County encouraging residents prepare for fire season now

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Karin Young, Solano RCD Conservation Project Manager, gives a fire scaping workshop on Saturday, March 26 at Berryessa Brewing. (Rick von Geldern/Winters Express)

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With warming spring weather, longer daylight hours and a new sense of freedom from diminishing COVID-19 restrictions, the devastation of the 2020 LNU Complex Fire affecting Yolo, Napa and Solano counties may be a memory to some, but certainly not to those who suffered loss of homes, property and life of a friend or loved one.

According to the Yolo County Office of Emergency Services (Yolo OES) the LNU Fire spread over more than 350,000 acres during its first 10 days. During the course of 46 days, the fire burned more than 400,000 acres, destroyed upward of 1,500 structures and killed six people throughout four counties before it was extinguished.

On Saturday, March 26, the Solano Resource Conservation District (RCD) hosted an event at Berryessa Brewing Company with Yolo and Solano County RCD booths and personnel present. The event featured a native plant sale incorporating fire and drought resistant plants.

Yolo at a glance
The first two months of 2022 have registered as Yolo County’s driest January/February period on record in the last 128 years. Drought and increased fire risk go hand-in-hand.

As drought conditions persist, Yolo County’s rainfall is down 7.76-inches from normal during the first two months of 2022. Coupled with drier conditions, brush, structures, trees and property are increasingly more receptive to fire situations.

Efforts and activities in meeting our safety needs require collaboration between communities, community members and government. During fire season, prevention and preparedness are more important than ever because it seems new lessons are learned after each wildfire event. Fire season preparedness includes education, identifying the vulnerable and elderly, creating defensible spaces, hardscaping around homes and structures, developing an evacuation plan and identifying safe zones.

Neighborhoods in rural Winters are unique and necessitate individual assessments to identify and address fire danger. Fire Safe Councils (FSC) have organized in Greater Winters and Solano County to identify needs to prevent and lessen the destruction caused by wildfires and save lives.

FSCs work to develop telephone lists and routes of safe egress, identify residents with transportation and special needs, and detect and mitigate likely fuel sources such as grass, trees, chemicals, dry lumber and fuel tanks.

It’s not only rural areas threatened by wildfire. Putah Creek creates the border separating Yolo and Solano Counties. A wildfire raging along Putah Creek in the vicinity of downtown Winters could jump the creek and cause catastrophic damage equivalent to what was experienced in communities like Paradise, Sonoma and Santa Rosa.

Winters plan
The City of Winters Emergency Management Plan is a 101-page document formally adopted by the Winters City Council in 2017. Once adopted, the Winters Plan was made part of both the Yolo Emergency Operations Plan and the California Emergency Plan.

The Plan acknowledged that Winters has some unique natural hazard risks and identifies them by a rating system from zero to one.

Currently, the greatest community risk factors identified in the Winters Plan are dam failure, radiological accidents, information systems (IT) failure and cyberterrorism. Each of these four potential hazards were given a .95 risk score, the highest of any score given. Wildfire, on the other hand, was rated equally with terrorism and tornados, receiving a .70 risk rating. Even further below wildfire is drought, which received a .55 risk factor.

Local efforts
At the March 26 event, Solano County Conservation Project Manager Karin Young gave two workshops and presented tips on hardscaping around structures, planting fire resistant plants and managing if not eliminating fire prone plants, like eucalyptus.

The Pleasants Valley and West Winters Fire Safe Councils staffed booths with representatives to provide information and answer questions.

“We continue to partner with our local Fire Safe Councils to engage the community in fire prevention education and activities. Get involved, join your local Fire Safe Council. If you don’t have one, start one. Be a good neighbor. Most importantly, have an emergency plan and go kit,” said Robyn Rains, assistant emergency services manager with the Solano OES.

Revalee Hemken, representing the Pleasants Valley Fire Safe Council, recalled that during the LNU Fire she evacuated from her home and spent a couple nights at Rotary Park until it was safe to return. Fortunately, her home was not a casualty of the fire, but she strongly recommends devising an action strategy to include an evacuation plan, a communication plan and having a safe zone destination.

Alert systems
During the LNU Fire, communication and alert glitches (IT) were reported in Yolo, Napa and Solano Countie. Communication glitches between Yolo and Solano Counties hampered Greater Winters residents, and the Express, from getting real-time information during the fire.

“Solano OES and Yolo OES have a great working relationship. We work together during training and exercises which reinforces relationships necessary for efficient coordination during emergencies,” said Rains.

Yolo-Alert, in partnership with Sacramento and Placer counties, provides residents with the ability to receive real-time emergency alerts and recommended actions to include evacuation instructions. Anyone is able to sign up at www.yolo-alert.org and may add multiple addresses and phone numbers to be notified in case of an emergency.

A “Know Your Zone” evacuation route map is available at evacuate.yolocounty.org.

By entering an address, an evacuation map is created with evacuation routes and rally points. When evacuation alerts occur, residents will be notified with additional instructions.

To learn more about fire prevention methods in both urban and rural areas, Cal Fire offers a planning and action site at www.readyforwildfire.org where one can create a personalized preparedness checklist with wildfire action, evacuation and communication plans specific to their home, neighborhood and zip code.

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