Preparedness Corner
May 2003
By Paul Vircsik

Hi Neighbors,

It’s 11 pm and our new neighbor is just pulling into the driveway that was recently dug out of the forest.  It’s dark.  Out here on our ranch, dark is reeaally dark.  They make camp and settle in for a long needed night’s rest after a thirteen-hour drive from the city.  Around two someone needs to use the facilities.  What facilities? Sneak out of the camper to visit a tree.  Hey, something else is using the facilities.  Big, smelly, welcome to the ranch, neighbor.  It’s just me your friendly bear/skunk/mountain lion/elk/deer.  Jeeze, they sure are bigger than the ones in the zoo.

Morning breaks and after coffee, or what ever your poison is to get you going, the contractor arrives to show the stakes marking off their new home.  The ones that the dog brought into the camper last night.  Good doggy.  The dirt becomes a house and the moving truck leaves.  You are not in the city any more Dorothy.  Keep clicking your heals for cable.  The neighbors arrive to welcome you to the ranch and tell you all their secrets and trials and tribulations on mountain life.  The phone is hooked up and the information highway is reattached at a slower speed.  The learning has begun.  We are lucky enough to have many experts within the ranch: in business, construction, fire, health, etc.

This is the story of many new arrivals to our ranch.  It is evident from the hand out the driver’s window as you pass because they can’t find the bridge to the questions at board meetings and forum postings.  Life on the ranch is changing and the new arrivals bring new vitality.  They are in search of quality information that will assist in their new life style transition.  It is up to us as good neighbors to give or guide them to that information.

Fire safety is the noticeably major concern.  Search out the previous columns produced by this author in the same month you are in now from previous years.  I have tried to keep them relevant to the season.  I try to confirm everything written from fellow experts that realize the need for continued education.  Our reward is giving to those who follow.  For the old hats, now is the time to prepare for another season of dry.  Keep doing the things you have learned and don’t do the things that threaten your property.  Or the rest of the ranch.  Check your defensible space, which encompasses the whole outside of the house, not just clearing vegetation.  Read the articles, look on web sites.  Like Francie wrote “think of it as spring cleaning”.  I go to approximately 90 business inspections annually and it is amazing how much owners change their businesses that place them in violation of some safety code.  If they would just clean up and not change things.  But the same happens with us.  The cut wood, winds up next to the building, the brush grows, the new gas grill placed to close, or the brush pile that never gets chipped.

For the new comers, search out the experts in their fields.  You wouldn’t ask a plumber how to shingle a roof.  Try to weed through the half information that always seems to accompany an add, for the “all inclusive gadget”, and apply it your need and ability.  Remember, you are not in the city any more.  911 services are not 6 minutes away.  Plan for the unexpected.  That means carry the cordless or cell phone with you when working in the yard.  Yelling for help when the tree you felled, “felled” on you, probably won’t be heard.  A spark from the mower or chain saw could grow quickly into a major fire in our dry flora.  Carrying a bucket of water and throwing the whole thing at once could apply enough fire extinguishment to do the job.  If it doesn’t, make the call (911 & your area leader) and continue the fight with the shovel you brought with the bucket.  Practice, these skills before you need them.  If the fire gets too large for your effort, leave.  You will not make a difference unless you have the tools, equipment, and know how.  Most folks NEVER get to witness a fire growing out of control like it can in our conditions.  And believe it or not, cigarettes do not cause as many fires as the press would like you to think.  This half-truth is fed to the public because no cause is found and because smoking outside in the forest is not safe, but precise conditions have to exist to light the forest with a smoke.  Just practice safety in the forest.  Besides it’s healthier for your lungs and the smell of the trees is one of the reasons you moved here.

We spend most of the fire season fighting small grass fires (10-20 acres) to prevent them from becoming conflagrations.  By “we” I mean the fire department.  And then each summer some of us go to the big ones.  Please read the archived columns to find out what we look for when picking homes that are “defendable”.  Don’t think that every home is, because when the acreage is burning, we pick the ones where the owners did the work to make it defendable before we got there.  This “we” meaning the fire departments that will be arriving from afar.  Your local department will only be a small contingent of the massive invasion force hopefully coming to assist and can only go to one area of the fire.  Please remember though, with numerous fires, comes stretched resources and an engine in every drive way will not happen.  And once we get there, we won’t have time to finish applying your protective agents.  There is just too much to do with the limited amount of time to defend your home or fight the oncoming fire.  Sorry, but that’s the brutal truth.  We apply our own if we have time.  We know what it will do, have trained with it, and can apply it at 100 times the rate you can.  Prepare your house completely before and leave when asked by the methods directed.  Confused? Read the articles and ask your ESC members for help or direction to the best information.

Remember that in our world fires can strike at anytime, in any weather condition.  Most of the real nasties have burned during winter when the weather is surprisingly calm.  It’s the fuel that is at it’s driest and with the dry air can turn a benign fire into a tragedy.  Put some wind on it that the fire produces and major fires get named.  House fires in the winter pose a greater problem due to access.  But wait, so can the summer with the wet roads.  15-ton fire engines do best on pavement, and our ranch doesn’t provide that luxury.  Starting to get the picture?

Read, no, study so as a new member of the ranch, your stay becomes safe and carefree.  Your new home will grow to be the happiest place on earth.  That’s what you have been saving all the spare doubloons for.  Hot dogs and cotton candy will cost extra.

See you all soon,

Meet the author: Read about Paul Vircsik's background