Politicians, first responders tell SCV residents to prepare for wildfires

A panel addresses the crowd at a wildfire town hall at the Centre in Canyon Country Monday evening. Cory Rubin/The Signal

Sensing a need for public discussion on the changing face of wildfires in Southern California, a panel of elected officials and first responders discussed their plans to address those changes, as well as fire-prevention tips, to a room full of local residents Monday.

The Wildfire Town Hall at the Santa Clarita Sports Complex was called an effort to update homeowners about the “best practices” for keeping their home safe as the fire season deepens.

Citing the Sand Fire of July 2016, which burned 41,432 acres, state Sen. Scott Wilk, R-Santa Clarita described fire preparedness “as a very serious issue,” saying the panel of town hall experts were there to “help guide us in making sure we make the proper choices.”

Lackey, in turn, framed his comments around the town-destroying Camp Fire of 2018 which destroyed the entire community of Paradise, burning 153,336 acres and leaving 85 dead.  

“We must have plans in place so that we don’t become victims,” he said. “The one thing you need to remember is that seconds matter.”

County Supervisor for the 5th District Kathryn Barger stressed the need for stepped up collaboration among agencies and pointed to the Woolsey Fire of 2018, which burned close to 97,000 acres, as an example of the changing nature of wildfires in California.

“After the Woolsey Fire, we learned that fires are no longer seasonal,” Barger said. “We didn’t have aid coming down from upstate because they were fighting fires up north.

“The Woolsey Fire was a wake-up call,” she said. “What it told me is that we cannot do it alone. It is important for us to collaborate.”

Echoing the call for collaboration, Santa Clarita Mayor Marsha McLean noted how staffers at the  city’s Emergency Operations Center “immediately get in contact with all other agencies.”

Being prepared is key, she said, adding: “It’s really important, when incidents happen, that you know what to do.”

Once the elected officials spoke, first responders shared concrete steps to be taken in the event of a wildfire.

Los Angeles County Fire Chief Daryl L. Osby told attendees that the Santa Clarita Valley is known by firefighters across the state as the “ring of fire,” noting that in the SCV “fires come from all different directions.”

“I cannot emphasize brush clearance enough,” Osby said. 

Citing the Woolsey Fire as an example, he urged attendees to “get ready prior to a fire.

“If you have to evacuate, have your medicine ready, your insurance ready and your pets ready,” he said.

On the subject of evacuations, Captain Robert Lewis of the Santa Clarita Valley Sheriff’s Station said: “We’re going to evacuate, and we’re going to ask you to evacuate.” He noted later in the session that once you obey the evacuation order, you will not be allowed back inside the vacated residence.

Capt. Edward Krusey, of the California Highway Patrol, which oversees road closures and traffic control in the event of a wildfire — among other responsibilities, told attendees to have an alternate route planned out in advance for getting out of an area threatened by fire.

“Make sure you know your alternate route,” he said.

Preparedness also means keeping your home insurance up to date.

“You need to document everything you own,” Sally Kim Westlake, spokeswoman for the California Department of Insurance, said.

She urged people to contact their insurance representative and ask if their insurance is enough to rebuild their home.

Last to speak of the panel was Phil Herrington, senior vice president of transmission and distribution, for Southern California Edison.

He warned of strategic blackouts — 24 to 36 hours at a time — initiated by the utility, if the threat of wildfire warrants it.

“In the name of public safety, we will have preemptive shut off or our circuits,” he said. “If in high fire risk areas there is a need, you could be deenergized.”

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