Contributed By Paul August
The Auburn 49er Fire could have been much worse. 60 homes burned. It was headed for Lake of the Pines. In 1991, the Oakland hills fire destroyed 3,354 homes, 25 people died and hundreds were injured.
What happened in Oakland and Auburn could happen here in Grass Valley and Nevada City. At the start of the Yuba Fire last month, I stood on my deck in North San Juan and watched a tidal wave of billowing black smoke explode miles into the sky. It was scary.
This North San Juan area gets hit with a catastrophic fire every thirty years. My wife Muriel left this home for a day trip to Tahoe back in 1960. “When I left it was green and beautiful. When I came back it was ash and charred wood.” The home survived. The trees didn’t.
The wind decides the fire. Fortunately, the Yuba Fire wind blew gently, and not in our direction. In the Auburn fire, however, gusts of wind pushed the fire forward and it surged beyond all fire defenses.
In Oakland, Santa Ana winds blew in from the south, swirling, gusting and fanning flames that engulfed house after house. No air tankers were available that first day to fight a city fire.
The home owner’s best fire defense is to clear 100 feet around your house. But even that’s no guarantee against a tidal wave of flame and their falling embers. I’ve seen homes with stucco walls and tile roofs burn as fire licked under the eaves and through the wooden front door.
The only house to survive in one Oakland hills neighborhood was a cement home built by a Vietnam refugee who vowed never to lose his home to fire again. He didn’t. But ash, dust and reconstruction noise surrounded his home for years. There’s no escaping the after effects.
Home owners need to prepare for the consequences of a fire. For those with well water, if the electrical wires burn down and there’s no electricity, the pump in the well won’t work – no water. If the driveway is blocked by fire, be sure to have a secondary plan of escape.
And get to know your local fire department, especially if you’re in a rural area with volunteer firefighters. In one Oakland neighborhood, the fire department saved one home owned by a firefighter who fought flames in another part of town. They saved his home although others around it were destroyed.
We had big fires up here in 1960 and 1989. 30 years later is about 2020. Be prepared.
Paul August is a freelance writer and singer. His latest CD, “Welcome to Nevada City, God’s Country,” is available through cdbaby.com