LOS ANGELES—Corps of Engineers employees have a number of duties related to the safety of life and property in communities across the nation.
The ability to provide disaster relief assistance when duty calls requires that employees be prepared for disaster when it strikes near their homes as well. Bill Peters, a fire prevention specialist with the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, gave Corps employees the information they need to prepare themselves in the event of wildfires during a lunch and learn session held at the Los Angeles District headquarters Oct. 16.
Peters, a 22-year veteran of CalFire, spoke to attendees about the dynamics of wildfires most often seen in Southern California and offered tips on how people can mitigate risks to life and property in anticipation of wildfires as part of National Fire Prevention week.
Although the fire prevention discussion was pertinent to people from all walks of life, it was particularly important to Corps employees because of the roles they often play in responding to emergencies.
“It’s very important that as Corps professionals we are vigilant about how susceptible our homes and families are to disasters,” said Anne Hutton, chief of the District’s emergency management office. “Due to the fact that our jobs require many of us to be in the emergency operations center or on disaster sites when those events occur, we need to make sure that our personal disaster plans are in order so that we can focus on what we’re here to do.”
The learning session was timely for Southern California residents, as the autumn cold fronts bring with them dry, windy conditions, which help fires spread more rapidly over a larger area than in spring and summer, Peters said.
“The Santa Ana winds in Southern California are the driving engine of our fires,” Peters said. “They’re what really push fire out of control. Regular wind will help to move a fire, but if you have a fire with 60 to 80 mile per hour wind behind it, it becomes a screaming blowtorch and it can run hundreds and thousands of yards very quickly. It’s one of the key factors of our catastrophic fires.”
Another factor that makes the area vulnerable to wildfires is the lack of moisture in the air, Peters added. “You also have extreme dryness because it’s warm and you have single-digit humidity. Everything’s going to burn at that point. And that’s going to fuel the fire,” he said. “That makes everything more susceptible to ignition, to burning, and to burning more ferociously.”
Peters gave Corps employees tips on decreasing the risk of their homes catching fire through landscaping and switching out flammable roof material with more fire-resistant options, such as metal or tile. He also discussed the importance of communications and evacuation plans and familiarizing more vulnerable family members, including young children and elderly people, with the plans.
Peters said he was honored to discuss fire prevention with such an esteemed group of professionals, but to him the talk was just as important as if he were addressing elementary school students or elected officials, due to the common bonds shared by all Southern California residents.
“Everyone here is much smarter than I am,” he said with a chuckle. “It’s a privilege to get to speak with them. But engineers and other responders live in houses like we all do. Everybody needs to be reminded of what’s at stake and shaken up a little bit just to get out and do it. We all live in California; we all share the pain of the disasters. We need to get to a mindset of sharing in the success of the defense, too.”
To learn more, go to http://www.ReadyForWildfire.org.