Protect Yourself from Fires During the Southwest Drought

E-mail Adam Housley

One thing really stands out to me when I’m driving across the deserts and arid lands of southern California, or hiking through the state’s high country of Sierra, or traveling through the southwest — all these places need water.

America is dry. Many areas are so full of wildfire fuel that they can go up at any time, like dry straw in a roaring fire.

As we prepare for a busy fire season while hoping for a slow one, Bill Peters of the California Department of Forestry (Cal Fire) reminds us that we are already in November-dry conditions in mid-July. Bill has come to our office to remind us of the basic ways to protect ourselves and our crews while covering the amazing work of firefighters. His briefing comes as fires burn near Reno and after California’s governor, Arnold Schwarzenegger, signed an executive order which calls for additional staffing and resources to protect local communities from woodland fires.

What bothers me about the tinderbox that envelopes this part of the country are the people who plain-out ignore the danger. For example, in the last four weeks I have counted eight drivers that have tossed out cigarettes while driving down the highway. How can I tell? It's easy; they all did it at night, with their red ashes tumbling down the highway.

When I drove next to one smoker, it was obvious that he was oblivious to his surroundings. What the heck are they thinking? Unfortunately, I have covered many fires where a small source — like a burning cigarette butt — has cost lives and millions of dollars in heartache. It doesn't take the governor, or even Bill, to tell us that we face extreme fire conditions in the state with summer heat, high winds, low humidity, mountains, forest and open land.

In the last couple of years, FOX has covered tragedies like the Esperanza Fire in the inland empire of Southern California, where firefighters were overcome by flames and killed. That happened last fall ... and we didn't get any rain over winter to improve those conditions for today. We also had the “Day Fire” last year in Ventura County that seemed like it would never end.

Cal Fire has recently added staff to help prepare the public and to help accelerate fire-safe, 100-foot clearance inspections. The idea is to keep the first 30 feet around your home down to dirt, or low and green. From 30 to 70 feet away, bushes, plants and trees need to be kept green and thinned, this is called the "fuel modification zone" as Bill tell us. There have been urgent requests by Cal Fire and the governor to remove dead brush, branches, or other fire hazards from within 100 feet of your home or business, keep pine needles and leaves off of the roof and set an evacuation plan with your family; it never hurts to prepare.

California isn't the only state in the west dealing with this dangerous time. Arizona had a big fire last year near Sedona and also several around Tucson. Reno has been besieged in the last couple of years, or so it seems. Agencies — both state, local and federal — are preparing and fighting these fires in every way possible. Men and women are risking their lives.

We all need to be extra careful. I know it has been said before, but out west this year we need water and we need to be responsible — not only to our own actions, but we should pay attention to people's actions around us. I sure would love to see my new fire protective gear sitting next to my desk stay in the plastic covers it came in.

Adam Housley joined FOX News Channel in 2001 as a Los Angeles-based correspondent. Most recently, Housley reported from President Ford's funeral. He also reported from Nicaragua and El Salvador on the war against drugs and scored an exclusive interview with Sandinista leader, Daniel Ortega. You can read his full bio here.

Adam Housley joined Fox News Channel (FNC) in 2001 and currently serves as a Los Angeles-based senior correspondent.