Town Hall Reinforces Home Hardening to Protect Property During Fire Season

Jackie Reinhardt

            Can you save your home from wildfire?  Maybe and maybe not, according to a Feb. 2 OVA Town Hall to help Oakmonters understand what they can do to protect their property in what has become a high- risk area of Sonoma County during an expanded fire season.

The virtual Town Hall drew 30 Zoom participants seeking answers to a wide range of questions ranging from what fireproof materials can be used for gates between neighbors, whether zero to five feet of defensible space means no plants, when fire retardant is recommended and the best kinds of mulch for landscaping. 

Emphasizing that 90% of home losses are due to flying embers, Devan LeBlanc of Ember Wildfire Defense Solutions focused on home hardening by maintaining roofs and gutters and adhering to zero to five feet of defensible space.  

“Using a gutter guard eliminates the fire threat,” he said. You also need to get the foam out,” LeBlanc said, adding debris underneath a deck is also a major fire hazard. “It’s important to screen your deck, enclose eaves and retrofit crawl space vents where embers enter,” he said.  

Bobby Payne of All Risk Shield who is an active firefighter said he saw the Glass Fire on a hill above Kenwood and an hour later it was in Oakmont. “If a fire is in your county, you’d better pay attention to it,” he said, cautioning never to underestimate a wind event.

            Oakmont is in a unique spot because of its proximity to Trione-Annadale State Park which Payne described as “a big threat.” For that reason, he said fire prevention has to be a community approach. Several participants asked about mitigation efforts related to Annadale.

Discussing off-season preparation, fire season and when a fire is 20 miles away, Payne urged residents to know their evacuation routes, plan for pets and be aware of neighbors who live alone or require special attention. Between June and December remove dead vegetation, debris near fences, close your fireplace flue,move firewood piles away from home, clean out your dryer hose and practice driving evacuation routes.  

When it is time to go, put your bag in the car, close all windows and doors, shut off the HVAC, put inside patio cushions, umbrellas and anything flammable, move propane tanks away from the house, keep the nozzle on your garden hoses with the valve closed and move cars 50 feet away. 

Stuart Mitchell of Wildfire Mitigation Advisors said there is tendency to forget lessons of past disasters, to underestimate likelihood losses will occur and to oversimplify when making choices involving risk. 

“It’s important for the community to model good choices,” Mitchell said since people tend to choose based on the observed actions of others. He encouraged self-education which is easier and less expensive and taking advantage of communications, such as Nixle, Pulse Point and Windy.com. (The fire department has urged residents to sign up for Nixle alerts.)

Assistant City Fire Marshall Paul Lowenthal told the town hall that the city Wildfire Vegetation Plan addresses mitigation issues related to Annadale and that the city would soon be distributing NOAA emergency radios. 

Questions and Answers from the Feb.3 Town Hall on fire safety.

What fireproof materials can be used between neighbors, for gates?  Brick or metal gates are best.  

Do outside aluminum curtains offer protection?  You don’t need them if you have double pane glass windows which are four times as unlikely to blow out due to heat.

Is anything being done to lessen fire risk posed by Trione-Annadale State Park? The OVA Board approved a contract with Sonoma Ecology Center to write a draft vegetation management plan specifically for the Oakmont high fire risk areas in (WUI) wildland urban interface zones. Also to research what grants Oakmont may qualify for in the Oakmont WUI. 

What is the best mulch?  Arbor mulch.  Check with OVA’s Architectural Committee.  Do not use shredded bark or gorilla hair.  Also, no wood chips with red dye which are flammable.

Does zero to five feet defensible space mean no plants?  No, but you are restricted to plants not on the do not plant list. Also it is recommended plants not be more than 4 feet high.

Will screening of vents create an aeriation problem that leads to mold? Not if you use fire and ember resistant vents which have a fan that comes on to aeriate.

Will spraying fire retardant protect my house?  If you observe zero to five feet of defensible space, maintain your roof, vents and eaves, you probably do not need to use fire retardant unless your home backs up to Annadale.

Do I need to shut off gas prior to evacuating?  No, according to the Santa Rosa fire marshall.  

When will the city distribute free NOAA radios? The city will notify Oakmont when it is ready to distribute these radios which warn of weather hazards. Many in Oakmont will need help to program them.