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Madera County hosted a wildland fire safety workshop Saturday at Oakhurst Elementary. (Photos by George Lurie)

Fire Safety: What You Learn Could Save Your Life

Cal Fire firefighter Jodi Biers speaks at Saturday’s workshop.

OAKHURST — Area residents looking for ways to “harden” their homes and prepare for fire season got some tips on Saturday, June 15 at Oakhurst Elementary when Madera County officials, in partnership with other area public safety agencies, hosted a wildland fire safety workshop.

“Go home and put on your firefighter hat and take a good look around your home and property,” firefighter Jodi Biers of Cal Fire said at the workshop.

“Even something as simple as clearing away debris piles and cleaning dead leaves from your gutters reduces the amount of potential fuel around your property,” Biers counseled.

“There are three things needed to sustain a big fire,” she said. “Oxygen, heat and fuel. We can’t do much about the oxygen but we can do something to reduce the amount of fuel.”

Some of Biers’ tips: “Remove ladder fuels and create defensible space around your home. Remember, anything that can burn will when it gets hot enough.”

District 5 Supervisor Tom Wheeler chats at Saturday’s workshop with Stephanie Anagnoson, director of Madera County’s Water and Natural Resources department.

District 5 Supervisor Tom Wheeler helped organize the event and was on hand to introduce speakers from Cal Fire, the Madera County Sheriff’s Office of Emergency Services, PG&E, the Red Cross, Yosemite Sequoia Resource Conservation and Development Council and the Central California Animal Disaster Team (CCADT).

“Our booth is giving out information about how to best deal with your animals during a fire or an evacuation,” said Naomi Tobias, CCADT’s CEO.

In the event of a large fire, CCADT works in coordination with the American Red Cross and Madera County Animal Control to get evacuees and their pets and companion animals out of danger and shelter them safely.

According to Tobias, CCADT has responded to two dozen major wildfires around the state since 2013.

The annual, County-sponsored workshop, held from 9:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. in the school’s multi-purpose room, included a dozen informational booths staffed by organization representatives.

Katrina Poitress, disaster program manager for the American Red Cross in Madera, Mariposa and Merced counties, was among the speakers at the event.

The Red Cross, Poitress said, is available to come to area residents’ home and install free smoke detectors.

“Smoke detectors save lives,” Poitress notes. “Our smoke detectors don’t need a battery and are good for ten years. And in ten years, we’ll come back and replace them again.”

At the Red Cross booth, Poitress was encouraging visitors to attend a volunteer sign-up meeting to be held June 29 in Oakhurst at the Sierra Vista Presbyterian Church.

“Anyone interested in joining the Red Cross can come to the meeting,” Poitress said.

Other public agencies and private companies represented at Saturday’s workshop included the San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District, the U.S. Forest Service, Sierra Tel, Blue Ridge Services and State Farm Insurance.

For those thinking about moving to the area, State Farm agent Marilyn Rigg advised: “Look for your homeowners’ insurance before you buy.”

Because of the number of recent fires — and ongoing issues with beetle kill and drought-related tree mortality in the Sierra — the cost of obtaining homeowners’ insurance in some mountain-area communities “is quickly becoming a crisis,” Rigg said.

“Some buyers are finding out before they close that the house they want to purchase is basically uninsurable — or that the cost of coverage is astronomical,” in some cases as much as $5,000 or $10,000 a year, Rigg added.

About a hundred people participated in Saturday’s workshop.

“Folks living up here always need to be ready for the next fire,” Supervisor Wheeler said. “Hopefully, they come away from our workshop better informed and better prepared. What they learned here today could end up saving their lives.”

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