California Drought Raises the Need for Better Safety Plans


Amidst rising concerns in California regarding the need to develop better safety plans in order to protect homes and businesses from wildfires, California now faces the worst drought in recorded history. Governor Jerry Brown announced a drought emergency in May, which continues to threaten residents with a strong wildfire season. The southern state has seen the lowest total rainfall amount in 163 total years of records. In an effort to raise awareness regarding the drought, Brown has asked residents and visitors to cut back their water usage as much as possible.

The drought is also threatening the California tourism industry. Lakes, national parks and recreational sites are being affected by the lack of natural irrigation. Although officials say that they are not planning on closing camping and hiking areas, visitors need to pay close attention to fire pits and any waste they might produce and leave behind. Fireworks remain a big concern because they represent fire triggers and children might not know how to discharge them properly, which may cause also fires.

Ironically, wildfires, which are usually caused by landscape combustion in nature, are needed for the earth to continue its cycle. Various seeds in the forest occasionally require fire in order to sprout and be germinated. In California, nature has the combination needed to produce such fires, which result in a better quality of trees, and drought can be an important part of this process.

Preventive plans are a necessity when it comes to property safety. People need to know what their homes are capable of weathering in the face of wildfires forces that are capable of melting a house to the ground in seconds. Homeowners living within range of wildfire-susceptible areas should know what to do to secure their homes in order to be ready when receiving an evacuation call.

Year after year, news stations broadcast the dangers of wildfires in California,  showing firefighters working hard to tame the flames and reporting on the number of homes destroyed by fire each day, but people continue to be attracted to wooded areas and will keep coming back to rebuild. Normally, they do so by reproducing what they used to have. Government and insurance companies working together could offer incentives to construction companies to construct new homes out of alternative materials, techniques and methods at accessible prices in order to create less flammable structures that could survive fires.

Residents  who are well aware of the dangers of California wildfires are already applying creative solutions to new construction as a strategy to mitigate the damage done by future fires. Irrigation systems surrounding backyards and the type of vegetation used for landscaping are also key. Succulents and Hypertufas, for example, are low-maintenance, drought-tolerant and very hard to kill. According to Earth Justice, these plants work as fire retardants by having quasi-water tanks in their roots and leaves, which is one inexpensive way to use landscaping as a way to protect homes from fire.

Other more expensive building techniques being tested are water-cooling systems on main levels of multiple-story homes or the addition of  fire-retardant planks made of a material such as zinc alloy between exterior walls and drywall. These are all solutions applied by architects and designers who lost their own homes to fire and are working to prevent the same from happening to others. Unfortunately, due to the high prices of these options, none are very popular.

A Los Angeles County Fire Department spokesman has recommended that residents conduct a home evaluation to remove any kind of native wood located within 100 feet of their house.  Also in a good safety plan is the removal of all deadwood located on private properties to prevent providing additional fuel to flames during times of drought in California.

By Margot Carvallo

The Weather Channel
USA Today
LA Times
Earth Justice

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