Fast Moving California Wildfire Thwarted by Defensible Space, But Can Code Red System Save Pets?

Farm facing wildfire threatSafe Zone. Creating a cleared, defensive zone around property can often save it from raging wildfire.

A fire in Western Nevada County, CA, highlights both the strengths and weaknesses of current fire protection planning.

In one recent wildfire case study, the homeowner had done everything right. She had cleared all flammable material around her home, and prepped her “bug out” plan for her livestock and pets—but the fire just moved to quickly to allow her to reach home before the area became too hot to approach. Her property was spared, but the situation was still not ideal and animals, although uninjured, had to be left in harm’s way. With a few more minutes notice, she could have escaped safely with all of her belongings and domestic animals in tow.

One solution to this time constraint is being tested in Nevada County’s Code Red notification system. Fire officials have set up a website and mass notification system that lets residents know when a wildfire threat is near.

Here’s an excerpt from a newspaper report by the local newspaper, The Union:

Marilyn Mociun, who lives on the San Juan Ridge and was evacuated from her 117-acre ranch during the Aug. 30 Pleasant Fire, said being prepared didn’t help.

“I had my horse trailer hooked up, boxes ready to go, the crate for the dog,” Mociun said. “But I wasn’t home when the fire broke out and even though I drove home as fast as I could when I saw the plume of smoke, a deputy was already here saying, ‘This is life threatening. You need to go now!’

“I couldn’t even go inside to get anything. I left the horses in a round pen, grabbed my dog, and drove to a safe place on a hill where I could try to watch what was happening.”

Mociun said fire was burning in trees 100 feet from her house. Thanks to the defensible space her family had diligently created, the house was spared.

“It was horrendous,” she said. “The only thing ‘Pleasant’ about that fire was it didn’t burn our house.”

For communities grappling with wildfire risks, the NFPA has a special division called FIREWISE that offers help and information on prepping and managing high risk environments with minimal loss of property or life.