Wildfire Awareness Month: Insight from San Luis Obispo Fire Chief on Wildfire Preparedness and Response

Wildfire Awareness Month California Rural Landscape

    Wildfire Awareness Month: Insight from San Luis Obispo Fire Chief on Wildfire Preparedness and Response

     

    Learn how to stay safe and protect your property during Wildfire Awareness Month this May, a particularly important topic in California. To learn more about wildfire preparedness, we spoke with San Luis Obispo Fire Chief Todd Tuggle who shared valuable insight about risk, awareness, and response efforts from his team on the Central Coast.

     

    May is Wildfire Awareness Month, a time to be vigilant about risk mitigation and preparedness. In California, where wildfire threat is particularly high, it’s important to take proactive measures to help prevent and prepare for emergencies.

    As we gear up for warmer, drier weather, we had the privilege of speaking with San Luis Obispo Fire Chief, Todd Tuggle, to discuss safety plans and learn more about what wildfire awareness looks like this season.

    While the risk can be difficult to predict, proactive readiness and cooperation among community members can make a significant difference in keeping our community safe.

     

    How This Season is Different

    Despite a record-breaking wet season and tremendous flooding in 2023, the wildfire risk in California is still just as high, if not more so.

    The heavy rainfall experienced will encourage increased vegetation growth. With enduring drought conditions and high winds, rural areas will dry out quicker, providing more fuel for potential wildfires to burn and spread.

    “We have an evolving risk this year,” Chief Tuggle explains. In talking about the San Luis Obispo area that was hit with dramatic rainfall and flooding in early 2023, he continues saying, “Our biggest concern right now is the increased brush and grass growth. It won’t take long for the terrain to dry out and become a fuel source. It’s not a question here of ‘if’ but ‘when.’”

     

    Local Fire Department Impacts

    California’s wildfire risk in recent years has impacted local fire departments and response teams in a number of ways, putting increased strain on resources and staffing.

    “Winter is usually our downtime” Chief Tuggle explains. “This is usually the season we take to catch up with extra preparedness, training, and offer rest for our teams. But that has not been the case anymore. The off seasons are getting smaller and smaller putting huge pressure on our staff.”

    He notes that staffing used to be seasonal, but increased risk and demand is now year-round with high call volume in all seasons.

    In turn, the Fire Department is working in over-drive to proactively manage resources and ensure response teams have the personnel and equipment available and ready to respond.

     

    Combustible Environments

    Like many counties in California, SLO County has a high ratio of rural terrain and brush areas. These are being kept under close eyes.

    As we move into the warmer months and vegetation begins to cure, Fire Departments are actively working to reduce the fuel loads in rural areas and creek beds, which can often be in close proximity to local properties.

    “The fire risk in creek bottoms is a big priority,” Tuggle explains. Storm runoff causes flooding, bringing about vegetation that quickly dries out and creates a risky, combustible environment. “We are working with multiple disciplines to reduce the fuel loads in those areas and drive down risk.”

     

    Risk Reduction & Community Action

    When it comes to fire safety and awareness, we need all hands on deck. Chief Tuggle emphasizes the importance of community members being proactive in their approach to wildfire preparedness. “It’s not just about what the fire department can do,” he said. “The community can take great steps to help prevent and mitigate the effects of wildfires as well.”

    While jurisdiction will vary between rural and urban areas, one of the most important ways property owners can be vigilant about wildfire awareness and preparation is by taking steps to create   By completing this online self-assessment, you will have a greater understanding of how defensible space and home hardening can help save your property from the effects of devastating wildfires.

    An effective risk reduction strategy includes removing flammable materials and combustibles, such as dry brush and dead leaves, and keeping trees and shrubs trimmed to reduce the risk of a fire spreading. Clearing this space removes potential fuel and allows better access for fire crews in the event of an emergency.

     

    Be Aware and Have a Plan

    As the seasons change, it’s important to stay informed about local fire conditions and warnings.

    Community members should keep tabs on the weather and watch for “red flag conditions” issued by local offices and CalFire emergency communication. When issued, these warnings indicate a high probability of a fire starting and spreading rapidly. Awareness of those high-risk conditions is key.

    “Have a plan in order,” Chief Tuggle urges, “And be ready to respond, getting yourself to a position of safety, whether that’s staying or going.”

     

    Where to Start

    To help keep residents and property owners safe, the Fire Department has provided the Ready, Set, Go! Guide online providing valuable steps to prepare for evacuation conditions. Ready, Set, Go! is a nationally recognized wildfire safety program.

    This plan offers action steps enabling community members to:

    • Ready their home and property
    • Prepare household and family members
    • Assemble an emergency supply kit
    • Formulate an action plan
    • Know when it is time to go & what to do when evacuating

     

    Protecting What Matters

    By taking proactive measures such as creating defensible space, having an evacuation plan in place, and staying informed about local fire conditions, everyone can play an important role in reducing the risk and impact of wildfires.

    Despite the challenges posed by wildfire season, Chief Tuggle remains a strong voice of advocacy. “Our community is aware of the risks of wildfire, and we are committed to taking proactive measures to prevent and prepare for them,” he says. “By working together, we can reduce the risk and impact of wildfires in our area.”

    To learn more about wildfire risk and preparedness, you can reach out to our office or access the San Luis Obispo Fire Department’s website (or your own local county’s Fire Department) with helpful resources and guides such as the Ready, Set, Go! Wildfire Action Guide and more.

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