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Devastating Wildfire: Could it happen here?

Folsom Fire chief talks safety preparations
By: Rachel Zirin, Senior Reporter
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With the devastating fires in Paradise and Malibu, many are thinking and asking, could it happen here? How well prepared is Folsom and El Dorado Hills in the event of a massive fire?

The Telegraph sat down with Folsom Fire Chief Felipe Rodriguez to learn more about Folsom’s preparedness and what residents can do to be ready.

Folsom has five fire stations, all strategically located so response times stay low.

In Sacramento County, Folsom has moderate- to high-risk areas, as it approaches the foothills of El Dorado Hills, as well as some of the south areas Folsom is currently developing, Rodriguez said.

Folsom’s highest risk areas include American River Canyon near Lake Natoma, the Parkway, as there are some greenbelts that dry up, south of Highway 50, and the eastern end toward El Dorado Hills.

“When we develop, we put in streets, hydrants, parks and more to help with the risk. Open spaces are still hazardous, but we are aware of them. When you responsibly develop an area, including proper setbacks and access, you remove some of that vulnerability and hazard,” he said. “Not developing it allows it to grow each year and dry up. Right now, south of Highway 50 is dry, but putting in neighborhoods with manicured lawns and streets helps reduce that hazard.”

Rodriguez said when evaluating weather and the probability for a fire igniting, they look at the temperature, wind and humidity.

“The higher the temperature, the more heat we have and the easier it is for a fire to start. The higher the wind, the easier it is for a fire to start, advance and spot in front of itself and create more fires. The lower the humidity, the easier it is for it to ignite because it’s not as moist. Once it hits 20 percent or less humidity, it becomes critical for us to pay attention. Five or six percent is very dangerous.”

Folsom has a community outreach program where they ask the community to prepare themselves – it’s called Ready, Set, Go.

“An important thing to remember is we need to change our focus from trying to protect ourselves from these fires from the outside in to protecting ourselves from the inside out,” he said.
Rodriguez explained that to be prepared in the event of a fire, preparing your home or business to protect yourself is most important.

“Take care of your home and property first and create a defensive space around it so if we were to have a fire in our area, that would give us the best chance of having your home or business survive,” he said. “This also gives firefighters a better chance to get in and protect the home or business.”

Rodriguez recommends clearing all flammable items and dead brush from 30 to 100 feet around all structures on the property. Green and living plants or trees are fine.

“We don’t want people to neglect that and stack wood against their homes, have dry weeds around their homes, gutters full of pine needles and things like that. We find a lot of fires start from embers flying through the air landing on something that’s easy to burn,” Rodriguez said.

Rodriguez also mentioned when renovating homes, use materials that are non-combustible when possible – add brick or stone to the bottom 3 feet of the home, use metal chimney caps, non wooden roof shingles, etc.

Other than preparing your home, prepare yourself and your family.

“Have a go-kit or go-bag that includes items to allow you to survive for at least 72 hours such as water bottles, canned food, a can opener, a few changes of clothing, cash, medications and copies of important documents. You should have your go-kit in an easily accessible place,” he said. “Some homes have a little closet by the front door for coats; stick a couple backpacks in there. Some have a go-kit in their trunk as well.”

Rodriguez said once you take care of yourself and your family, be ready to go when a notice is sent out to evacuate.

“A lot of people are not aware that cell phones are not automatically registered with our reverse 911 system. I ask everyone to register their phones on Nixle and Everbridge, because this gives us the opportunity to call when there is an emergency in our area. If a cell phone isn’t registered, it’s tough to reach out to everyone,” he said.

All landlines connected to the walls are automatically registered.

Rodriguez said in Sacramento, there are only 11,000 residents signed up for these systems out of 1.5 million residents. He could not stress more how important it is to register all cell phones.

Currently, the Folsom Fire Department has five personnel serving the areas of Chico and Paradise.

“They have been there since Thursday when the fire started and their rotation will be at least two weeks. They are still working on containment and extinguishment of the fire,” Rodriguez said. “Members of Folsom CERT responded Monday to help out with the evacuation of large animals.”
Folsom CERT is a local non-profit that is sponsored by the department.

“It’s important to know we have resources in place here in Folsom. There are neighboring agencies we have mutual aid with that respond to all fires,” Rodriguez said. “Be prepared. Everyone can help us by preparing themselves and their properties.”