Preparing for Wildfire Season in Nevada County – Week 12: Vehicle safety

Photo taken by Seth Rosmarin during the Camp Fire.

NEVADA CITY, Calif. February 25, 2019 – In case of an evacuation, you’ll likely drive to an evacuation shelter or your predetermined evacuation location. Getting there safely is the goal.

Driving through smoke or even flames on the roadside, coupled with the adrenaline rush of having to get to safety is not your everyday commute. Prepare your vehicle ahead of peak fire season – and practice driving in dense fog, at night.

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 Vehicle maintenance is a must

Make sure your vehicle is in good working condition. Brakes, all fluids and properly inflated tires keep you and others safe. Check your spare tire for proper inflation as well!

Working headlights and wipers in good condition, coupled with a topped-off wiper fluid reservoir will make the trip through the smoke easier. Remember, if your wipers are going,  your headlights must be glowing – it’s the law. That’s also important during winter or rainy season.

Red Flag Days

This photo was taken by Firefighter Bill Tangren, a firefighter with Peardale Chicago Park Fire, part of the Nevada County Strike Team assigned to the Camp Fire.

During peak fire season, the National Weather Service will declare Red Flag Days or Fire Weather Watch Days. These warnings are based on temperature, humidity levels and winds. The potential for a fire to ignite and spread rapidly is especially high during these days.

Take extra precautions:

  • Have a full tank of gas
  • Park your car facing the road. During an evacuation traffic will be dense, avoid an accident just pulling out of your driveway.  Pro Tip: Turn your headlights on!

Driving during a wildfire

  • If you receive an emergency notification or law enforcement/first responders tell you to evacuate, leave immediately.
  • Even if you are not under an evacuation order but feel unsafe in your home given the fire direction, leave.
  • Slow down. Defensive driving is the safest way to make it out. Don’t tailgate.
  • Drive predictably, use turn signals.
  • Watch for wildlife and livestock. Animals will flee any fire, just like humans.
  • Roll up your windows and if you use the air conditioning, set it to recirculate.
  • Watch for obstacles in the road like trees and down power lines.
  • Move over for emergency vehicles. While you are trying to get out, they are on their way to the fire.
  • If you are sitting in the car for a long time due to heavy traffic, crack a window to relieve the carbon dioxide (CO2) levels in the passenger cabin. Use a bandanna or a N95 respiratory mask to prevent inhaling too much particulate mater.
  • Watch the temperature gauges. Outside temperature and air saturated with particulate matter, combined with embers can overheat or stall your vehicle. Again, leave early.
  • Follow the instructions given by emergency personnel and respect road closures.

After getting to your destination

Don’t wipe off ash from your car, it can easily scratch paint. Thoroughly wash your car with water and soap, simply hosing it off can release chemicals in the ash.

Check the air filters. After driving through smoke for a prolonged period of time, the particulate matter can clog the filters and render them inoperable or less effective.

Go Bag in your car

An emergency supply kit in your car should contain the same items as your primary kit, especially if you leave home every day. Add a few specific items to the car kit:

  • Tire repair kit
  • Jumper cables
  • Flares
  • Bottled water
  • Non-perishable foods such as granola bars
  • N95 masks
  • Sturdy gloves
  • Hat or baseball cap to protect you from embers if you have to exit the vehicle in a fire

Have your emergency contact list, including contact information for your insurance provider and towing company in your car.

This concludes Week 12 of 25, next Monday we’ll provide talk about Neighborhood awareness.

Find previous stories in our special Ready for Fire Season section.