The thermometer may not indicate summer just yet but fire officials in Atascadero warned residents Saturday at a wildfire protection program to prepare now.
“There’s always room for improvement,” Atascadero Fire Dept. Public Information Officer Colette Layton said. “We do have a lot of fire-minded folks living in our community, but in light of recent fire activity, there’s more we can do and people are willing to be more proactive about their responsibility of their property, so we’re trying to harness that energy.”
Firefighters from the Atascadero Fire Department were on hand at the “Defend Atascadero” event at City Hall, where attendees learned about critical wildfire prevention and protection methods.
“I want to make sure everyone is safe as we go into this fire season,” Jody Smith, an Atascadero resident, said. “We don’t want a repeat of what happened in Paradise.”
The 153,000-acre Camp Fire that tore through the town of Paradise last year motivated Smith to show up Saturday and learn about additional ways to protect her property.
“We live in an area that’s highly flammable so any little thing you can do makes a difference,” Smith said.
The little things, like managing vegetation, a clearly marked address, and an unobstructed driveway for fire trucks to enter, can make the difference between life and death.
“Practice evacuation with your family so they know what to do and what to grab and a sense of urgency,” Layton said. “Those are all things you can teach little ones that will make your life easier in the event that you need to get out quickly.”
Each minute matters and children aren’t the only ones at risk of slowing down an evacuation.
“Horses don’t load in the trailer, that’s the number one thing we see,” Julie Monser, the South County coordinator for Horse Emergency Evacuation Team, said. “We only have 15 minutes once we get on property to remove the animals.”
HEET is a volunteer organization that consults with Cal Fire to respond to areas where wildfires break out to rescue livestock.
The group also teaches livestock owners how to shelter in place when the animal can’t be removed and offers instruction on loading and unloading animals that may not be used to transportation.
“Now is the time (to learn), it’s today, not when the fire is bearing down,” Monser said.
Drought in 2018 primed land for rapid fire spread but the heavy spring rains this year present a different risk.
“Now we’ve got a lot more grass that’s going to enable a lot more fire starts,” Layton said. “So that takes a little more diligence as property owners to help us mitigate that risk.”
Livestock owners can register their animal at SLOHEEP.org, which gives Monser’s team more information about what equipment is needed to rescue the livestock and where to respond in the event of a wildfire.
SLO and Santa Barbara County Disaster and Emergency Services websites offer a signup tool so residents can receive phone alerts if a fire breaks out.