Wildfire & Fire Safety
2020 wildfire season preparations
What the City is Doing to Prepare
As Southern California heads into peak fire season, the City of Malibu is working to prepare and help community members be prepared to prevent wildfires and be prepared to respond to the next big wildfire that may come.
The City Manager and Public Safety Manager meet weekly with the Fire Department and Sheriff’s Department to discuss current and forecasted fire conditions, community concerns, deployment levels in response to wildfire threat factors such as hot, dry, windy weather, fuel moisture levels and Santa Ana winds.
The Fire Safety Liaison also monitors current fire conditions in Malibu, including weather and fuel moisture levels, and reports them weekly to the City Manager and Public Safety Manager. The City’s Fire Safety Liaison is available to visit your home, assess the property’s wildfire risk and provide a checklist of ways that that you can harden your homes against flying embers, which are a main cause of homes catching fire during a wildfire. To schedule an appointment, email FireSafety@malibucity.org or call 310-456-2489, ext. 387.
What You Can Do to Be Prepared
Residents should review their family emergency and evacuation plans and check their “go bags” and emergency supplies to ensure food, water, medication and batteries have not expired. If you do not have an emergency plan or supply kits, you can learn how to get started with City’s free Emergency Survival Guide, available online at www.Malibucity.org/SurvivalGuide.
The City launched a communications campaign to help residents get ready, with daily tips on social media. See the communications campaign.
HOME IGNITION ZONE ASSESSMENTS
During a wildfire, thousands of embers can rain down on your home and property like hail during a storm. If these embers land in receptive fuels or become lodged in something easily ignited on or near your house, the home may be in jeopardy of burning. This area is commonly referred to as the Home Ignition Zone.
Embers coming into contact with flammable material is a major reason why homes are destroyed during wildfire. Common materials that become embers during wildfire include palm fronds, branches, tree bark, and native vegetation. Depending on fire intensity, wind speed, and the size of materials that are burning, embers can be carried more than a mile ahead of the fire. Consequently, even homes located blocks away from the actual flame front are vulnerable to ignition and complete destruction. By being ember aware and taking action ahead of time, a homeowner can substantially reduce the ember threat.
Utilizing City staff and certified volunteers, the city offers no cost, no obligation Home Ignition Zone Assessments to assist residents by providing recommendations for hardening their homes against flying embers.
Visit the online scheduling system to set an appointment for your home assessment.
COMMUNITY WILDFIRE PROTECTION PLAN
The City is in the process of developing a citywide Community Wildfire Protection Plan (CWPP), a community-based plan focused on identifying and addressing local hazards, risks, and vulnerabilities from wildfire. It provides a road map of action items to help the community prevent, mitigate, respond, and recover from the potential wildfire threat. It may also assist the City and its partners in qualifying for State and federal funding opportunities to implement the plan.
View CWPP consultant Jensen Hughes’ presentation from the Stakeholder Workshops held on February 20 and 22, 2020.
CWPP ONLINE SURVEY
The CWPP online survey closed on June 20, 2020 and received 250 responses. A link to the survey results will be posted here when they become available.
ADDITIONAL CWPP INFORMATION
For reference, view the City of Montecito’s CWPP prepared by Jensen Hughes.
CREATE A DEFENSIBLE HOME
Thousands of homes in Malibu and the surrounding areas are in serious danger of destruction by fire because they are in the Wildland Urban Interface (WUI) where human development intermingles with forests, fields, and other wildlands. However, there are steps homeowners can take to reduce the chance of home ignition:
- Prune trees and vegetation away from the house, including vines or ivy
- Use fire-resistant building materials, such as brick, cement, masonry, or stucco, whenever possible
- Cover rain gutters to prevent accumulation of pine needles, leaves, and roofing sand runoff
- Keep the area around, under, and over propane tanks clear of tree branches and leaves
- Embers are one of the greatest threats to your home during a wildfire. Seal off eaves or other gaps that might allow embers to get into the interior of your home.
- Railroad ties should not be used for landscaping. They are extremely flammable and prone to re-ignition even after the initial fire.
