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How to Stay Informed and Be Ready as Wildfires Burn in Southern California

The Rim Fire in Yosemite, 2013/Via Wikipedia.

[dropcap size=big]W[/dropcap]ildfires ignited in Ventura and Los Angeles counties this week but so far no lives have been reported lost, Ventura County officials said at a news conference Friday. But the Woolsey fire is still barely contained, and is now making its way into the San Fernando Valley community of West Hills. In Butte County, in Northern California, the Camp Fire has already claimed at least nine people’s lives.  

The fires were almost expected, considering the dry and windy SoCal weather, and our now year-round fire season. And still nothing seems to halt the growing rage of fire season each year. But there are steps we can do as residents of the region to prepare and help one another out in case of a devastating fire. The first of which is to stay informed.

Here is some relevant information you should know today, through the weekend, and for the foreseeable future here in California.

Weather

Extra-dry conditions combined with Santa Ana winds from the east are sparking the blazes currently burning structures and homes in southeast Ventura County and the western edges of Los Angeles city. This includes the communities of Thousand Oaks, Simi Valley, Agoura Hills, and the city of Malibu. A smaller fire in Griffith Park also forced the evacuation of some animals at the L.A. Zoo, but that fire has been mostly, if not completely extinguished.

Avoiding Misinformation

In chaotic situations like evacuations, misinformation can spread quickly. Follow verified, trustworthy news sources. Check in with social media handles of relevant fire and police agencies.

Radio and television news will have up-to-the-minute updates and reports from the frontlines of the fire. Make sure the links you’re seeing or sharing are not doctored to look like a reliable news source. Check with two or three sources before believing “it’s true.”

If you live in fire-prone areas, sign up for alerts from these municipal agencies:

Fire looms in the hills over Los Angeles County, Nov. 9, 2018. Photo by Daniel Hernandez.
Photo by Daniel Hernandez.

Where to Go If You Are Evacuated

    • If an evacuation is called for, officials from municipal agencies will announce where evacuation centers are. The free FEMA app will also locate evacuation centers around you. Google maps also updates to show evacuation centers as either blue or red cross icons. Blue means the centers are open, red means the center is full and can’t take any more people.  
    • You do not need to wait for a mandatory evacuation to be called to actually evacuate though. Evacuate as soon as possible if a fire is headed your way, or when you feel threatened by a fire’s encroachment.  
    • Unplug all electrical equipment and your gas line if you have time to.
    • Also, if you have time, be a cool person and check to see if your neighbors are okay, if they need any help, or if they need a ride.  
    • Local officials should announce evacuation routes. Do not take backroads or shortcuts, they may be blocked, damaged, or in the line of the fire. The Caltrans app will have up to date information on street and highway closures.
    • Mandatory evacuations are enforced by the police and other law enforcement, and you can be charged with a misdemeanor if you do not evacuate a mandatory evacuation zone.  

How to Keep Pets, Animals Safe

In last year’s Thomas Fire in Ventura County and fires in Orange and San Diego counties, large horse ranches were threatened by flames. In some instances horses were left behind. Contact Los Angeles Animal Services for the locations of large animal evacuation sites as early as possible. If you cannot safely transport horses or other large animals, and you cannot get help from neighbors, the best thing to do is to let them run free.

Visit the L.A. Animal Services page on pet and large animal emergency prep here.

How to Be Fire-Safe or Fire-Ready in Urban Areas

    • Get a N95 or P100 respirator masks, not a dust mask or a bandana, to prevent against smoke inhalation.   
    • Have an emergency kit with non perishable food, water, a hand cranked radio, and clothes ready to go.
    • Keep important documents in one folder that can be grabbed quickly.
    • If you own or rent a home, build a defensible space zone around your place. This means removing all dead plants, grass and trees from at least 30 feet in front of your house. It also means regularly mowing your lawn, and if you’re close enough to plant trees, make sure they’re at least 10 feet apart from each other.   
    • Plan a basic evacuation route.

How to Help - Volunteer

Erick Galindo and Daniel Hernandez contributed to this story.

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