The powerful Sand Fire, which began two years ago today and tore through more than 38,000 acres of land and destroyed 18 structures, forced Santa Clarita residents Jan Sanborn and Loren Janes to evacuate from their home.
“We had in the past prioritized our belongings, as this was not our first evacuation,” said Sanborn, a pianist and composer who lived in Canyon Country with her husband when the fire struck. “In this instance, we had to leave so quickly, and my priorities were my husband, now suffering from Alzheimer’s, and our dog, so I grabbed some clothes, a few documents.”
Residents living in areas prone to brush fires are typically well prepared, according to Inspector Gustavo Medina of the L.A. County Fire Department. In this case, however, the fire approached too quickly, growing from 2,500 acres to 20,000 acres from one day to the next, according to live updates at the time from The Signal.
The Sand Fire, the Rye Fire and the recent Stone Fire all serve to remind Santa Clarita residents that wildfires are often unpredictable and require a significant amount of preparation.
To address all details and questions of the process, officials at the L.A. County Fire Department recommend the “Ready! Set! Go!” pamphlet, which is also endorsed by the U.S. Forest Service and Cal Fire. The pamphlet breaks down the preparedness process into three steps.
First comes regular property maintenance that homeowners can manage before any emergency situation arises. This includes building a defensible space, hardening one’s home, and taking a homeowner wildfire assessment.
“In regards to people’s homes, we always emphasize brush clearance,” said Medina. “(Brush clearance) is a good practice to have probably throughout the year. Anything that’s touching the actual house, any dead brush, litter, dry pine needles, dry leaves, anything like that, clean up and make sure nothing flammable is around the perimeter.”
Maintaining about 100 feet of spacing around one’s home is called “building a defensible space,” he said.
Taking the Homeowner Wildfire Assessment can give homeowners an idea of how vulnerable their property may be to wildfires and provide steps that can be taken to reduce any vulnerabilities.
The Ready for Wildfire website (readyforwildfire.org) also suggests “hardening your home,” which refers to “using construction materials that can help your home withstand flying embers finding weak spots in construction.”
“We had completely cleared the property, 2.5 acres. The house itself was stucco (and) tile construction,” said Sanborn, who had been told that her property was the most defensible in an area that had four homes. Unfortunately, the fire forked going uphill and her home was destroyed in the fire, she said.
The next step that the Ready! Set! Go! campaign suggests is creating a wildfire action plan and assembling an emergency supply kit.
The wildfire action plan has a number of components such as designating a meet-up spot with one’s family outside of the fire hazard area. This helps members of the family keep track of who has gotten to safety. It is recommended that families have practice runs to familiarize themselves with the routes they would have to take to get to the safe spot.
Having an evacuation plan for pets and large animals such as livestock is also recommended.
Organizations, such as Gentle Barn, that assist officials during times of evacuation, can most effectively dispatch resources when animal owners have communicated their needs ahead of time and accurately registered their animals.
Emergency supply kits should be assembled for each person, and include items such as: a three-day supply of non-perishable food and 3 gallons of water, a map marked with at least two evacuation routes, and a change of clothing, among other things, according to the American Red Cross.
“We always do remind our residents to make sure that you do have your stuff ready. Money, medication, important documents, especially for kids and seniors. Anything that is valuable,” said Medina.
The official Wildfire Action Plan recommends that people and pets; papers, phone numbers, prescriptions, vitamins, and eyeglasses; pictures and irreplaceable memorabilia; personal computer hard drive and disks; and credit cards, bank cards and cash all be ready to go in case immediate evacuation is required.
The final step of the Ready! Set! Go! plan is the evacuation process. If an evacuation were to become necessary, officials recommend evacuating as soon as possible, when the request is still “voluntary,” as opposed to “mandatory.”
Officials also recommend taking children, seniors and people with disabilities into account when making emergency evacuation plans. These preparations can range from designating who is responsible for getting a child to safety, to installing smoke alarms with a vibrating pad or flashing lights for people who are deaf or hard of hearing.
There are two interactive pamphlets from the American Red Cross (“Disaster Preparedness for Seniors by Seniors” and “Preparing for Disaster for People with Disabilities and other Special Needs”) designed to guide those who need help accommodating seniors and people with disabilities into their emergency plan.
The Sanborns’ story
Jan Sanborn and family lost their home in the Sand Fire. They had done their best to prepare for the worst. In the following years, they would receive support from the Newhall Presbyterian Church, which held a fundraiser for them, the Grace Community Church, the Bel Air Presbyterian Church, the Lake Avenue Church, and The Stuntmen’s Association, among others, according to Sanborn.
“I think people who live in areas that are prone to brush fire, even if they haven’t experienced it yet, they have neighbors that have, (and) they give them a head’s up. For the most part, they are well prepared,” said Medina.