Another Summer season fire has begun. Parts of California have already been devastated with over 4000 fires and we have not yet reached the height of the fire season, September and October.
There is little we can do to protect our birds once the fury of wildland fire approaches us. Look at the trees around you and figure that the flames will be 2-3 times the height of those trees and shrubs. With a breeze blowing live embers can spew many hundreds of feet or even up to a mile into the air. As the direction of the wind changes, so will the direction of the fire.
My aviary had to be evacuated once; a second time we were in the process of evacuating when the firefighters got the threatening portion of the fire under control. I know fire will come again! I also know that the time to protect my birds and myself is BEFORE THE FIRE IS STARTED!
Protecting our Premises
In order to save our buildings and aviaries we must create defensible space around them. We must reduce the vegetation that fuels the fire and create a 100-foot (300-foot if on a hillside) clear space around our buildings, our entire property, or both. Avoid fuel "ladders" (grass leading to bushes leading to trees or buildings). Defensible space breaks up the continuous path of plants that would carry wildfire to our home. We also need to clear vegetation around the driveway so a fire truck can safely approach the structures. Defensible space gives firefighters a safe zone from which to fight a wildfire. Firefighters cannot save a structure that does not have defensible space.
In order to make our structures fire resistant, we should use fire retardant roofs, screened chimneys and stove pipe outlets, and enclose undersides of eaves, balconies and decks with fire resistant materials. Locate propane tanks and wood piles at least 30 feet away from any structure. It is wise to maintain an emergency generator and water supply.
Preparing for Personal Evacuation
Properties should be marked with some type of reflective number sign at the entrance to the driveway so that firefighters will know there is a dwelling on the drive. I personally keep a sign, to be placed in view when fire approaches, indicating that we have turnaround space for a fire engine, where and how much water is available, and that I have defensible space. Fire engines will not go into a driveway unless they know there is a structure worth saving and that they can get back out.
Keep a list of items you want to take with you when you evacuate.
This might include medicines, home owner's insurance, personal papers, pictures of inventory, computer back-up, bird records, etc. If you do have to evacuate, you should leave your lights and electricity on so that firefighters will be able to see your residence at night and from the road.
Preparing for Bird Evacuation
To be prepared, we should keep sufficient carriers on hand to transport all birds during an evacuation. It is also best to keep them assembled so you won't have to waste precious time assembling them when it is time to evacuate. If space is an issue, try hanging the assembled carriers from the ceiling of your structures such as garage. If aviaries are locked, they should all be keyed to the same key so they can be quickly unlocked in an emergency.
When the time to evacuate arrives, you may need a trailer big enough to transport all the carriers, food, nursery equipment and personal belongings. Don't count on someone outside the fire area to bring you one because often the roads are blocked by the local Sheriffs department. They will let everyone out, but no one will be allowed in, even if they are a resident in the area.
During our last fire evacuation, which lasted five days, we could not even go for groceries because we would not be allowed back in despite the fact that we were not in the actual evacuation zone. Being a firefighter, I donned my yellow protective gear and was able to go a short distance for food to feed the firefighters and luckily they allowed me back into my property.
During the recent fire, I was lucky to have a neighbor loan me a humongous trailer and truck with trailer hitch. In the future I plan to get a closed trailer to park on the property just in case of an emergency. It will have to be a large one, because I know I will only be allowed to make one trip out and will not be allowed back into my property to make multiple trips. The trailer structure has to be ventilated and allow fresh air to enter. Having a large trailer will be a good place to store those assembled transport carriers and as many cages as will fit. After evacuation...