Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Are YOU prepared for an emergency?

It has been a very busy 6 months in our beautiful community! We've had two major wild fires in the last year! In fact, counting the Gap and Zaca Fires (neither of which caused damage to residential areas) that would be 4 fires in the last 16 months.

A recent article written by Robert Muller for the Santa Barbara Independent describes our unique climate and the ecosystem in which we live, along with the vulnerability to wild-fires in our area. Following are excerpts from this most informative article: ... "much of Southern California is home to a unique environment characterized by cool wet winters and warm dry summers. This Mediterranean climate occurs in only five regions in the world and in all cases supports brushy vegetation such as the chaparral found in much of Santa Barbara County. The species are unique and Santa Barbara's chaparral is also home to many endangered species. The plants of the chaparral provide important ecosystem services that allow us to live where we do. Most notably, they ease storm water runoff, reducing erosion and keeping our streams clean. Our mountains are also a source of beauty found nowhere else in the world. The textures and shades of green that clothe the slopes of the Santa Ynez Mountains are a constant reminder of the variety of life that they support."

"Historical records of the last 100 years suggest that most of Santa Barbara's chaparral fires have not burned the same areas. Rather, most of the fires burned formerly unburned acreage," (with minor exceptions). Much of last year's Zaca Fire burned vegetation that was at least 100 years old and had no historical record of fire. The point is that while chaparral does burn, and burns with intensity, fire in chaparral is not a regular occurrence with a set periodicity." Muller further states that there is no scientific evidence that old chaparral needs to burn in order to retain its vigor. "The 100 year-old stands of the Zaca fire showed no sign of senescence. Indeed, stately old-growth manzanita occurred through those areas with no signs of decline." Muller goes on to say that Chaparral is not a 'fire-dependent' ecosystem. It does burn, but it does not 'depend' upon fire to be self-sustaining.

In fact, Muller states: "there is also evidence that too-frequent use of 'controlled' burns leads to massive conversion of landscapes from chaparral to a landscape infested with weeds, which are also known to burn with intensity. These pose an equally dangerous fire problem and a serious ecological problem for land managers. Using controlled burns to reduce fuel accumulation can lead to a pernicious cycle of frequent and continued burning, and may have consequences far beyond those intended."
Dr. Muller is the director of research at the Santa Barbara Botanic Garden since 2002 and author of Trees of Santa Barbara.

The beautiful and much loved Santa Barbara Botanical Gardens located way at the top of Mission Canyon was severely damaged in the Jesusita fire, along with many of her residential neighbors.

There is a saying that bad times brings out the worst and the best in people! I sure have seen the best of the citizens of our wonderful community! First and foremost, the coordination of the community's emergency task force from fire, police, red cross, local news media, animal rescue, neighbors, volunteers, and so on was simply amazing. The evacuation of 30,000 citizens from their homes...'just in case', was as orderly as a line in Disneyland!

We were packed and ready to go very early on. Be assured that when a helicopter with sirens flies over your roof and the Sheriff drives down the street with a bull-horn, it motivates you to GET GOING NOW! The resulting adrenaline rush creates a sense of urgency not conducive to clear thinking. We had turned the water off earlier (to help with water pressure), and then turned it back on convinced that we would not have to go.... more about that later! We checked on several neighbors, called our son, and our friends who had a guest bed ready for us, put the cat in the car and off we went, not to return for 4 days.

Having lived through a wildfire (The Painted Cave Fire) which razed our neighborhood 20 years ago, (including 500plus homes) we were well aware of the dangers, and how quickly situations can change. Some time ago, my husband had organized all of our valuable paperwork into a binder along with our Red Cross Evacuation back-pack, and those can't live without items: a week's worth of clothing, cosmetics, medical prescriptions, check books, water, some snacks, etc. He had also taken photographs of each room in the house and our closet contents. All items were stashed in a large plastic container ready to grab and go. We took flash-drives to our computers. The unhappy cat had been in the cat-carrier with 5 days of cat food long before necessary (try catching a cat during panic time!). Business paper files, flash-lights, blanket, crank radio, etc. All items had been loaded into both cars, which were on the driveway pointed toward the road...keys in the car. We had even made arrangements with friends as to who would go where, depending upon where the emergency came from. Our son, away at College in another State had been notified as to our potential evacuation plan.

Here we are in July, a month later! Looking back on the events and results of the fire, it comes to mind that most 'stuff' is replaceable. We came back to our home and found our kitchen/family room flooded with four days of water running from a leak in the water purifying system under the sink. In the rush to leave, we had forgotten to turn the water off again. It took a month to replace a good portion of our hardwood floors, refinish them and paint the floor boards, etc. Certainly not a catastrophe, mostly a major inconvenience with some serious cost involved. Thanks to excellent insurance and our terrific Contractor Charlie Love, all is in place again.

Fortunately we had reviewed our home owner's insurance after the Gap fire and raised our coverage to reflect current building costs. Especially since we had done some major updating in our kitchen in the Spring. Yes, it increased our premium considerably...but hey, you do get what you pay for! Unfortunately, we know numerous people who lost their homes in both the Tea and Jesusita Fires who were very much under-insured.

We love our home and our magical gardens and feel so fortunate to have escaped the devastation of another fire. My Architect husband, Doug Reeves, designed and built our home some 20 years ago; a year-and-a-half before the Painted Cave fire. Our home was one of a handful in our neighborhood that survived. Over 500 homes burned in that fire. Today our neighborhood looks like it never happened. Hopefully in 5 years the 250 homes lost in the Tea and Jesusita fires will have been rebuilt creating thriving neighborhoods again. Our homes are filled with memories of special times, treasures, and mostly our security. The community outreach has been simply wonderful, and we have all learned a lot.

As a Realtor with 30 years of selling Santa Barbara homes, one yard at a time, I know that home is where the heart is. Take note of some of our emergency planning and make sure you are prepared for an emergency. By the way, always put your purse/wallet and car keys in the same place...so you can find them in a panic. Get started now! For more information contact your local Red Cross. Your local Fire Department is also available to make an on site visit to review your home's fire safety. Call your insurance agent and make sure your home and contents are covered.
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