Home Hardening Best Practices to Mitigate Wildfire with Stuart Mitchell
“It’s really based on how people maintain their properties. They’re all the homes that look identical but they’re actually different.” -Stuart Mitchell
Fire is one of the most destructive disasters that can happen to a home. It can take just minutes for a fire to completely destroy everything you have worked so hard for. Therefore, fire mitigation practices should start in our homes. This means that we need to be prepared for the worst and have a plan in place.
This week, Jennifer interviews Fire Mitigation Advisor, Stuart Mitchell. Jennifer and Stuart discuss how we can make our homes self-defended, what tools and resources can help us be better prepared for fires, what we should know about landscaping and fires, what we can do to minimize the effect of ember casts, how we can turn our pools into assets, how we can be organized as a community to help each other in times of need, and more!
- 04:59 Where Mitigation Begins
- 12:26 Redundancy of Alert Notifications
- 18:42 Landscaping Habits and Fire
- 28:58 How to Deal with Ember Casts
- 36:44 Make Your Pool an Asset
- 43:04 How to Prepare for Evacuation
- 50:27 When Communication Breaks Down
- 55:15 When Asked to Leave, Leave
- 58:47 Home Hardening and Insurance
- 01:03:20 It All Comes Down to Maintenance
- Windy: https://www.windy.com
- PulsePoint: https://www.pulsepoint.org/download
- Watch Duty: https://app.watchduty.org
Fire is a natural disaster that can happen to any home, no matter the location. The best way to make sure that your home is safe from fire damage is by hardening your home. Join @JenGrayThompson and Fire Mitigation Advisor, Stuart Mitchell as they share practical ways you can do so. #Recover #Rebuild #Reimagine #NorthBay #podcast #wildfire #DisasterRecovery #AfterTheFire #Season4 #HowToDisaster #homehardening #firemitigation #embers #alertsystems #firstresponders #evacuation
05:34 “While wildfire is intensely destructive and traumatising, it is possible to mitigate our way out of this… A lot of the times where that mitigation has to begin is in each of our homes.” -Jennifer Thompson
08:01 “Ultimately, what we want to do is prepare our properties to be self defended.” -Stuart Mitchell
20:34 “Wildfires can happen anywhere and that’s based on weather. So I want to encourage people to prepare their properties wherever they are. Because climate change is happening on a daily basis as we all know.” -Stuart Mitchell
43:22 “Since these fires have been happening, the authorities, law enforcement and especially firefighters- they really appreciate people who are organised to help each other.” -Stuart Mitchell
44:57 “When people can help each other, maybe they don’t need to call 911 necessarily at the drop of a hat. And it really becomes an asset.” -Stuart Mitchell
49:23 “We need to look at ourselves and what we can do individually, and we need to work together as a community so we shouldn’t be pointing fingers so much as pointing to ourselves.” -Stuart Mitchell
55:31 “There’s no excuse for us to stay behind and put our first responders in jeopardy because we do know better.” -Jennifer Thompson
57:28 “Get out as early as you can, and get out of the way so it’s safer for everyone.” -Stuart Mitchell
01:03:47 “It’s really based on how people maintain their properties. They’re all the homes that look identical but they’re actually different.” -Stuart Mitchell
Besides doing private consulting, Stuart Mitchell’s varied background includes being a contractor with the nonprofit Fire Safe Sonoma, he has conducted nearly 400 home assessments in the North Bay, as well and conducted presentations on preparing for wildfires in the Wildland Urban Interface (WUI), on Zoom and in person.
He served as a FEMA-trained Crisis Counselor for the Sonoma Complex Fires, is certified in Community Emergency Response Team implementation, and has been a Director of various nonprofit programs. His respect for First Responders and his involvement in personal and public safety has led him to develop a keen interest in Wildfire Mitigation because it combines human dynamics, environmental sciences, education, and community relations. The more we can take preventative action with our properties, the more likely First Responders will be able to do their jobs with improved coverage and safety, and the more we can build personal and community resilience.
