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How do I prepare for a wildland fire?

What should I do during a wildland fire?
What should I do after a wildland fire?
Should I be concerned about flooding after a fire?

As with most disasters, preparedness starts at home with an emergency kit and a plan. For more on this see our page on Preparedness.

If you know or suspect that a wildfire may be burning near where you are the most important thing you can do is to tune in to a reliable, local, source of media to get more information.  Monitor your information sources closely and stay calm.  If you feel like you are in danger it is never too early to pack up and leave the area.

Defensible Space Around Your Home

There are many things you can do to prepare your home for a wildfire. You can start by assessing your home for dangers and creating an area of defensible space. California law (PRC 4291) states that homeowners and/or occupants must create 100 feet of defensible space around homes and buildings. The 100 feet of space is split into two zones and CalFire recommends the following precautions be taken in each zone.

Zone 1 - extends 30 feet* out from buildings, structures, decks, etc. in every direction.

  • Remove all dead plants, grass and weeds (vegetation). defensible space graphic
  • Remove dead or dry leaves and pine needles from your yard, roof and rain gutters.
  • Trim trees regularly to keep branches a minimum of 10 feet from other trees.
  • Remove branches that hang over your roof and keep dead branches 10 feet away from your chimney.
  • Relocate wood piles into Zone 2.
  • Remove or prune flammable plants and shrubs near windows.
  • Remove vegetation and items that could catch fire from around and under decks.
  • Create a separation between trees, shrubs and items that could catch fire, such as patio furniture, wood piles, swing sets, etc.

 Zone 2 - extends an additional 70 feet from where Zone 1 ends.

  • Cut or mow annual grass down to a maximum height of 4 inches.
  • Create horizontal spacing between shrubs and trees. (see diagram)
  • Create vertical spacing between grass, shrubs and trees. (see diagram)
  • Remove fallen leaves, needles, twigs, bark, cones, and small branches. However, they may be permitted to a depth of 3 inches if erosion control is an issue.

Defensible space provides for firefighter safety when protecting homes during a wildland fire in addition to helping increase the chances that a home survives intact.

For more on defensible space check out the CalFire video below:

More defensible space resources:
Homeowner Checklist: Make your Home Fire Safe
General Guidelines for Creating Defensible Space

For additional information about defensible space or, to request a walk through of defensible space around your home contact the Santa Cruz Fire Department by phone 831-420-5280 or email

What should I do during a wildland fire?

Stay informed!  Click here for a a list of local media that usually broadcoast emergency informaion.

If your home is not threatened the best thing to do is stay away from the area that is threatened. This will ease traffic and congestion in the area giving first responders a quicker time to get in and evacuees a quicker time to get out.

If your home is in an evacuation warning area or bordering an evacuation warning area you should monitor reliable media closely for updates. If you feel like your safety is threatened at all leave the area.

If you are in an evacuation warning area, in addition to monitoring reliable media sources, begin gathering items you wish to take with you should your evacuation warning become mandatory. In situations of extreme stress it can be difficult to remember what is important. It is recommended that you make a list well in advance of a disaster, but at the very least, take a moment while you are packing to write down the items you know you want to bring with you even if they are obvious (like your pets). If and when the mandatory evacuation warning comes you may only have minutes to leave.

If you are in a mandatory evacuation area leave your home immediately.
By staying in your home you are potentially endangering the lives of the responders who will need to rescue you when you decide you want to leave. Further, you may decide too late and rescuers may not be able to get to you. Nothing is more important than your safety, do not take it for granted. 

What should I do afer a wildland fire?

If you are a homeowner and your home was damaged or destroyed by fire you will have a lot on your mind. After accounting for your family and confirming the loss visually, get in touch with your insurance agent. Depending on your policy they will be able to assist you with temporary shelter, etc. If your policy does not cover temporary shelter or your were a renter your local Red Cross will be able to provide you with assistance. This FEMA booklet has valuable information on rebuilding and replacing your valuables.

Regardless of whether you were affected directly by the disaster, the very nature of disasters (being overwhelming and unexpected) can cause an intense emotional reaction. Talking about your experience with friends and can be a powerful tool. Additionally, a professional mental health worker can also help you emotionally recover from a disaster.

Should I be concerned about flooding after a fire?

Yes. Normally, vegetation absorbs rainfall, reducing runoff. However, wildfires leave the ground charred, barren, and unable to absorb water, creating conditions ripe for flash flooding and mudflows.  Flood risk remains significantly higher until vegetation is restored — up to five years after a wildfire.

For more on Flooding in and around the City of Santa Cruz (click the link to the left)
Santa Cruz Local Hazard Mitigation Plan - Wildfire



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