When the Thomas fire took off near Santa Paula, I don’t think anyone living on the South Coast could imagine what was going to occur.
Unfortunately, two lives were lost due to the fire. One, a civilian, died after their car crashed during the initial evacuation in eastern Ventura County. The second was a firefighter who died fighting the fire in the same area.
The Thomas fire became the largest wildland fire in California history, burning over 281,893 acres. First responders put up a herculean effort to stop the advance of the fire. A mutual assistance call was issued throughout the Central Coast and almost every law enforcement and fire agency sent personnel.
On Jan. 9, a severe rain storm struck the Central Coast. In under five minutes, more than a half-inch fell. This sudden deluge caused rapid erosion of the burn areas, creating mud and debris flows. The force of the debris flow was so terrific that boulders estimated to weigh 500 tons were dislodged. The resulting mud/debris flow destroyed over 120 homes and over 300 were damaged. Twenty-one people lost their lives and two are still missing. Highway 101 was closed for almost 10 days.
This brings me to emergency preparedness. Let’s start with wildfires. First, have a plan, where will you meet up should you have to evacuate your home. Have a contact person both locally and in another location who can be used for messages. Remove all dead leaves, pine needles, plants and shrubbery from gutters and around your home. Make sure you have defensible space around your home. Each municipality will have a certain amount of space that is required to be cleared surrounding your home. The norm is at least 100 feet, but check with your local Fire Department.
It is recommended each person have enough food and water to last three days. Some stores will sell emergency packs that come with freeze-dried food and packaged water. If you don’t want to spend the money for these types of items, just purchase some canned goods and make sure you rotate them before they expire. If you need water, the tank on your toilet can be used, as can your water heater. If you take prescription medicine, make sure you have enough. It would be good to write down the names and dosage of your medication in the event you need them refilled. Have a first-aid kit, and make sure it is stocked.
Place all valuables in a fire-proof safe. Have a to-go bag packed and ready. Place all important documents where you can easily grab them. One trick I use is scan all important photos into the cloud. This way, if they are lost or damaged, you can easily replace them. I also recommend keeping some cash on hand. Remember, if the power is out for a prolonged time, ATM machines will not work.
This also goes for your vehicle. Make sure that you keep it fueled to the full mark, if possible. If ATMs don’t work, there is a good probability gas pumps won’t work either.
For the recent mudslide in Montecito, follow the same procedures you would for a fire. Several residents were trapped in their vehicles while leaving the affected areas. I would recommend keeping a small kit in your car. Have a blanket or space blanket in your trunk. Have some food and water. You never know how long you will be stranded in your vehicle.
I encourage all residents to sign up for Aware and Prepare through the county. Nixle alerts are a good way to also be notified by public safety agencies.