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All you need to know to prepare for (and survive) a California wildfire (video)

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As the Santa Ana winds kick up this weekend, long-time Californians know far too well that wildfires could spring up at any moment, as fire season in our region is nearly year-long. Herewith our primer on how to prepare for — and survive — a California fire.

Go Bag: This is a pre-packed bag in which you have essential items, something you can have sitting by the door so you can simply grab it in case that evacuation order comes.

There are many more basic items than you think that you will want in your Go Bag. Pack these now in a duffle bag or backpack:

Flashlight, battery operated radio, toilet paper, batteries, whistle, hand sanitizer, dust mask, pocket knife, compass, small denominations of cash, a roll of quarters for phone calls, hiking boots or sneakers, a change of clothes,  a knit hat, a local map, water, asprin, scissors, soap, towel, lighters, food, a permanent marker, paper, duct tape, photos of family members and pets, contact phone numbers, heath insurance cards, spare set of prescription eye glasses, hearing aids, prescription medications, first aid kit, toothbrush and toothpaste, spare house and car keys.

Keep a pair of old shoes and a flashlight handy for a night evacuation. "Leave early," says LAFD Asst. Chief Jimmy Hill.

Have a plan for your escape route and have a back-up plan: You may have friends in Malibu who you have agreed to go stay with in case of an emergency, but if the roads are out what will you do? Arrange for a "plan B" in the opposite direction of your house just in case.  

Have a plan for keeping in touch with your friends: Twitter, Blogspot blog, Facebook, or some analog means like an out-of-town friend who you can call to check in with.

Corral your pets: If you see a fire approaching, gather all of your pets and put them in one room quickly in case you have to evacuate.

Scan it: First word of a fire's movements may come across police or fire radios. L.A. county fire and police scanners can be heard online. Click here and scroll down to see the wide variety of official and un-official scanners available to you to track official radio transmissions.

If you are lucky enough to have Internet access, you may find yourself listening to a lot of police and fire scanners, which is fine, but how about a site that combines all of those under a comforting bed of mellow electonica? The website You Are Listening To: Los Angeles can either be eerily frightening, or strangely comforting.

There's a lot more information out there. Here are some useful links.

Emergency websites:

LA County Fire Dept:

LAPD blog:

Southern California Edison Outage Center:

DWP Outage map: Click here

Don't get trapped in your car or truck: Vehicles offer zero protection from radiant heat. Stay in the car only as the absolute last resort with the engine running, the windows up and vents closed, and the air conditioner on with the air circulating. More tips about being in a car during a fire here.

If you are driving: Drive slowly, with your lights on. Watch out for fleeing livestock, animals, and people. Watch for traffic signals that may be out. Approach those intersections as four-way stops.

Avoid downed power lines or dangling wires: Even if they appear not to be live — don’t touch it or even approach it. Call 911 immediately.

Here are some useful terms to know.

What is a Red Flag Alert? 

According to the LA Fire Dept., "a Red Flag Alert is called when the wind speed is 25 miles per hour or more and the relative humidity is 15% or less. 

During a Red Flag Alert, parking restrictions will exist on certain narrow streets in brush areas. To determine current Red Flag Alert Parking Restrictions within the City of Los Angeles, please call 3-1-1 or visit

Protecting your home from Brush Fires

  • Trim grass and weeds, and native brush around your property so that they are no more than 3 inches in height. 
  • Trees branches must be trimmed up to 6 feet from the ground. Remove all dead material.
  • Even if tree branches from your neighbor's tree overhangs onto your property, you are responisible for trimming any branch that is up to 5 feet from any roof of your home.
  • No tree foliage can be closer than 10 feet from the outlet of the chimney.
  • Clean your roof so that it is free of leaves, needles, pine cones, twigs, and other combustible materials.
  • Wood chips shall not exceed 3 feet in depth within 30 inches and 6 inches beyond 30 feet of any structure.

Finally, here are some helpful videos with more information on how to prepare.

Do you have other tips? Other resources you can share? Let us know in the comments section.

LAFD Evacuation tips:

Family Evacuation tips:

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