- Author: Phil McRea, Master Gardener
- Contributor: Karen Giovannini
Updated links and republished Oct 2019.
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
- Sustained wind speeds averaging 15 mph or greater
- Relative humidity 25% or less
- Temperature over 75 degrees F
Fuel Moisture Index
The fuel moisture index is a tool used to understand fire potential. 10-hour fuel moisture also known as Dead Fuel Moisture; when fuel moisture is <30%, it is essentially considered dead. 10-hour fuel moisture applies to grasses and bushes up to 1 inch in diameter. Learn more at NOAA.
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.
The Wind Cries...Santa Ana or 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 occurs in Southern CA, Diablo in the north. Winds come from the east from hot surfaces (deserts) and are compressed and speed up as they head towards the ocean. Learn more from SFSU. Check out current wind conditions at Windy.com.
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 (BBQ, 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 and should be left in an available location; 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 house.
- If you have a ladder, leave it available outside, next to the house, in case fire fighters need to access 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 garage door is capable of manual operation and all capable family members know how to open it.
- If appropriate, shut off gas supply line at the meter.
- 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 on Disaster Recovery Resources./h3>/h3>/h2>/h3>/h3>/h2>
UCCE Sonoma is committed to building climate resilient communities and ecosystems. Through our educational outreach and workshops on the better land and natural resource management practices. We are working to make sure that homeowners, landowners, farmers, and ranchers across California are better prepared and able to deal with the growing risk of fire, drought, and flood hazards in Sonoma County.
Protecting California's Economy & Natural Resources
UCCE Sonoma is working to return prescribed burning and grazing to land critical in preventing devastating wildfires. Rapid population growth in Sonoma County has led to an increase in housing development in Wildland Urban Interface (WUI), urban communities adjacent to wildlands. Prescribed fire helps to protect critical infrastructure and resources like the Lake Sonoma watershed, bay area air quality, soil health and plant habitat by addressing fire fuels before peak fire season conditions occur.
Returning the Legacy of Safe Fire
Abatement of Hazardous Vegetation & Combustible Materials in Sonoma County
This spring, in the interest of having fire safe communities, the Fire Prevention Division of Permit Sonoma is starting an inspection program on parcels 5 acres or LESS in the unincorporated county. Permit Sonoma is working with local fire protection districts to conduct the inspections.
Learn more at Sonoma County Code Ordinance Chapter 13A “Abatement of Hazardous Vegetation and Combustible Materials”
Development in the WUI has halted the important indigenous legacy of facilitated burning that shaped Sonoma County's fire adapted ecosystem leading to a build up fire fuels in the wildlands. UCCE Sonoma has hosted and continues to educate the public through a series of workshops covering best practices for home hardening, prescribed burn, grazing, and other vegetation management tools. TheGood Fire Alliance (GFA) is a Sonoma County community based group that has formed to learn about and receive hands-on training on the best practices for fire fuel reduction, vegetation management, smoke management, home hardening, shaded fuel breaks, prescribed burning and grazing, etc.
For more information visit: Prescribed Burns Fact Sheet
Disaster Recovery Resources
In response to devastating October 2017 wildfires, UCCE Sonoma has compiled a compressive list of online resources for home owners and land across California living in high fire hazard prone areas. Disaster Recovery Resources includes information about how to prepare for a disaster, what to do after a fire, clean-up, food safety, erosion, and restoring and rebuilding homes .
For more information visit: Disaster Recovery Resources.
- Ongoing Master Gardener Firewise Landscaping workshops
- April 27 Post-Fire Food Safety Workshop
- April 27-28 Wildland Firefighter Training for Rx Burn Practitioners hosted by Audubon Canyon Ranch
- May 4 Shaded Fuel Break Workshop with Audobon Canyon Ranch and The Wildlands Conservancy
- May 17-18 Grazing School for Wildfire Vegetation Reduction
“Produce Safety After Urban Wildfire” citizen science project
The Northern California fires of October 2017 created poor air quality and distributed toxic air contaminants over the region. Following the fires and the incredible response from local farmers, UCCE Sonoma County embarked on a “Produce Safety After Urban Wildfire” citizen science project to help answer community concerns about whether the safety of local produce might have been impacted by contaminants carried in the smoke and ash from the fire.
With the support of UCCE Sonoma, community members concerned about the impact of toxic smoke on local produce and UCCE Master Gardeners took over 200 samples of leafy greens from 25 gardens and farms across Sonoma County in the immediate aftermath of the fires; in the summer of 2018 the team took soil samples from five of the original sites sampled. Using funding from University of California Agriculture & Natural Resources Division and the Bay Area Air Quality Management District, we had produce and soil samples from five sites most likely to have received deposits of toxic air contaminants from the urban wildfire tested for heavy metals, dioxins and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons.
Based on preliminary findings, we hypothesize that produce safety was not significantly affected by the fires and may be mitigated by washing produce. Preliminary analysis was inconclusive but did not indicate a high degree of contamination. Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons were inconclusive due to high method reporting limits from our laboratories. Heavy metals were of low concern, with no detection of lead, arsenic, or mercury. Nickel was found in 2 of 8 samples at levels exceeding Proposition 65's No Significant Risk Level but which may be mitigated by washing produce. Dioxins were of some concern with concentrations found above background levels from FDA's Dioxin Monitoring Program, but below NSRL.
