As residents prepare for hot, dry summer weather amid a statewide drought, the San Ramon Valley Fire Protection District has offered a variety of safety tips to help people better protect their homes and properties from fire danger in the weeks and months ahead.
The SRVFPD's advice ranges from the importance of maintaining defensible space to summer barbecue safety to what residents should do in case of wildfire.
Create defensible space
Firefighters urge local property owners to prepare for the potential for wildfire by creating and maintaining defensible space around their homes, according to SRVFPD spokeswoman Kim French.
French said residents, especially those with some acreage on their properties, should make sure to:
* Maintain 100 feet of defensible space around all structures.
* Remember that properties over an acre may require fuel breaks around the perimeter.
* Clear all needles and leaves from roofs, eaves and rain gutters.
* Trim tree limbs to at least six feet above the ground.
* Remove branches away from roofs and 10 feet from chimneys.
* Keep wood piles and other stored flammable materials at least 30 feet from the home.
Property owners doing outdoor yard maintenance at their homes should keep a few safety tips in mind to help prevent the chance of wildfire, according to French.
* Check the weather before starting any weed-trimming project. Do not do the work if the temperature is high, winds are strong or humidity is low. Choose another day.
* Never attempt an abatement project during a red-flag warning day.
* If possible, wet the area prior to cutting the weeds.
* Always mow or cut weeds before 10 a.m. when moisture levels are highest.
* Always use tools that are made for cutting weeds; lawn mowers are for lawns not tall dry grass.
* Ensure there is a garden hose, large container of water or fire extinguisher nearby before cutting dry grass or weeds.
* If a fire should start during yard work, always contact the SRVFPD, even if the fire has been put out. Fire officials want to make sure the fire is completely extinguished and will not reignite later on.
Watch the barbecue
Backyard barbeques are a summer staple, but people should make sure that the fun does not lead to fire by ensuring the coals are cooled and disposed of properly, French said.
"The United States Fire Administration urges you to douse the coals with plenty of water and stir them to ensure that the fire is completely out. Never place them in plastic, paper or wooden containers, choose a metal container instead," she added.
Landscape mulch and bark
Mulch or bark placed in planting beds can cause a fire or can help a fire spread more rapidly, according to French
"Mulch fires occur year-round, but primarily in the summer when the temperatures are higher and there is little rainfall. As a result, landscaping materials become dried out, allowing for easy ignition," she said.
According to French, people with mulch or bark should:
* Provide proper clearance for electric devices, such as decorative lights, by following the manufacturer's instructions.
* Keep landscaped mulch beds moist, if possible.
* Use noncombustible mulch, such as rock or pea gravel, around the gas meter and next to the combustible portions of the structure.
* Use only the manufacturer's recommended size/wattage for yard light bulbs.
* Use only electrical devices and cords listed for outdoor use, and follow the manufacturer's specifications.
* Consider replacing landscaping mulch with decorative stone.
Proper drying and disposal of oily rags can help reduce the possibility of a spontaneous combustion fire, French said. According to the National Fire Protection Association, on average more than 14,000 spontaneous combustion fires are reported each year, causing millions of dollars in damage.
According to French, people should:
* Hang an oily rag outdoors to dry. Use a clothesline or fence, be sure to hang each rag individually and avoid piling them on top of each other.
* If an oily rag must be dried indoors, be sure to keep it away from heat sources such as water heaters or furnaces.
* Follow the manufacturer's directions on proper use, storage and disposal.
In case of wildfire
If a wildfire ignites in a local neighborhood, French said residents should:
* Leave immediately. Don't wait to be told to evacuate. Authorities may not have enough time to order an evacuation.
* Obey all evacuation orders.
* Drive calmly with headlights on for visibility.
* Do not block the access to roadways for fire engines and emergency personnel.
SRVFPD fire prevention staff will be educating residents and evaluating properties to make sure they are in compliance with district standards, beginning June 2, according to French. For more information and to view the district's Minimum Abatement Standards, visit the SRVFPD website or call 838-6600.