The Burning Question
Sleepless nights staring at my ceiling sniffing the air, are all too common in my life. During the fire season in Southern California I am constantly on edge, unsure if this will be the last time I am in this house. I try to sleep but the smell of burning homes and plants fills my nostrils with dread. I check twitter every few minutes, refreshing and then re-reading the same information from an hour ago, over and over again. Finally my eyes close and I sleep for just the few hours before my alarm rings.
Our cars are stuffed to the brim with documents, pictures, food, computers, and the knickknacks we can’t bear to lose. The morning air is heavy with thick black smoke and a red glow rises up in front of the sun. I have to chug water because my throat is cracked from the ash swirling around my dreams.
I watch the coffee drip slowly into my mug and run a hand over my bloodshot eyes. I pack myself a lunch and then sit down to check the wind forecast for the day. Santa Ana’s will be blowing and the fire is to the east. I can only hope that the tireless firefighters can hold back the devilish blaze.
Every year we have evacuated our home in Topanga, and by some miracle it still stands today. Fires have raged on all sides, but this little pocket has been protected by luck and incredible firefighting skill. The pit in your stomach rises and crashes down as you see the update that zones 3-6 are under evacuation orders. When packing your car in an evacuation you really realize how much of the things you own are totally useless. You can only take what you need, so the little league baseball trophy begins to lose its shine.
For the hundredth time I say goodbye to my home. Living with this fear is unfortunately a part of life in many parts of the world today. The fire problem has only been exacerbated by climate change and fire suppression. The natural state of southern California involves fire. Most of the native plants and animals are adapted to its heat and need to burn occasionally. Fire can open up the ground, burn away invasive plants, and allow oak trees to germinate and grow easily. Hawks adapted to the fires will actually pick up burning sticks and spread the blaze. The fire forces mice and rodents out of hiding and turns them into easy prey.
New life sprouting from the recently burned ground.
I bring up the benefits of fire to the natural world because it makes the question that much more complicated. I live in a home built of wood, in the middle of the woods, in an area that has and requires natural fire to thrive. Isn’t this my fault? Was it smart to have this home here? Preventing fire causes more problems in the long run. Invasive species can thrive as they are not being cleared out by fire. They can grow thick and choke the soil of nutrients for native plants. Then when a fire does come, since we have been suppressing it for years there is an overload of fuel and the fire gets out of control. Look at the news of burns from the last few years, almost every fire breaks records set by the previous.
There are things one can do to protect their home from fire. Cutting and hauling dry grass is something the fire department enforces. Having a distinct plan on where to go if a fire is approaching, what to bring, and how to get out quickly. If possible design your home in a flame resistant way, not built out of wood like mine! I recommend following all your local police and fire departments on twitter, as they communicate fastest this way. Learn how to read wind charts and keep an eye on them. In the end it is most important to protect yourself and loved ones, never run back into a blaze to grab your phone charger, it's not worth it.
The most important thing you can do is prevent starting a wildfire. It may seem like a no brainer, but make sure anything you light is thoroughly put out. The dry climate here can restart an ember hours later.
Wildfire poses a very interesting moral dilemma. For personal reasons I want to prevent all fires and keep my house standing, but in the broader picture it is better for my environment to burn. How can I reconcile this? Tell me in the comments if you know.
Also check out this great resource that explains some more ways to prevent and avoid fire. https://cutterlaw.com/wildfire-safety-guide/?cn-reloaded=1
You can also keep Barricade Fire Gel retardant on hand!
Barricade Fire Gel Retardant has saved hundreds of homes in the United States, earning the gratitude of property owners in California, Montana and South Dakota, where firefighters have “Barricaded” homes and businesses ahead of the approaching flames. See – In the News.
Barricade Fire Gel Retardant is now available to homeowners who can apply the water/gel coating on their own property in front of an approaching wildfire, before retreating to a safe area.
When mixed with water at the end of a garden hose, superabsorbent polymers in the gel concentrate trap water molecules and suspend them in millions of tiny “bubblets.” Sprayed onto the flammable surfaces of roofs, windows, eaves and walls of a house, vehicles, or propane tanks, a “wet blanket” wrap of Barricade Fire Gel Retardant can be applied up to 24 hours before an approaching wildfire. Homeowners can evacuate safely, and firefighting resources can be focused on the wildfire rather than on the already protected structures. Barricade can be washed off with plain water after the fire danger has passed.
Photos by Alex Havasi and Isaac Yelchin
Isaac Yelchin is foremost a herpetologist. He studies lizards, frogs, newts, and the like. Specifically, he spends all day and night thinking about what it is like to be an animal. What are the animals thinking about? What is their perspective? When he should be working, he sits and stares at his pet lizard asking himself these questions.