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Climate and Environment

Fire Officials Are Bracing For A Tough Wildfire Season. Here’s How You Can Prepare

Firefighters standing on their fire truck watch as the Bobcat Fire burns on hillsides behind homes in Monrovia.
The Bobcat Fire burns in Monrovia on September 15, 2020.
(Ringo Chiu
/
AFP via Getty Images)
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To many of us, the apocalyptic summer of 2020 feels like just yesterday — rolling power outages, orange skies and choking, smoky air.

Unfortunately, it may be a preview of what’s to come this summer. After the driest winter on record in California, fire officials are worried

“Each year we seem to think we’ve hit the record year, and then the next year surpasses it,” Jon Heggie, a battalion chief with California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (CAL Fire), said of our worsening wildfire situation.

Quick temperature check (sorry for the pun): Heggie explained that 2020 was a record-setting fire year when a variety of factors — both natural and unnatural — came together to spark the unusual scale of disastrous fires. Officials hope this summer won't be as bad. Still, it was a window into the future of fire if climate change continues at its current pace.

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And, to put a cherry on top, according to state officials, unprecedented drought plus the extreme heat and wildfires expected this summer plus supply chain issues hurting the growth of the solar industry all adds up to energy shortfalls and high potential for power shutoffs this summer.

We’re likely to have an energy shortfall that adds up to the peak amount of power needed to keep the lights and air conditioning on for about 1.3 million homes, according to the California Independent System Operator, the agency that manages the state’s energy grid.

How We’re Making It All Worse

Drought and fire have always been facts of life in California. But research shows that the climate crisis is making both worse. Droughts are becoming more frequent and more severe — the West in general is currently experiencing its driest period in 1,200 years. Here in California, the last three years have been one of our worst droughts.

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“We're very concerned because these drought conditions are unusual,” said Craig Little, firefighter and public information officer with L.A. County Fire Department. “We’ve never really had drought conditions like we've had right now.”

And drought is an all-too-familiar bedfellow of fire.

“The current drought that we've been in over the last three years has allowed for a lot more dried vegetation, which basically makes more kindling for any kind of a fire that may start,” Little said.

The last ten years have brought more destructive wildfires than ever in our state’s recorded history. A big reason for that is us — we build in fire zones, for centuries we’ve suppressed fire.

And we’re affecting the natural climate: burning fossil fuels to power our homes and cars traps pollutants in the atmosphere, making temperatures hotter in general. All of that fuels a longer wildfire season and bigger fires.

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How Can I Prepare?

To say the least…things aren’t looking great this summer.

L.A. County Fire Department plans to deploy strike teams in areas that have the highest risk for a fire breaking out: Pasadena, Santa Clarita and Malibu. These areas are particularly at risk because they’re near brush-covered mountains, Little said.

As for preparing at your own home, here are some things you should do, according to fire officials:

Clear vegetation or anything that could easily catch fire at least within 30 feet of your home. Here are some resources to help with that:

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Plan at least two emergency evacuation routes out of your neighborhood. You can create an emergency plan for your whole family through L.A. County’s Ready! Set! Go! Emergency planning tool here.

Sign up for emergency alerts now. Here are the ones you should sign up for in L.A., but if you live in another city or county, make sure you sign up for alerts there. You can also follow your local fire department and Cal Fire on Twitter for up-to-date info.

Prepare a “go-bag” with essential documents, medications and other essentials such as pet food that will last two weeks.

If you may have trouble evacuating for any reason, you should let your local fire department know so they’re aware of your situation.

Climate Emergency Questions
Fires. Mudslides. Heat waves. What questions do you need answered as you prepare for the effects of the climate emergency?