Volunteer Firefighters from Wind Canyon VFD Promote Defensible Space and Ready, Set, Go Program
A house that caught fire during construction in 2008 and what the residents of Wind Canyon felt was an inadequate response was the impetus for the development of the Wind Canyon Volunteer Fire Department. The department now has its own station on ByPass Road between highways 90 South and 180 West.
Members of the department held an open house Sunday afternoon, to inform residents of the area and to try to draw new volunteers.
VFD member Roger Dombrowski gave a presentation on how to create defensible space around a home in the wildland-urban interface.
"We have built homes in what used to be wild land," Dombrowski said. "Fires are here, so we have to be prepared."
He said the department, since its inception, has fought 13 fires in its response area and has participated with the Tyrone VFD in fighting more than 100 fires in the region around Silver City.
"It's your responsibility to make your property fire safe to lessen the probability of a fire taking your home," he told those attending the presentation.
He said wildfire threatens a home in three ways, He described the way fire spreads as a baton relay race, with fire fuel being the baton that transfers fire to the next fuel. A home can be threatened by contact with flames, radiated heat and flying embers, which can travel miles on the wind.
The first way to stop a home burning down is in the construction phase. Dombrowski cautioned that wood shake roofs burn easily, as do wooden decks and wooden furniture outside. They are all fuels for fire. "Make sure the house is not a fuel by not using flammable materials in its construction," he said.
He also said every home should have smoke detectors and carbon monoxide detectors installed.
At least five feet around the house should be a non-combustible zone. From 30-100 feet from the house, landscaping should be fire resistant. Native grass should be cut short, and trees should be trimmed up at least five feet from the ground to prevent ladder fuels.
"You want the fire to drop to the ground and not go from tree to tree," Dombrowski said. "Also, in order for us to fight a fire around your house, we will need access. We cannot protect your home if it is non-defensible."
A 12-foot wide driveway with no more than a 4 percent slope is large enough for a water tender and a brush truck. A larger fire truck would require a turn-around space.
Dombrowski recommended a publication, Living with Fire, and a checklist to help residents prepare a fire plan for their homes. "I can help with the fire plan. If you do one, we at the station would like to have a copy, so we can help protect your home, in case of fire. We want to know where the propane tank is, where the septic tank is, so we don't crush it with a truck and where the well is. Water is crucial. We can fill the tender at the station, but it holds only eight-minutes worth of water to fight a fire. If you have a cistern or water tank, we would appreciate an authorization that we can use your water."
The department coordinates with the County Community Wildland Fire on the Protection Plan, and works with the Bureau of Land Management, the Forest Service, New Mexico Forestry, as well as the county on fire protection.
"We, as firefighters, learn things on fires," Dombrowski said. "We learned that bear grass will make a tall flame, and so does sotol. Piñon and juniper burn quickly, but oak and cholla burn less quickly. We do after-action reviews and try to translate them to our community. We learned that with our prevailing southwest winds, a fire along highway 180 could funnel through the canyons and burn through the Wind Canyon subdivision within an hour."
To a question, he said the trucks carry tools, such as bolt cutters, in order to sometimes cut their way into where fire is burning. "We will cut our way in, if we are called to your property. We do try to repair what we can afterward."
Joe Butts, in his presentation on the Ready, Set, Go program, also emphasized the need for maintaining a defensible space around one's home. "Fire moves dangerously fast and is erratic," he said. "But fires are part of the ecology of the area."
He recommended anyone asked to evacuate to do so early, before it becomes life-threatening. "It also helps if everyone evacuates, so that firefighters have more room to battle the fire. Comply if there is an evacuation order. Safety of you and your family is the highest priority."
Butts explained the program as get your home READY, be SET when the fire is coming, and GO early.
He advised personal preparedness for fire and other disasters.
Although he recommended against sitting out a fire, in case of other disasters, it may be necessary to stay put in one's home. In that case, make sure a stockpile of supplies is available. That includes at least one gallon of water per person per day, with at least three days worth. Clothing should be natural fabrics, such as cotton or wool. Synthetics tend to melt in fires, which can cause severe burns. Keep bandanas on hand, because they can be used as a washcloth, a rough filter for air or water or as a bandage. Residents should gather near the center of the structure near a bearing wall and away from windows and doors.
For an evacuation, each person should have a 72-hour kit of water, clothing and food for themselves and their pets.
"Make sure you have your important documents together, so you can get back to normal life as rapidly as possible," Butts said. "These should include insurance papers, bank and investment account information, your Social Security information, birth certificates, passport, property deeds, wills and trusts, family photos, medications for yourselves and your pets, and cash."
He suggested scanning the documents and storing them on CDs or thumb drives, with at least two copies in different locations. Another useful tool is a video of the home with belongings identifiable for insurance purposes. "Discuss this with your insurance agent to see what you need and what you need in order to validate your personal belongings."
A survival kit may include basic shelter against the elements, health and first aid kits, food, water and a way to signal rescuers. The kit might have a sleeping bag or blankets, clothing, water and food, a sturdy knife, trash bags to protect clothing and sleeping items and hygiene items.
Exit routes should be known, with two ways out in each direction. Family members should establish meeting places, in case the mother is in town, the children at school and the father out fishing. "The meeting place can even be outside the area."
"Grab your laptop and the hard drive with the scans of your documents and belongings, get the pets, drop the drapes to the floor, so they do not draw in fire, turn off the gas at the propane tank, turn the water off unless there is a fire, leave the lights on if the emergency is not a fire, move furniture to the middle of the room, and GO," Butts said. "If time permits, email your family and friends to let them know you are leaving, and help your neighbors if they need it."
Dombrowski said firefighters who must enter a home on fire would kill the electricity first.
Butts recommended visiting the website www.wildlandfireRSG.org to learn more about the Ready, Set, Go program.
Ramona Maltby, retired nurse, demonstrates the hands-only technique of CPR at mid-chest, doing about 100 beats a second, compressing the chest by an inch to an inch-and-a-half.