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Fire prevention in wake of destructive fires

Austin Herbaugh

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The view of Butte Creek Canyon as seen from Lookout Point on Skyway is muddied with smoke from local fires on Monday, Sept. 14. Photo credit: Alicia Brogden

The Valley fire north of Napa is now one of the top three most destructive wildfires in California history, burning more than 1,200 homes near Middletown. There have been more than 5,300 wildfires statewide this year, altogether scorching almost 300,000 acres, according to Cal Fire.

With no immediate relief in sight and new fires still popping up, the danger persists. In Butte County, both Chico and Paradise are on Cal Fire’s Very High Fire Hazard Severity Zones map, meaning they are the communities most vulnerable to wildfires in the county.

While Chico is listed in the fire hazard zone, Rick Doane, Chico fire marshal, doesn’t see much of a threat from wildfires.

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Rick Doane, Chico fire marshal, discusses the threat of wildfires in Butte County and how everyone can have a part in preventing them. Photo credit: Alicia Brogden

 

“Our exposure to wildfire is pretty much what we would call the urban-wildland interface, and we don’t have a lot of it,” Doane said. “We have some out in the outlying areas. We’re not like Middletown or any of the communities out in the foothills where they do have a significant exposure to fires.”

Urban-wildland areas are where neighborhoods back up to open space; those are the most vulnerable.

In Chico, these areas are toward the foothills either backing up to Bidwell Park or heading east on Highway 32, such as Canyon Oaks Terrace or off East 20th Street.

While there have been no major fires in Chico recently, Doane recalled a small fire starting in Bidwell Park, and embers from that fire then burned down a house on Centennial Avenue. These fires typically start with discarded cigarette butts or at homeless camps, he added.

Those living in urban-wildland areas can protect their homes by cleaning out their gutters of dry vegetation and trimming plants back from the house, he added.

There is always the threat of wildfires in Chico’s hot summers, but that’s not the biggest fire danger in the city, Doane said.

The biggest threat to homes could be the couches on front porches. Last year, there were more than 300 incidents where couches were lit on fire, either on porches or in the middle of the street.

“We had one just a couple of weeks ago where somebody lit a couch on fire and the fire damaged somebody’s car,” Doane said. “So there you are at school and you come out and some idiot burned your car up.”

Doane said that couch fires usually happen at parties on the weekend. The fire department responds to three to five burning couches on average between Thursday and Sunday, he added.

To deter party-goers from lighting couches on fire, a fire investigation team has been put together to go after people who start them. Anyone caught could be charged with arson, Doane said.

He also wants Chico State to consider suspending any students who light couches on fire.

“If you listen to the scanner on Thursday, Friday, Saturday nights, you’ll hear sofa fires,” Doane said. “If you come to town and you do something like this, it’s not something we want to have in our community.”

Doane said there have been several close calls from couch fires in the last few years. To prevent a major fire from happening, he said the campus culture needs to change.

“Somebody’s watching somebody go out and light these, and typically it’s at a party,” Doane said. “For students to step up and say ‘this isn’t OK, this isn’t appropriate behavior for us,’ that’s tough to do.”

Wildfires and reckless party-goers may be a hard thing to control, but preventative measures can be taken to stop house fires.

The majority of inside fires start with unattended cooking, smoking and burning candles, Doane said.

He gave the following tips to prepare for and react to a house fire:

  • Have an escape plan: Know of at least two exits if a fire starts. This can be as simple as making sure a bedroom window opens so there’s a way to get out.
  • Communicate the escape plan: Everyone in the house should know a place to meet up and make sure that nobody’s trapped inside. This way all roommates can be accounted for.
  • Have a working smoke alarm: Make sure the batteries are charged and press the button to test if it works.
  • Keep space heaters away from anything that could catch on fire: They should also have tip over protection, meaning they shut off if they fall over.
  • Make sure the chimney is clear: Debris cluttering a chimney can lead to a fire.
  • Get renters insurance: Doane urged anyone living in an apartment to get renters insurance, which is around $10 a month. This way victims can recover financially.

Doane said it’s important to know what to do on the off chance of a house fire, but it’s even more crucial to not panic.

“You may be the smartest, most careful person,” he said. “When you are faced with a fire burning or an emergency situation, panic sets in and you might not be making the best decisions.”

Living in a fire-prone area, it is crucial to know fire safety and prevention both indoors and outdoors.

Austin Herbaugh can be reached at [email protected] or @aherbaugh14 on Twitter.

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Fire prevention in wake of destructive fires