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Fire Stories

Two out of three of my sister's in law live a mile from us. They're both on the upper portion of two separate hill hills adjoined by a very small valley. The woman downhill mowed too late into the season. One sister in law was completely burned out. The fire came to within 30 feet of the second one's house. Luckily they didn't get burned out because the one who did now needed a place to live. 

Wouldn't you think the woman who started it would have learned her lesson? Well she didn't. Two years later she did the same thing... starting another fire!


Another fire 1/4 mile from us was started by illegal wiring. These people had extension cords strung from outbuilding to outbuilding. They weren't up to the load and set the place ablaze. 


Last year another neighbor's house and property were in peril from a blaze that started with a neighbors electrified cattle fence. Please weed eat under these fence lines to prevent them from sparking a blaze. 


About 1/4 mile in the other direction an older man was "disking" his field to turn under the dead grass... ironically to create a "fire break". Luckily my husband and I were traveling by with his sisters and brother's in law soon after the blaze started. We were able to get the fire under control while waiting for the fire department to arrive and soak down the area. 




This grassy field is a great example of early summer in many foothill locations. The tall grasses would catch in a second with a cigarette butt, a catalytic converter, or a spark from a mower blade.  

You've heard the term "wildfire". That's exactly what the fires out here are ... wild. They start fast, move fast, and consume everything in their path very quickly. The best thing to do is to prevent them. The second best is to be ready with your kids trained, and your property cleared and defensible.

Ask any of us veterans of country living and we'll tell you.... fire is absolutely the scariest thing we face here. So please, help prevent them by doing the following consistently!

You can start by absolutely obeying the fire safety rules here. They are designed to not only keep us all safe, but to keep our air clean as well. Permissive fire days are determined with the cooperation of the California Air Quality Board as well as the California Department of Forestry and your local fire district. They are meant to keep fire in check and air quality high.

There are many more accidental ways people start fires here. Here are some of the major causes -- causes that are all primarily in the hands of us humans to prevent.

Fire Prevention

1. Do NOT, under any circumstances, use a weed eater blade, lawn mower blade in an area of dried grasses. If there's nothing green or there hasn't been a very recent rain and everything is soaked, you're asking for a fire. This is a VERY common cause of fire here and you can prevent it by switching weed eater blades to line, and never mowing, or using tractor blades in an open field.

2. Do NOT drive your car, truck, or other vehicle over dried grass. This is also a common cause of fires, and with few exceptions, could be prevented by following the rules.

3. NEVER throw a cigarette or any other lighted object from a vehicle, or out someplace when you're on a walk. You've seen all those burned places along side roads... most are caused from careless smokers. 

4. Clear around your house and out buildings

5. Trim low branches off from trees and burn when permitted

6. NEVER, NEVER, NEVER burn anything after the first of April through October unless you have a permit, and have checked whether it's a permissive burn day. Fines are stiff for violating this rule, but not nearly as stiff as the penalty would be if you burn yourself or your neighbors out by your carelessness. Lack of attention to a permitted debris burn is the number one cause of wildfires in this area.

And remember, even if you know your neighbors and they like you, they're likely to turn you in. When you've seen fires up close and personal like most people who have lived in the country for some time, we're going to make sure you learn your lesson on the first offense. A second could wipe you and your neighbors out!

7. NO fireworks, firecrackers, or sparklers on 4th of July or anytime between April 1 and until a week of rain in the fall. 

Burn Permits are issued at any fire station or Department of Forestry station. 

Campfire Permits are ONLY issued by the Department of Forestry & the US Forest Service.

Preparing for a Possible Fire

Have fire drills with your kids. Make sure they know what to do and where to go.

Make sure your kids can call 911 and describe where your property is located. Some of these rural roads and private roads are hard for firefighters and rescue people to find. Type out some clear instructions the kids can read, and practice it with them so they'll learn them by heart.