BUILD AN ACTION PLAN
It is critical to decide ahead of time how you and your family will respond to a wildfire and evacuation orders.
- Plan multiple escape routes from your home and other parts of Malibu that you frequent. Los Angeles County Fire Department’s Ready! Set! Go! program can help you plan for evacuations in advance.
- Pick a location to the North (Valley) and South (West LA/Santa Monica) where family members coming from different areas can reunite.
- Make sure your disaster supply kit contains appropriate protective clothing for fire conditions.
- Have several ways to stay in touch with family and friends. Texting may be more reliable when networks are overloaded. Radios may also be helpful, depending on the situation. Mobile phone apps like Zello can work as long as you have power and WiFi.
- Practice your plan! Know what items you can grab in five minutes, 30 minutes, one hour, and so on.
RED FLAG WARNING AND FIRE WEATHER WATCH
A Red Flag Warning is issued by the National Weather Service for weather events that may result in extreme fire behavior that will occur within 24 to 48 hours due to forecasted high winds and low humidity combined with low live fuel moistures. A Fire Weather Watch is issued when weather conditions could exist in the next 12-72 hours. During these times, extreme caution is urged for all residents because a simple spark can cause a major wildfire.
Residents can prepare for Red Flag Warnings and Fire Weather Watches by storing patio furniture cushions inside, reviewing their emergency action plan, ensuring their “go bag” is ready, and making sure they always have enough fuel in their vehicles for safe evacuation.
The Fire Department, Sheriff’s Department, and City staff participate in daily conference calls with the local National Weather Service office and respond to warnings and watches by increasing staffing and resources. Residents should avoid risky fire behaviors and remain vigilant. If you see flames or smell smoke, call 911 immediately.
The current fire weather forecast can be viewed on the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) website.
Live Fuel Moisture
Along with hot dry Santa Ana winds and low relative humidity, Live Fuel Moisture (LFM) is an important component in determining critical fire danger and Red Flag conditions. LFM is defined as the percentage of water content to dry matter content in live vegetation. Live Fuel Moisture can be as high as 200% and sixty percent is considered critical.
The direct measurement of LFM is done by collecting fresh field samples of Chamise, drying them until all moisture is evaporated, and calculating the water content difference between fresh and dry samples. Field-sampled LFM are gathered at three locations throughout the Santa Monica Mountains to determine the average LFM in the region.
Chamise is one of the most common shrub species found in southern California chaparral communities and is the dominant species in the Santa Monica Mountains region. Chamise is evergreen, but it is sensitive to seasonal drought. During southern California’s long dry season, Chamise leaf moisture content drops as soil water availability declines. In extreme conditions, rapid dry down can happen in days, for example during Santa Ana winds affecting southern California.
The Los Angeles County Fire Department Forestry Division conducts sampling approximately every two weeks and posts the results on their website. The full Los Angeles County Live Fuel Moisture Summary can be found here and the current Santa Monica Mountains Live Fuel Moisture graph can be found here.
For more information on interpreting the Live Fuel Moisture graph, click here.
HOUSE FIRE SAFETY
Every single person, no matter where they live, or what kind of home they live in, is at risk of a house fire. Common causes of fires that begin inside the home include: unattended candles, cooking mishaps, faulty wiring, and flammable materials. Luckily, house fires are entirely preventable. Use the resources below to improve home fire safety for you and your family:
Use a weed whacker safely
- Have your weed whacker professionally checked and tuned before use, especially if it’s been in storage.
- Make sure there are no gas leaks.
- Take breaks so the motor does not become overheated.
- Use plastic blades or nylon strings instead of metal blades. Sparks caused by metal blades hitting rocks can start a fire.
- If you must use a metal blade, clear rocks before you begin cutting or avoid them as much as possible to prevent sparks.
- Do not refuel in the brush or grass.
- Cut in the cooler parts of the day (morning, evening, or overcast days).
- ALWAYS have a water source or fire extinguisher close by to put out sparks and blazes immediately.