With residents of California still recovering from a devastating 2020 wildfire season, this year’s is shaping up to look even worse, due to the abnormally dry winter and spring months. The current drought in the Southwest has set the stage for what could be an intense and overwhelming 2021 fire season and, with the pandemic dominating headlines, this crisis has gotten little attention in nationwide media. However, California wildfires may once again be major news if experts’ predictions are right.
Warning signs of an active fire season
How did we get here? Last year’s wildfires were devastating and nearly unending. The Silverado wildfire, the Bobcat wildfire, and the Blue Ridge wildfire all caused millions of dollars of damages and injuries to victims throughout California. Experts at the Washington Post explain that the West’s current drought conditions started in fall 2019, followed by the dry summer of 2020 and the ravaging wildfires that followed.
This drought has persisted into 2021 and extended east. The Post notes that as “the West Coast enters the summer dry season, the chance for significant fires is high. The probability of getting enough precipitation to mitigate wildfire risk has gone to almost zero as we leave the wet season behind with significant dry anomalies and low snowpack.”
To date, there have been at least 24 wildfires in California alone. Lightning is the primary cause of many of these fires, though the Dixie Fire was caused by a downed power line. The Dixie Fire has since merged with the Fly Fire.
Of course, a devastating wildfire season is not 100% guaranteed. But one thing that will guarantee wildfires are sparks – sparks often unintentionally created by reckless individuals or negligent companies and public utility corporations. This was the case in the Pacific Gas & Electric Company case, whose equipment started four wildfires last year. In an unprecedented move, PG&E has since announced it will bury 10,000 miles of power lines in an effort to reduce the risk of wildfires.
What is “good fire”?
Believe it or not, not all wildfires are bad. Some states, like Florida, keep control of wildfires through the use of prescribed burning. Other states, like California, are more reluctant to perform prescribed burns due to liability concerns. However, statistics show that less than one percent of prescribed fires overrun their containment.
Says writer Martin Kuz, “Controlled burns in woodlands can prevent wildfires from erupting into megafires – typically defined as a blaze that burns more than 100,000 acres – by clearing away undergrowth to deprive advancing flames of fuel. The burned and unburned areas in a treated tract form a mosaic that preserves enough habitat for biodiversity and ample space for older, more fire-resistant trees to thrive.”
Preparing for wildfire season
Now that we do know this year’s wildfire season is likely to be as destructive as previous years’ fires, we must be prepared. These next few tips, borrowed from LA Mag, should give you and your family a good start on developing a fire safety plan.
- Prevent and mitigate. Previous experience shows us that these wildfires thrive on wind and sparks, so don’t give those burning embers a safe place to land. If you are rebuilding or remodeling, consider fire-resistant construction materials. The same goes for your landscaping – think drought-tolerant and native plants, and remember to keep them watered.
- Fire-proof your home or apartment. It is custom to have at least one fire extinguisher on each floor of the house, typically by doors and exits of rooms so they can be accessed in a hurry. You should also keep one in the garage and/or basement. Always keep one in the kitchen and check their expiration dates regularly. Further, make sure everyone in the family knows where the emergency shut-offs are for your home’s water, electricity, and gas in the case of emergency.
- Prepare a fire emergency kit. Californians are no strangers to go-packs or earthquake kits. If you don’t have one, however, now is a good time to put one together. Emergency kits should have nonperishable food and water; preferably a minimum of three gallons of water for each person in the house. You will also want first aid supplies, respiratory masks, important documents (and copies) like passports, birth certificates, and other paperwork. Think about adding a solar or hand-cranked emergency radio, extra phone chargers, and paper maps and phone numbers in the event cell service is down.
- Make your evacuation plan. In the event your neighborhood is evacuated, you will need to leave the area immediately. Your family should have an evacuation plan in place and know how to execute it properly. The plan should include who’s responsible for the emergency kit, who is driving whom, what route to take (with alternate options), and where you will meet up. Ensure you account for your pets.
Another thing you can do to protect yourself and your possessions this wildfire season is documenting your possessions. You can do this with your cell phone camera. If you lose them in a fire, this will show the condition they were in before the fire. This includes the house itself. Follow our checklist to ensure you have what you need.
Amy Bach, from the consumer group United Policyholders, told ABC 7 that it was important to document certain types of items. “The things again you wouldn’t be able to replace – antiques, let’s say, ‘here’s a table that I inherited from my grandmother. Here’s another piece of art,’” she said. “It’s amazing how often people don’t have a record of their house. How big was it?” she asked.
The Los Angeles-based law firm of McNicholas & McNicholas represent clients throughout California who have experienced damage from wildfires and mudslides. If you were affected by a disaster caused by negligence like the Dixie Fire, our wildfire litigation attorneys can advocate for financial compensation. To schedule a remote review of your case, call 310-474-1582 or reach out to us through our contact page to tell us your story.
Please note that this blog is not to be construed as legal advice. Because every case is fact-specific, you should consult directly with an attorney to obtain legal advice specific to your situation.
For more than three decades, McNicholas & McNicholas, LLP has built a reputation as one of California’s leading law firms. Founded by a family of attorneys spanning three generations, John McNicholas and sons, Patrick and Matthew, have tried hundreds of cases to jury verdict on behalf of clients. Learn More about McNicholas & McNicholas