Since the Tubbs Fire of 2017, Sonoma County land has been destroyed and thousands of houses turned to rubble. In 2019 the Kincade Fire destroyed the beautiful, agriculture-rich hillsides of Geyserville. This year, after a lightning storm that set the entire state of California ablaze, Sonoma County had to manage the Meyers and Walbridge Fires. We are still wrapping up the most recent fire, the Glass Fire, which started in Napa County but ended up swiftly making its way into eastern Sonoma County.
With these catastrophic events, Sonoma County has not only lost precious agricultural lands, we have lost tourism that fuels our local economy. In this article, I will be providing some helpful tips to hopefully safeguard people’s property and help explain what the Sheriff’s Office duties are during fires.
Insurance statistics have shown that the two most common times of year for barn fires are summer and winter. Summer fires are often the result of electrical storms or spontaneous combustion of hot hay. Winter fires are caused by appliances, rodents chewing electrical wires, or the accumulation of dust and cobwebs on electrical surfaces. Heating equipment was the leading cause of barn fires with heating lamps as the leading equipment involved in these fires.
HIGHLY FLAMMABLE OR COMBUSTIBLE MATERIALS
If possible, hay, straw, and other bedding materials should not be stored in the same building as livestock. Care should be taken to store these materials away from machinery, any type of electrical source, and/or a heat source. Highly flammable materials may include;
- Hay and straw
- Bedding material (sawdust or shredded newspaper)
- Horse blankets
- Pesticides and herbicides
It is extremely important to monitor the temperature of haystacks. The Humane Society of the United States suggests inserting a thermometer into the middle of the haystack to check its temperature. If the thermometer reads above 150 Fahrenheit, the stacked bales should be moved to promote airflow.
Accelerants are substances that increase the speed at which fire can spread. Accelerants should be properly labeled and stored in approved containers (milk bottles are not approved containers). It would be wise to have a list of all accelerants on the farm, their location, and quantity. Common accelerants include:
- Aerosol cans
- Paint thinner
- Lighter fluid
An ignition source is something that can cause an accelerant or flammable material to ignite. Common ignition sources include:
- Cigarettes and matches
- Sparks from welding machines
- Electrical appliances
- Fence chargers
- Electrical fixtures and wires
ROADS AND ACCESS POINTS
Roads and access points on a piece of property are vital to first responders during a major incident. If first responders are unable to access parts of the property, it makes defending the property and structures nearly impossible. The following actions will help first responders during an incident:
- Roads and driveways should be free of deep ruts and bumps.
- Low-hanging tree branches should be trimmed back.
- Gates should be wide enough for machinery and trucks. The gates should be set back enough from the main road so that vehicles are off the main road when opening the gate.
- There should be 20-foot wide fire/emergency lanes around all buildings and structures.
- Vehicles should be parked in designated areas to keep roadways open for emergency vehicles.
GENERAL FIRE SAFETY AND FIRE EXTINGUISHERS
- Smoking should never be permitted inside of barns, hay/bedding storage areas, tack rooms, and . “No Smoking” signs should be posted.
- Exit doors should be clearly marked.
- Weeds, twigs, and other trash should be kept mowed or picked up from around the outside of buildings.
- Manure piles should be at least 20 feet away from buildings to reduce the chance of a combustion fire.
- ABC (all class) dry-chemical fire extinguishers should be in all livestock buildings, workshops, and wherever welding is performed.
- The extinguisher should be a five-pound minimum (Ten pound is ideal).
- Extinguishers should be checked yearly.
- Fire extinguishers should be near doors, in the middle of long hallways, and next to electrical panel boxes. Fire extinguisher locations should be marked.
The Sheriff’s Office role during a fire is performing evacuations and keeping evacuation zones secure until people can return to their homes or properties. We notify people of evacuations a few ways. We send Nixle alerts; please sign up for Nixle at www.nixle.com to make sure you get alerts. In addition, deputies go door-to-door attempting to notify people of the evacuation. Deputies also drive up and down streets with the hi-lo siren on, which signals residents to evacuate. The Sheriff’s Office equipped all patrol cars with a hi-lo siren after the Tubbs Fire.
For the duration of the incident, deputies are assigned to areas that have been evacuated. During this time, deputies will either work a “fixed post” or “active patrol.” A fixed post is a specific location that is blocked off to prevent traffic and people going into an evacuation zone. Active patrol is when deputies drive around the evacuation zone looking for suspicious activity and safeguarding people’s residences and property. Deputies conduct routine house checks on residences to ensure they are secure since we know people most likely left in a hurry. These fixed posts and active patrols are conducted 24/7 and often last 2-3 weeks.
OAN (OWNER APPLIED NUMBER)
The OAN number is uniquely yours. It is stored in a database in the National Crime Information Center. When property with your OAN number is discovered, the marked property can be traced and returned to you from anywhere in the United States.
OAN Example: CA 054 0001 A
(CA) – The first two letters of the state the OAN was issued.
(054) – Assigned number for county OAN was issued in.
(0001) – Computer-generated number.
(A) – The first letter of the last name.
Once you have applied for and received your OAN number, you can stamp, engrave, or paint the number on all your farming equipment, including chemical containers.
If you haven’t already done so, make sure to call and apply for an Owner Applied Number (OAN). We can even assist you in applying the number to your farm equipment. If you have any questions or would like to apply for an OAN, please call the Sonoma County Rural Crimes Task Force, (707) 565-3940.