Stuart has completed graduate work in Environmental Health Management and holds a degree in Cultural Anthropology/Physical Geography. He completed S290 Intermediate Wildfire Behavior through the State Fire Marshal’s office and he is a Certified Wildfire Mitigation Specialist through the NFPA.
- Website: https://wildfiremitigationadvisors.com/
- Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/WildfireMitigationAdvisors
Jennifer Gray Thompson: We’re back for another episode of The How to Disaster Podcast where we help you recover, rebuild and reimagine.
Today, our guest is Stuart Mitchell. Stuart is a Certified Wildland Specialist and Founder of Wildfire Mitigation Advisors here in Sonoma County. We’re happy to bring Stuart on the program today, and we’re going to talk about mitigation strategies and other programs that combine both human elements and public safety together to improve community wildfire resilience. I wanted to have Stuart on today because he has such a varied background and a depth of knowledge. And here we are at the end of April, and we’re entering into yet another fire season. I wanted you to talk to us about what’s possible to do mitigations in our home? How do we mitigate for our community? Mitigation is a really hard thing to inspire people to do unless they’ve actually been through a lot of disasters. And here in Sonoma County, we had the North Bay fires in 2017. We’ve had three mega fires since then so I was really excited to have Stuart today. He’s an expert, he’s going to share with us a lot of ideas and his wealth of knowledge. And if you want to find out more about him, you can visit www.wildfiremitigationadvisors.com.
Welcome to the podcast. Stuart, thank you so much for being here.
Stuart Mitchell: It’s a pleasure to be here. Thanks.
Jennifer Gray Thompson: I really wanted to have you on today because we’re at the opening of the 2022 wildfire season here in Sonoma County where both of us reside. I was excited to hear about your background and your specific expertise so we’re going to get into some very valuable tips and advice that you’re going to give our audience today. But I really wanted to start hearing more about you. Can you give us more information about your background and how you came to do this work?
Stuart Mitchell: Sure, yeah. I come from a very background in the sense of I ran mental health programs in the past, I’ve been a social services provider, and I’ve worked with all different types of people as you can imagine homeless people, mentally ill people, etc. And through leaving that work years ago, I got involved as a crisis counselor for survivors of the fires in 2017 through a FEMA grant. So that was a grant that was given to Sonoma County Mental Health, and I provided navigation support. Not therapy, but guidance on how to reduce traumatic stress. I believe everyone was either indirectly or directly affected by those fires. And since then, we’ve had multiple other fires. In 2020, we had three significant fires. So I also experienced that crisis counseling work. A lot of really great heartwarming and productive conversations with first responders. And I’ve always had a kinship with them. I’m not a first responder, but I have a lot of respect for what they do.
And one of the things that I learned from them was there are practical ways that homeowners, property owners, commercial business owners, wineries, estates, HOAs, things like that can prepare for wildfire. And what that does is it makes their jobs safer, easier and more doable. So we can get into that later. But that was a big motivation for me to be able to tangibly help them in some small ways. Seemingly small ways, but it turns out that they can be very significant ways to reduce stress and potentially improve their safety. So through that experience, I realized, I have a background in environmental sciences also. I love working with people, I love working with nature, with weather, with properties, with buildings, and I love building community. And so it’s all been a part of a great experience for me to join in this effort regarding fire prevention, emergency preparedness, which I have a background in as well just as a community member. I can talk about CERT, Community Emergency Response Team training and the like. So yeah, I’m excited to be here, and I enjoy the work. I would just say that I don’t sell any products when I do these assessments. I don’t do any enforcement, I’m essentially providing education and a consultation on a site specific way, spending quality time with an individual, looking at all the issues on their property. And what I find is people are often doing the wrong things. Very smart people with very robust backgrounds, I find that around 90% of time, they’re doing the wrong stuff. So it’s an exciting time for me to be doing this work. Fire season is essentially year round now, and we can talk about that later as well.
