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July 23, 2010 > Keep your family safe from fires

Keep your family safe from fires

By Supervisor Dave Cortese

Crackling firewood alight in a BBQ offers a relaxing atmosphere in the backyard or on a camping trip. Unfortunately, fire can often lead to sadness and destruction. It may be a discarded cigarette that destroys homes and habitat or wildfire, started by lightning, that devastates a community. Fortunately there are precautions to minimize your risk of loss due to fire.

Here at the county, the Department of Agriculture runs the Weed Abatement program which aims to reduce the risk of fires spreading across multiple properties. In rural areas, grassfires spread extremely quickly. This program educates residents on the importance of maintaining firebreaks along roads and property lines and around buildings. It is recommended that firebreaks be 10 ft.-wide on either side of roads and 30 ft.-wide along property lines and around buildings. Regular weeding and removal of other flammable materials from firebreaks, dramatically hinders or checks the progress of a grassfire allowing time for the fire department to extinguish it.

Likewise, in heavily wooded areas such as the Santa Cruz Mountains, it is strongly recommended and often required by the State, to clear flammable and dry brush from around your home to a depth of 30 feet. It is recommended to thin out plants, shrubs and trees up to 70 feet beyond the initial 30-ft. radius to reduce the spread of fire. This creates a 100 ft. defensible space around your home; it slows a wildfire and provides a safe location for firefighters to help protect your home from burning.

Even if you live in the city, these guidelines can help protect your home if a neighbor's house catches fire. Often embers will travel in the smoke and land on other properties. If there are dry shrubs next to your house, they can catch fire and ignite your home. Keeping tree branches at least 10 ft. away from your chimney reduces the likelihood of the relaxing fire in your fireplace igniting the tree and, in turn, your house.

If you plan to use your fireplace, it is important to have it inspected regularly. How often depends on numerous factors including how often you burn a fire but an annual inspection is generally recommended. This will reduce the risk of a chimney fire or chimney failure which can result in fire and damage to your home.

Common sense goes a long way to prevent fires in your home. For example, do not leave burning candles or fireplaces unattended and ensure all embers are completely extinguished before going to bed or leaving the house. Also, keep matches, lighters and chemicals out of children's reach or in a locked cabinet.

The most important thing to remember is that the risk of fire can be reduced but not eliminated completely. Therefore, it is vital to prepare yourself and your family to escape safely in the event of a fire. First, you need to be warned; smoke detectors are a cheap investment, saving your life by giving you time to escape. Remember to install fresh batteries periodically so the detector functions properly. A good suggestion is to replace them when you change your clocks for daylight savings time.

Fire extinguishers are important in high risk areas such as the kitchen and garage and on every floor. Last but not least, devise a fire escape plan and practice it regularly with your family; doing so means you and your loved ones are more likely to remember what to do in a real emergency.

These are just a few tips to keep your family safe from the threat of fire. If you would like to learn more, please visit my website at If there is something specific you would like to know about this or any other topic, please contact me at (408) 299-5030 or

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