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What does a “Red Flag Warning” mean? What should you do?

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Many residents in Sonoma County live in or near fire danger. For those who do live in a high fire area, knowing what to do when conditions are ideal for a forest (or urban fire) is essential.

Red flag warning

A Red Flag Warning alert issued by the National Weather Service is a time when conditions for a fire are at the highest. Three criteria are considered prior to issuing a red flag warning:

- Sustained wind speeds averaging 15 mph or greater;

- Relative humidity 25 percent or less; and

- Temperature over 75 degrees F.

Fuel moisture index

The fuel moisture index is a tool used to understand fire potential. Ten-hour fuel moisture, also known as Dead Fuel Moisture, is when fuel moisture is less than 30 percent, it is essentially considered dead. Ten-hour fuel moisture applies to grasses and bushes up to one inch in diameter. Learn more at www.ncdc.noaa.gov/monitoring-references/dyk/deadfuelmoisture.

The US National Weather Service warning is to inform area fire fighters and land management agencies that conditions are ideal for wild-land fire combustion. Cal Fire and local fire agencies all go on a high alert status under these conditions.

Winds: Santa Ana, Diablo

The Santa Ana and Diablo winds occur throughout the year, but are extremely dangerous during dry periods (which, in Southern CA is practically year round). Santa Ana occur in the south, Diablo in the north. Winds come from the east from hot surfaces (deserts) and are compressed and speed up as they head toward the ocean. Learn more from SFSU. Check out current wind conditions at Windy.com.

Be prepared!

Here are some things you can do when Red Flag Warnings are issued. State and local news agencies usually announce Red Flag Warning 24-48 hours in advance on TV and radio, so there is time to act on short-term fixes.

During fire season

Make sure garden hoses are hooked up and ready to use with spray nozzles attached; best practice is to never leave a garden hose randomly piled up as it will always tangle – if you want it coiled, coil it in equal sized oval loops with each successive loop offset few inches in the same direction.

All portable propane tanks (barbecue, smoker, etc.) should be turned off and moved away from your house.

If you have a pool in an emergency, a pressure washer can be used to pump water from your pool, so it should be left in an available location, and fire fighters should have clear access to your pool.

Decks should be cleared above and below of flammable objects.

Gas cans – for lawn mowers, chippers, whatever – should be moved away from house or garage/barn.

Cover firewood stacks next to house with a fire resistant cover.

Make sure cell phones are charged and ready for alerts and within hearing at all times.

Close exterior doors and windows. Leave doors unlocked. Leave lights on inside and outside of the house.

If you have a ladder, leave it available outside, next to the house, in case fire fighters need to access the roof.

Have all your evacuation supplies such as flashlights and a good portable radio ready to go.

Make sure your cars have plenty of gas and are parked outside, or a garage door is capable of manual operation and all capable family members know how to open it.

If appropriate, shut off the gas supply line at the meter.

Ongoing preparations

Make an evacuation plan and collect all necessary supplies.

Clean gutters and roof debris regularly.

Where possible, install mesh screening under decks to prevent burning material from blowing.

Move firewood piles away from house.

If you have a pool, research the special pump systems that are available for fire fighting.

For more information obtain a free brochure: “Living with Fire in Sonoma County” from fire agencies of Sonoma County.

Learn more about disaster preparation and recovery at http://cesonoma.ucanr.edu/Disaster_Resources.