You may want to install emergency irrigation in vulnerable areas. For instance, we have a hill that is grassy and unmowed, and at the top there's a large grove of oak trees. We have Rainbird® sprinklers set up to water the hill... fire does generally move up a hill. If you do this, be sure everyone in your family knows what to hook up and where the valves are to turn them on. 

You may wish to invest in a larger water storage tank. One neighbor just had a 1500 gallon tank installed for about $3000. It'll provide water for fire emergencies and also for better water pressure for household uses and irrigation (thankfully that will be your main use).

Also, have a plan for your animals. If a fire is coming your way be sure you and your family have a system worked out to either put all your animals in a safe place, or if a big fire is coming, turn all the animals out of their barns or pastures. They will typically outrun any fire and generally stay as close to home as they can. They know where the food comes from!

Have your address clearly visible.....

Permissive Burning

Obtain a permit and make sure you follow all the rules on it. Also, when you phone in to see if it is a "permissive burn day" you'll get a recording that reminds you that "anyone who starts a fire that burns onto another's property can be held criminally or civilly liable." 

Fire Safe Resource Directory

California Department of Forestry 


You think you'll never be in a situation on your own property when you need a rescue, but that could be a disastrous misconception. With 30 pounds of Roundup® in my backpack sprayer, I slipped on some loose rock and slid halfway into one of our ponds. The weight of the sprayer made movement difficult, and the immediate pain in my knee told me there could be something serious wrong... and I didn't have my portable phone with me. Luckily I wiggled my way out of the situation, got the backpack off and once the weight was off I was able to move my leg. It complained but I was lucky... nothing seriously injured. 

There are dozens of situations that you can find yourself in that could put you in peril. And, as common sense as some of this might sound, it's easy to forget in the heat of the moment if you're working on a project while home alone.

The first rule is one that I learned as an avid hiker. I used to hike alone (with my dogs) frequently so I learned to always check in with the nearest ranger station, tell them where I was going, and what time to come looking for me if I didn't check out again. Do the same in your country place. Here are the tips that can help you stay out of a situation where you'll need a rescue:

How To Stay Out of a Situation Where You Need a Rescue

1. Let a friend or neighbor know if you'll be going to a remote or dangerous part of your property alone. 

We have lots of rock walls and large granite boulders. In my quest to rid certain areas of our property of poison oak, I'm often playing a balancing act with my 30 pound backpack sprayer, climbing rocks and trying dodge the poison oak. It's kind of precarious at times. Letting my neighbor know is just like an insurance policy. I know if I fall and hurt myself she will come looking and know where to look.

2.  There are miles of hiking and riding trails nearby. If you're going riding (horses or bikes) be sure you let someone know where you're going. If you're carrying a cell phone for emergencies, be sure you are aware of where you are so rescuers can find you quickly. The fire department says they are often 100 yards from someone in need, but they may have to check 8 or 10 miles of trail before they find them because the party calling 911 isn't aware of their location on the trail they're riding.

Again, letting someone know where you'll be is just a good insurance policy. With acres between homes out here, it helps rescuers locate you quickly if necessary.

Also, the fire department cautions you to not try and drive yourself or a friend in the event of a medical emergency. If you are sick or injured, you have no business driving. If you're driving a friend, likely you'll be panicky, not thinking clearly, and probably driving too fast. You are putting yourself and others in danger. They also caution you to not come to the fire station as they're not equipped to handle walk in emergencies. 

Calling 911 is the fastest and safest way to deal with an emergency. 


They aren't close so prepare a family emergency plan for various contingencies.  Pretty much most areas in the country are quite places and the neighbors are reasonable. But, in the past 5 years, one close neighbor was threatened with a gun. There was a meth lab in a home just 1/3 of a mile away (the grandkids... granny didn't know what they were up to) which brought an unsavory crowd and several confrontations with the "customers," etc. 

Keep in mind the police could be at least 1/2 hour or more away. It's a good idea to discuss possible problems with the family and determine what each member will do to protect him or herself and the rest of the family while waiting for the police. 


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