“While wildfire is intensely destructive and traumatising, it is possible to mitigate our way out of this… A lot of the times where that mitigation has to begin is in each of our homes.” -Jennifer Thompson
Jennifer Gray Thompson: It’s definitely a year round now, but I do feel like I allow myself to relax for about four months or five months. Even if it was interesting to see the Colorado fire, we’re working there, the Marshal fire happened on December 30th. So it’s not that we don’t expect it other times, but I do unclench my stomach for a few months out of the year. I don’t know how much longer we’ll be able to do that. But my hope is that maybe if we do enough mitigation, that at some point, we can actually get ahead of the tremendous risk that we face. I do think that we are fortunate in this one way that while wildfire is intensely destructive and traumatizing, I’m so glad to have a background in mental health. It’s just terrible, but it is possible to mitigate our way out of this. And that’s a huge difference between wind and rain disasters, because we’re not trying to hold back the ocean and the sky. So I think that with people like you and organizations like ours, and just this big collaborative model of people really leaning all the way in, a lot of the times where that mitigation has to begin is in each of our homes. I’m hoping that we can start there, so talk to us about the top three things that you would think people should be doing for their homes. Don’t go into the pool issue yet because I definitely want to get into that. Like top three mitigations how they can take responsibility for the safety of their home.
“Ultimately, what we want to do is prepare our properties to be self defended.” -Stuart Mitchell
Stuart Mitchell: Sure. Yeah. I really appreciate what you had to say there. I have a lot to say about all those different topics. But the top three are really interesting. The properties that I go and see, people are usually working in the wrong direction. And what I mean by that is we work, I’m a Certified Wildfire Mitigation Specialist at the NFPA, by the way. And the way we’re trained is we look top down structure out, not forest in, as I say. So what I find in rural areas, in urban areas and suburban areas is that we’ve all been trained to put vegetation right up against our buildings for privacy, and it’s just a custom. And so the 0 to 5 foot zone, 0 is what I call ground zero, and 0 is actually the structure. So the 0 to 5 is the most important, the most golden zone, then 5 to 33 to a 100, 100 to 200. Believe it or not, most people are going from 200 in. They are not doing the most important zone. So that’s one that comes to mind.
You said the top three is the 0 to 5 foot zone is essential. The other thing that people often forget is they are looking towards people learning more and more about embers, but firebrands or embers are what cause anywhere from 70 to 90% of the damage and destruction in these events. So most people think it’s a flaming front coming to burn them. But statistically, that’s not what occurs. Defensible space is giving, managing your vegetation so that you’re having an area where the building can be defended. And by the way, ultimately, what we want to do is prepare our properties to be self defended. And what I mean by that is that during these large events, firefighters can’t come. So there’s two different aspects that you want to prepare for your property. So it’s giving a first impression to them. So when they’re triaging, they may stay and do something. But the likelihood of them coming in a huge event is very small actually, and firefighters lose their homes as well. And a lot of people don’t realize firefighters lose their homes all the time, actually. And the question is, why is that? No one can say exactly why because they weren’t there. But I can say that one of the reasons why the home was lost by a firefighter, a firefighter home was lost was because of the fact that it wasn’t prepared to be self defended.
Jennifer Gray Thompson: To give them just a funny side note, I live between two CalFire battalion chiefs. I stood there with one and my husband a couple of weeks ago and I was like, I feel like we need to all go in on appropriate fencing. Because look at us, I’m a leader in the wildfire world, you’re a battalion chief and we have wood fences up against our house. This is not how it should be. But I think that there’s also, CalFire in particular, they’ve just been working, working, working. They work so hard for such long hours, so many months, more months out of the year that I do think there’s an exhaustion factor. They always say the plumbing is broken. But I just want to admit that that’s the case here.
