My grandfather used to say he once saw wind so strong that it threw a chicken into a Coke bottle. Sounds to me like that type of weather would call for a Red Flag Warning. Due to a dreadful combination of dry conditions and crazy wind right now, several areas across the country are under a Red Flag Warning, which is also known as a Fire Weather Warning.
A forecast alert issued by the United States National Weather Service, a Red Flag Warning is meant to inform firefighting and land management agencies that conditions are ideal for wild land fire ignition and rapid propagation. After drought conditions, particularly when humidity is low, and especially when high or erratic winds are a factor (with or without lightning), the warning helps firefighting and emergency management professionals prepare for potential weather-related flare ups. To the public, a Red Flag Warning means that there is a higher than normal probability of fire-related danger. And whenever fire danger is high, you should take precautions!
A Red Flag Warning is the highest alert level. During these times, extreme caution is urged because a simple spark can cause a major wildfire. That’s the reason my good friend Sparky, from the National Fire Protection Agency (NFPA), warns folks about the dangers of windy weather. One level below a warning, a Fire Weather Watch means the danger of fire remains high but is not as severe as a Red Flag Warning. During heightened fire danger, firefighting agencies typically beef up staff and make sure equipment is ready to go 24 hours a day. One of the areas currently under warning is San Bernardino County, California, where a structure fire erupted behind a radiator shop this weekend in Fontana.
“A lot of these fires, whether it’s this refuse fire or vegetation or structure fire, will grow exponentially with the wind and the speed of the wind—so the more man power, the more people on duty, the better, and the more equipment that can converge on the actual incident, the better,” said San Bernardino Fire Department Captain Shawn Millerick.
These weather patterns lead to a watch or warning:
- Low relative humidity
- Strong winds
- Dry fuels
- The possibility of dry lightning strikes
- Any combination of the above
Since a single spark can ignite and level an entire forest, do your part to prevent wildfires by following these tips for prevention:
- Don’t mow or trim dry grass on Red Flag Warning days. Instead, mow before 10 a.m. when it is not hot and windy. Or you could landscape with dirt. I love playing in it!
- Never use lawn mowers in dry vegetation.
- If you are in a wild land area, make sure you have a spark arrester, which is required for portable gasoline powered equipment.
- Before starting a campfire, obtain a campfire permit.
- Never leave a fire unattended.
- Carefully extinguish the fire when you are finished. Douse with plenty of water and stir to make sure everything is cold to the touch. Dunk charcoal in water until it is cold. Do not throw live charcoal on the ground.
- Better yet—eat your food raw. (Works for me!)
- Keep 100 feet of defensible space around structures.
- Clear dead weeds and vegetation.
- Remove leaves and needles from gutters.
- Trim branches 6 feet from the ground.
- If you are allowed to burn grass clippings, etc., in your area, all burn barrels must be covered with a weighted metal cover, with holes no larger than 3/4 of an inch.
- Never pull over in dry grass.
- Make sure trailer chains don’t drag on the ground.
- Properly maintain your vehicle.
- Monitor tire pressure to avoid driving on wheel rims, which can ignite.
- Don’t let brake pads wear too thin.
- Never throw cigarettes or matches out of a moving vehicle. In fact, we’ve written several posts about how wise it is to quit smoking. So reference those if you are on the fence about lighting up in the car.
- Properly extinguish cigarette butts.
- Don’t make the mistake of burning landscape debris like leaves or branches on No Burn Days, when it is windy, or if it is prohibited in your area.
- Target shoot only in approved areas, use lead ammunition only, and never shoot at metal targets.
- To prevent arson, report suspicious activities to authorities.
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