- It is important to note that over long periods of time, exposure to these chemical groups at very low levels can still contribute to health impacts, including at levels below what our tests are able to detect.
- Numerous health benefits including cancer risk reduction have been attributed to green leafy vegetables. These benefits may outweigh the additional risk from trace contaminants detected in some produce in this study. Quantitative comparisons will be provided in our final report.
- Some individuals have higher risks and may want to be in communication with their healthcare provider to better understand if they should take extra precautions. Individuals at higher risk may also benefit greatly from the high nutrition in green leafy vegetables and fresh produce.
- Best practices for reducing risk include: wearing a respirator mask during poor air quality; washing produce thoroughly in running water; peeling root vegetables, testing soil regularly; containing and amending contaminated soil through sheet mulching, raised beds, and compost.
- Best practices that enhance protective factors and should also be pursued, such as increasing produce consumption to promote healthy nutrition, improve immunity, and support resilience to chemical exposures.
Over the next few months, we will be completing our final report and creating additional tools for communicating these results to concerned community members. In the Spring of 2019, we will be conducting community workshops. Reports, handouts, workshop materials, and the protocols from the study will be made publicly available for use by communities experiencing wildfire in the future./h3>/h3>/h3>
- Author: Karen Giovannini
The UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine (UCD SVM) is providing free egg contaminant testing for backyard chicken owners in the state of California.
Results will be shared individually with each owner, and cumulative results will be summarized and made available to the general public.
We are testing eggs for two different types of contaminants.
Fire Contaminant Testing
Heavy Metal Contaminant Testing
Due to observation of high environmental lead levels in parts of California, there is concern that backyard chickens are being exposed to a level that could pose a public health risk. UCD SVM is interested in testing eggs from these birds for various contaminants such as Pb, PCBs, and PBDEs.
Instructions for submitting eggs
If you are interested in submitting eggs, please drop off at UCCE Sonoma County or ship 2-6 eggs (6 eggs max) from your flock, with tissue around each egg, placed in an egg carton, and wrap (bubble), include information below, secure the carton and ship in a box with packing peanuts. See pictures below for examples of how to pack the eggs for shipping.
Requested information to include (or use attached form):
- Address where hens reside (Street name, City, Zip -- we do not need the number of the address)
- Number of hens in flock
- Date eggs were collected
- Length of time you have owned the chickens
- Age of chickens
- Year the house/building the chickens are kept by was built
- Optional: your email address to receive results
Drop off eggs at UCCE Sonoma County* or ship them to:
UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine
1 Shields Drive
Bldg VM3B Room 4007
Attn: Dr. Maurice Pitesky
Davis, CA 95616
If you would like assistance with shipping costs, please contact Anny Huang at the UCD SVM Cooperative Extension at firstname.lastname@example.org BEFORE shipping. We can generate a shipping label for you and email it to you to print and stick on your package.
If you have any other questions or comments, please contact Dr. Maurice Pitesky at the UCD SVM Cooperative Extension at email@example.com or 530-219-1407.
*UCCE Sonoma County office hours: M-F 8am-Noon, 1pm-4pm.
Packing eggs for shipping
Eggs are mailable in domestic mail subject to the following general conditions:
- They are individually cushioned.
- They are otherwise packed to withstand shocks encountered during normal Postal Service handling.
When you're shipping eggs, the USPS asks that you individually cushion each egg. Use bubble wrap to avoid breakage and shock-proof packaging material such as shredded paper to cushion the individually bubble-wrapped eggs. Pack your individual eggs closely but not too tightly.
See Free USPS Supplies for boxes./h2>/h2>
By Dr. Birgit Puschner, UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine and
Maurice Pitesky, UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine-Cooperative Extension
In addition to all the destruction and inhalation of smoke associated with the recent fires in Northern California, one of the unfortunate legacies remaining are chemical contamination of land, soil and water. The wildfire debris can include household hazardous waste (e.g. batteries and other electronic waste, paints, flammable liquids), building material (e.g. stucco, sheetrock, joint compound, asbestos siding and pipe insulation), pesticides, and fire suppression chemicals that may have been used. For example, ash debris from the California wildfires from 2007 was found to contain heavy metals that could cause long term health effects with exposure at high levels.
Backyard chickens typically live off the soil and hence are at risk for exposure to some of the chemicals in the debris. Since backyard chickens are food animals with respect to egg and meat production, there is a risk that some of these substances may be ingested by chickens and deposited inside eggs which are then laid by the chickens.
Unfortunately, there is limited scientific data on this issue. To that point there are no controlled studies, to our knowledge, that have assessed whether many of these chemicals can be found in eggs following ingestion by chickens. In addition, withdrawal periods following exposure are also not understood.
What can you do?
The concern to human health is with respect to the consumption of eggs and poultry meat from chickens exposed to the above listed toxic debris as a result of the recent fires. Out of an abundance of caution: if you know or suspect that your birds were foraging in burnt areas, we recommend not eating eggs from those hens for the remainder of their life.
In addition, in order to better understand the chemical contamination of eggs from hens living in areas impacted by wildfires we encourage people in affected areas to submit eggs to UC Davis for testing. Testing costs will be free.
For submission, please mail up to 6 eggs overnight to the following address:
UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine
Attn: Dr. Maurice Pitesky
1 Shields Drive
VM 3B Room 4007
Davis, CA 95616
Please include the following information:
- Contact information
- Address where birds are located
- Number of birds in your flock