Stuart Mitchell: That’s a great point, and it’s extremely common. I always say that I have tremendous respect for fire marshals, CalFire officials and all battalion chiefs. I know a lot of them, they’re all highly trained, smart, great people, and they also are not doing the right thing. So the battalion chief, your neighbors, what they also know is that during an event, if they have time, they’re doing emergency landscape removal projects. In other words, they’re literally running around with a chainsaw cutting that fence off the building. So they know that they’ve done it, they’ve seen it, yet that change is a little bit hard. But replacing that fence and that 0 to 5, preferably 0 to 10 foot zone with something non combustible is going to remove the fuse that that fence represents. So it’s a great point that you bring up, Jennifer, because I see it all the time. I see very smart people neglecting to do really crucial things. And that one maneuver of replacing that fuse is a game changer, actually. So I mentioned the 0 to 5 foot zone, I mentioned the issues around embers, I just wanted to say that embers are a big deal. So these are embers that are the size of a grain of rice up to the size of a football, potentially, and they’re flying and lofting down, or they’re flying high rates of speed, and they’re looking for what we call receptive fuel beds or areas where things can ignite. Or they can pack in through an event in a building, infiltrate through into a building, light up the building that way, or pack into decks where there’s joists connecting underneath the deck. And there’s ways of screening that decking off from embers, varmints and debris. So the Ember issue is really huge. The last thing I would mention, since you asked for three is alert systems. I’d love to talk a little bit about alert systems because I’m a big proponent of people getting out early by getting the information early and getting out of the way, and hopefully having their home be self defended.
Jennifer Gray Thompson: Well, let’s go ahead and start there. Because I think that all of us understand very differently our own responsibility during a wildfire event or mega fire events, we refer to it in a way that we definitely didn’t understand in 2017. And it wasn’t because we didn’t care, we just didn’t know. And in Sonoma County, there were huge issues with profound issues with the notification system. I can tell you that in every wildfire area, every wildfire that we’ve worked from Southern California, to Colorado, to all over Oregon, to California, the notifications are not sufficient until you go through something like this. And so it has to be multiple. I would love for you to please start with and wax poetic on notifications. I hope you’re going to talk about redundancy and notification as well. Go ahead.
Stuart Mitchell: Yeah. Redundancy, that was the first thing I was gonna say. Believe it or not. Here locally, we have the county system. It’s called Nixle alerts, and a lot of the systems, and I know I might be talking to people out of the area, but a lot of the systems are linked to your zip code or where your residence is. And that’s helpful. But really, now that we all have cell phones in our pockets these days, we want to have an app that’s free that you can download and hopefully your county participates in. And what that does is it will geo locate where the fire is. So if you’re listening to AM radio, which is a great source of information actually, that’s really good. They’ll say that there’s a fire over this region of the county. Okay, well, where? They’ll send out an alert. Evacuate this area because there’s a fire. Where is the fire? So the apps like PulsePoint, Sonoma County participates in a program where they pay a pretty nominal fee, really. For PulsePoint, it’s a free app that can be added to your phone and you can check vegetation fire. It will also tell you if there’s a prescribed burn happening in your area. So around here, we see smoke and we think, oh, my gosh, is that a fire? It will tell you it is a prescribed burn, or control burn, or it’s a vegetation fire which indicates that it’s out of control.
Jennifer Gray Thompson: Just so everybody knows, that also tells you when there’s, it’s anything for police or fire ambulances. And so if you hear, my son lives, my 30 year old is in my same neighborhood. Can’t tell you, it’s a mom thing. How many times I hear a siren, I go on PulsePoints just to make sure. I just have to do so. It’s very useful for a number of things, including wildfire. I like it.
Stuart Mitchell: Yeah. Some people, Jennifer, might want to check off more categories and you’ll get more information. You can check off Water Rescue, you can check off utility events which can be very relevant. By the way, I wanted to say utility workers often get a bad reputation, and I really want to stand up for utility workers. They’re another type of first responder. They’re doing some very important essential work. They’re not making these decisions around corporate management of funds, they’re out there really putting themselves in jeopardy to give us power.
