Editor's note: The Community Emergency Preparedness Academy is an eight-week program in Aliso Viejo that teaches residents what to do in an emergency. Each week we will provide tips and information from the sessions. The workshop began Feb. 8.
With the idea that keeping a fire from starting is better than extinguishing one, the latest emergency preparedness class focused on fire prevention and wildfire safety.
In order to prevent fires the Orange County Fire Authority educates the community about what starts fires through the organization's "Ready, Set, Go!" campaign.
"You may need to be dependent on yourself a little bit," said Assistant Fire Marshal Jennifer Bower. "We are your fire department and are here to help. But during a major emergency we won't always be there to help."
Orange County has four major causes of fires:
- Cooking fires
- Smoking fires
- Electrical fires
"We don't think about fire when we create our backyards," said Battalion Chief Art Navarez. "Embers can fly into the air and start fires. With the immediate resources we have, it is difficult to put out every single fire."
A wildland fire can blow at 14 mph, and a wind fire can move as fast as the wind blows, according to Bower. About 80 percent of houses that catch fire during a wildfire catch fire from flying embers. During a wildfire, 90 percent of homes that are ignited are destroyed.
"Once a wildfire starts, we deploy strike teams to put out as many fires as we can," said Navarez. "But once an ember hits a home and an attic is set on fire, the home will likely be lost, unfortunately."
As a fire rages, embers shoot into the air. The first homes that are hit are usually on the edge of a city close to undeveloped areas. From there the embers can spread from home to home.
"Anytime you hear that there is a fire alert, be prepared," said Bower. "If you smell anything or detect something, call the fire department."
During a fire, at least five units are deployed. Firefighters, medics and police are dispatched.
"We won't risk a lot to save a little," said Navarez. "We will risk a lot to save a lot. That includes a life."
That being said, is your home ready? Is it fire-resistant? Take a look at this checklist and see where you stand:
- Do you have fire-resistant plants?
- Are any plants dying or dead?
- If your roof is made of tiles, are there any holes, chips or broken tiles?
- Do you have drought-resistant plants?
- Do you have patio attachments? Tarps?
- Do you have one-eighth-inch metal mesh on your vents?
"There are things you can do to make your property fire-resistant," said Bower. "That's all we ask. Sign up for AlertOC and be prepared. Be prepared to support yourself for at least three days."
Residents can play a role when small fires are involved. You can put out small fires, prevent additional fires and assist with evacuations when necessary.
"Our primary concern and your concern is your safety," Truck Capt. Andy Kovacs said. "We don't want you to be overly confident during a large fire, but you can protect yourself from a small fire."
There are three types of fire emergencies you may encounter: structure fires, wildland fires and vehicle fires. In your home there are four different classes of fires.
- Class A fires: paper, cloth, wood, rubber and plastics.
- Class B fires: flammable liquids and combustible liquids. Only the vapors will ignite.
- Class C fires: electrical equipment.
- Class D fires: metals.
"If you were to unplug a toaster that is on fire, is it still a class C fire?" Kovacs said. "If the toaster is unplugged, the fire turns into a class A fire, which is much easier to extinguish. If you can identify potential sources of fire, it is best to eliminate it before it becomes a hazard."
Smoke detectors are extremely helpful in the prevention of fires, according to Kovacs. It is the first line of defense during a fire and can detect a fire even when you can't.
"Is one smoke detector enough anymore? No," said Kovacs. "It's best to have a combination of both electrical and battery-operated smoke detectors. Maintain the batteries, because they can't protect you when they aren't functioning."
If you can't escape from a fire, this is what you should do as a last resort:
- Stuff wet cloth around doors and vents.
- Call the fire department.
- Stay low and near a window.
- Open windows at the top and bottom of your location.
- Wave a bright-colored cloth at the window.