Whenever smoke rises as of late in Ventura County, residents shudder. Three fires (Thomas, Hill and Woolsey) in one year, however, is a clear sign: We are living in danger zones or, more scientifically named, wildland-urban interface.
Wildland-urban interface is defined as areas where homes are built near or among lands prone to wildland fire. Depending on the area of the country, fire departments might refer to wildland fires as brush fires, forest fires, rangeland fires or something else; however, they are all part of the interface and all pose the same threat to local assets, according to Ready, Set, Go! (http://www.wildlandfirersg.org/).
Upon review of the largest wildfires in California on record since 1932, when such data started to be collected, out of 58 counties in the state, Ventura County is listed three times:
No. 2: 2017 Thomas Fire, 281,893 acres, 1,063 structures, two deaths, cause under investigation though Southern California Edison is claiming that electrical equipment was associated with the onset of the fire;
No. 8: 1932 Matilija Fire, 220,000 acres, cause undetermined;
No. 14: 2006 Day Fire, 162,702 acres, 11 structures, cause human related.
The 2018 Camp Fir, which consumed the town of Paradise, California, ranked No. 16 at 153,336 acres but it is by far the deadliest fire in the state on record with at least 85 dead and more than 600 missing.
The unsettling plight of residing in California and specifically in Ventura County is acknowledging how quickly and easily everything we care about can go up in flames. And despite human-related causes for fire, seven of the largest fires were sparked by lightning, so regardless of how careful we are to avoid manmade fire sources, if we don’t create and carry out prevention plans, then we are truly sitting ducks. Even those who claim to have the best insurance coverage didn’t have everything covered and not all that was lost can be replaced.
The looming concerns include continuing to build and live in fire prone areas, especially on hillsides surrounded by dry brush and chaparral; ensuring fire suppressants work, such as fire hydrants pressurized by electric sources; testing emergency systems to notify those threatened by fire; documenting all belongings for insurance purposes and having insurance to cover those valuables; and, of course, being ready to vacate in minutes. For those impacted by local fires, many, from residents to government agencies, were wholly unprepared.
As hundreds of lots in the Ventura burn area remain completely empty — of 524 homes burned, 248 lots are currently in plan check phase a year later while 101 are under construction — there is much to be learned and to consider for the future. Remaining in a state of “This won’t happen to me” is ignorance at its worst. We can only advise that all remain vigilant in preparedness rather than vulnerability.