, this was one of the largest burning over 3 million acres.  Some of the firefighters became famous with this event, one saving his entire crew by keeping them in a cave under gun point until the fire passed for fear that they might bolt and burn.  His name was Edward Pulaski and anyone who fights fire knows what a Pulaski tool is.  Long story short, after this fire the US government decided to change the rules. The US Forestry Service was born and hence all wild fires were extinguished instead of letting them burn as in the past.  Because of this our forests are in the condition they are today.  Too many trees per acre, too much ladder fuel and ground litter.  This is not new information to most of you.

A healthy forest should have around 40 trees per acre, and the under growth should be cleared.  An acre is 208 feet by 208 feet.  March that off and count your trees.  More than 40? Pretty though isnít it? If a fire comes through with these conditions two things happen.  Many of you have already seen it.  First the fire can jump from tree to tree much easier and with the help of ladder fuels spreads from ground to crown and back with nothing to stop it.  Secondly, under these conditions the fire burns with such intensity that the nutrients in the earth are scorched.  Most of our pines count on fire to open the cones and spread their seed.  Itís kind of like Planned Parenthood.  No fire, no kids.  But if the parent dies in a fire the youngsters are there to carry on the forest.  Not so with extreme heat fires.  Since the ground can no longer sustain life the forest floor stays barren until the animals and birds can return the nutrients and that can take a long time.

We still fight fires to control major conflagrations and at times fight fires with fire.  The forestry service has controlled burns in the winter to improve the health of the wild land but occasionally one will get away from them and another major fire needs to be put out.

Remember that fire fighting begins in your back yard.  Dry brush and hot summer weather. It's a combination that creates frightening conditions on an almost daily basis.  But fire-fighting pros want you to know you shouldn't rely on them alone to protect your home and family.  It's critical you do your part by clearing dry brush within 100 feet of your home.  We canít protect what we canít get close too.

Also remember that over 800 fires last year had a human cause; cigarette butts carelessly tossed from cars, children playing with matches, or the kind of dangerous outdoor burning of trash or vegetation that still goes on both legally and illegally.

Every one of us must realize we all have a part to play in reducing the chance of more destructive fires here.  So clear away dry brush around your home today, then remind the guy next door to do the same.  Count your trees, look at the undergrowth and plan for winter.  Then it should be safe to start making your part of the ranch safer thus protecting the entire ranch.

See you all soon,

Meet the author: Read about Paul Vircsik's background