Prepare For Wildfires
A wildfire is an unplanned fire that burns in a natural area such as a forest, grassland, or prairie. Wildfires are often caused by human activity or a natural phenomenon such as lightning, and they can happen at any time or anywhere. 50% of wildfires recorded do not know how they started.
The risk of wildfires increases in extremely dry conditions, such as drought, and during high winds. Wildfires can disrupt transportation, communications, power and gas services, and water supply. They also lead to a deterioration of the air quality, and loss of property, crops, resources, animals and people.
Harden Your Home and Create Defensible Space
- Harden your home by using fire-resistant materials to build, renovate or make repairs.
- Find an outdoor water source with a hose that can reach any area of your property.
- Create a defensible space around your home and property that is free of leaves, debris or flammable materials for at least 30 feet from your home.
- Designate a room that can be closed off from outside air. Close all doors and windows. Set up a portable air cleaner to keep indoor pollution levels low when smoky conditions exist.
- Learn more about how to prepare for wildfire by visiting Cal Fire's Ready, Set, Go! Program.
- Santa Clara County community members should contact their nearest fire department for more information on how to protect their homes from wildfire.
Strengthen Your Financial Capability
- Gather financial and critical personal, household and medical information.
- Make hard and soft copies of all critical documents. Place paper into your emergency supply kits. Soft copies should be saved on a USB / flash drive and uploaded to the cloud for access.
- Keep a small amount of cash at home in a safe place for emergencies. It is important to have small bills on hand in case ATMs and credit cards stop working.
- Obtain property (homeowners or renters), health and life insurance if you do not have them.
- Review your policies to be sure the amount and types of coverage you have meet the requirements for all possible hazards. Homeowners insurance does not typically cover flooding, so you may need to purchase flood insurance from the National Flood Insurance Program.
- For more helpful financial preparedness tips, download the Emergency Financial First Aid Kit (EFFAK) or contact us at [email protected] to pick up your copy.
Map Your Evacuation Route
- Map several routes in opposite directions in case your first becomes inaccessible.
- Mark emergency resources, including shelters, grocery stores, hospitals, and police stations, along the way, and identify meeting spots if you become separated.
- Practice driving or walking the evacuation routes with your household and pets and identify any potential hazard or obstacle that may prevent you from using the route. Discuss ways to mitigate the challenges you may face on the route.
- Follow the instructions from local authorities. They will provide the latest recommendations based on the threat to your community and appropriate safety measures.
Stay Safe During a Wildfire
- Pay attention to emergency alerts and notifications for information and instructions.
- Evacuate immediately if authorities tell you to do so!
- If trapped, call 9-1-1 and give your location, but be aware that emergency response could be delayed or impossible. Turn on lights to help rescuers find you.
- Use an N95 mask to protect yourself from smoke inhalation or limit your exposure to smoke.
- For those with access and functional needs, including persons with a cognitive and physical disability, those with limited English proficiency, older adults and individuals with limited mobility, please call 9-1-1 for assistance.
- Do not return home until authorities say it is safe.
- Avoid hot ash, charred trees, smoldering debris and live embers. The ground may contain heat pockets that can burn you or spark another fire.
- When cleaning, wear protective clothing – including a long-sleeved shirt, long pants, work gloves and sturdy, thick-soled shoes – during clean-up efforts.
- Use a respirator to limit your exposure and wet debris to minimize breathing dust particles. People with asthma, COPD and/or other lung conditions should take precautions in areas with poor air quality, as it can worsen symptoms.
- Document property damage with photographs. Conduct an inventory and contact your insurance company for assistance.
- Send text messages or social media to reach out to family and friends. Phone systems are often busy following a disaster. Make calls only in emergencies.
Livestock Pass Program
The Santa Clara County Division of Agriculture's Livestock Pass Program allows ranchers limited emergency access to restricted areas during a wildfire or similar disaster to feed, water or care for sheltering-in-place or evacuate livestock. A four-hour fire safety training is required to participate in the Livestock Pass Program. This training class has been approved to meet the Livestock Pass program requirements and will be provided by the Santa Clara Unit of CAL FIRE.
Hazardous Waste and Debris Management
Many who have lost their homes or suffered damage from wildfires want to begin rebuilding as soon as possible. However, it is critical that this work be done safely, and debris management must be performed before you can rebuild.
To learn more about the many phases of hazardous waste and debris management, visit the County Department of Environmental Health (DEH).
The California Department of Resources Recycling and Recovery, known as CalRecycle, is a department within the California Environmental Protection Agency. They are responsible for administering and providing oversight for all of California's state-managed non-hazardous waste handling and recycling programs.
For more information on this process, please click on the following links or fact sheets below:
2020 Consolidated Wildfire Debris Removal Program Fact Sheet
Floods Follow Fires
After a wildfire, the risk of flooding and mudflow increases due to the compromised landscapes. Wildfires dramatically alter the terrain and ground conditions. 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 mudflow. Without plants to hold the earth in place, even a small amount of rain can start a mudflow. This can happen quickly and with little warning.
Get flood ready! Visit Santa Clara Valley Water District for more flood protection resources.
Sandbag distribution sites are located throughout the County of Santa Clara. The sites may only be stocked with sand and empty bags during storm events. While shovels are provided at these sites, you may want to bring one, just in case.
Health and Safety
- Returning Home After a Wildfire, CAL FIRE
- Fire Disaster Response, County of Santa Clara Department of Environment Health
- Emotional Health and Well-Being, County of Santa Clara Department of Behavioral Health
- Be aware of the dangers and impacts of asbestos exposure on victims and firefighters, Mesothelioma
- Disaster or Calamity Relief, Office of the Assessor, County of Santa Clara
- Rebuilding in Santa Clara County after the SCU Lightning Complex Fire, Department of Planning and Development
- Disaster Assistance Programs At A Glance, United States Department of Agriculture
- Fire Recovery Assistance from the California Farm Service Agency, United States Department of Agriculture
- Disaster Assistance Livestock Forage Disaster Program, Farm Service Agency, United States Department of Agriculture
- Livestock Indemnity Program, Farm Service Agency, United States Department of Agriculture
- Post-Disaster Fire Assistance, Natural Resources Conservation Services California, United States Department of Agriculture
- Silicon Valley Community Foundation has established a fund to support community-based organizations in Santa Clara and San Mateo Counties that work directly with individuals and families impacted by the fires: www.siliconvalleycf.org/san-mateo-santa-clara-fire-relief.
- Contact your local food bank for ways to help. Donations of household goods can be made to the normal agencies or organizations that accept these goods. Please do not drop off donations at evacuation sites or Fire Base Camps.
Frequently Asked Questions
- What is the difference between an evacuation order and a warning?
- Evacuation Order – Immediate threat to life. This is a lawful order to leave now. The area is lawfully closed to public access.
- Evacuation Warning – Potential threat to life and/or property. Those who require additional time to evacuate and those with pets and livestock should leave now.
- If there were a need to evacuate, how would I be notified?
- Emergency Alert - via cellular and landline phone. Ensure you are registered to receive emergency alerts at www.alertscc.org
- Social Media - messages will be issued via Nextdoor, Twitter, and Facebook.
- Law Enforcement – Depending on the urgency of the evacuation and available resources, law enforcement may canvas neighborhoods and broadcast an evacuation message via loudspeaker.