Jennifer Gray Thompson: Echo you on that, and then go back into notifications. If utility workers did not burn your house down, did not burn your neighborhood down. They have been shouted at, they have been refused service, they have been maligned verbally, they’ve been threatened physically. For anyone who listens to this, we totally understand the trauma associated with wildfires, but utility workers didn’t do that to you so don’t don’t do that to them.
Stuart Mitchell: They are definitely our allies. We want to appreciate them, protect our properties and prepare our properties for them as well. So PulsePoint is calling from dispatch, and it’s pretty immediate. It’s a great resource. The additional one I wanted to mention because Jennifer wanted to do redundancies, which I was going to do is something called Watch Duty. So in our local area, some colleagues of mine, they’re .com genius guys and they said, we want to do something that’s more expensive than PulsePoint. Pulse Point is excellent, but we want to give updates on those events. So the cool thing about Watch Duty, you can look up watch duty probably .org, or .com, or whatever. It’s a free app that goes on your phone and it gives you status updates. I don’t know if you sign up, but that one, Jennifer.
Jennifer Gray Thompson: Yeah, I am.
Stuart Mitchell: Good.
Jennifer Gray Thompson: My own chainsaw. I’m worried all the time.
Stuart Mitchell: You carry it around in your car?
Jennifer Gray Thompson: Actually, my father in law is going to get me. It’s a green chainsaw, it has a battery attached to it. I got it for Christmas. It’s a 16 inch to 12 inch, and he’s getting me, I drive a truck, only since the fires, isn’t that funny? And he’s getting me a toolbox for it.
Stuart Mitchell: Perfect. I love it. I actually recommend people do exactly that. So you’re definitely on top of it. So Watch Duty gives you status updates, which is great. The third one I wanted to mention, which is slightly different, it’s windy.com. It gives you predicted wind speed and wind direction, and that’s essential during these events which is really the biggest determiner of wildfire behavior. You also have topography, how steep is the slope? Different factors, humidity, low humidity is a big deal. But windy.com is really descriptive in terms of giving predicted wind speeds a few days out. Before I forget, I also want to point out to people that the National Fire Weather Service gives fire weather alerts. And those fire weather alerts come out before Red Flag Warning. So when you see a national service Weather Service, sorry, Fire Weather Report, that’s a heads up that red flag probably will be coming to that area that they sanctioned as a predicted event. So whereas a Red Flag Warning, it can be given 24 hours in advance. The fire weather warning can be given three days in advance so that gives you more time to prepare. So that’s a really important point for people to keep in mind. Keep an eye out for those red flag warnings. But in advance of that, they’re gonna give fire weather warnings up to three days in advance. So that’s really important.
Jennifer Gray Thompson: Would you mind going through just the apps one more time so we had that isolated in one audio because I kept interrupting. I just want to make sure that it’s in one.
Stuart Mitchell: So the three apps that I talked about, PulsePoint and Watch Duty for the local Sonoma County area, and they’re hoping to spread it throughout the state, frankly. And the third one is windy.com which gives you predicted wind speed and wind direction.
Jennifer Gray Thompson: Thank you so much. So it’s interesting. When you’re talking about the top three things, let’s go all the way back to the 0 to 5. What do you recommend people don’t have near their homes. I especially became concerned with my in-laws had wood chips right up against their home, and they just had them all removed because I found, I was alarmed by it. But can you kind of talk about our landscaping habits that are maybe traditional, but not so good for wildfire.
“Wildfires can happen anywhere and that’s based on weather. So I want to encourage people to prepare their properties wherever they are. Because climate change is happening on a daily basis as we all know.” -Stuart Mitchell
Stuart Mitchell: Sure. By the way, when I do these assessments, I send them a summary report, I send them photographs and I also send them a lot of informational links and resources. And on that email that I send people, there’s a study on the combustibility of mulch. So on one side of the spectrum is something in our area we call gorilla hair, and it comes from Redwood bark, and it’s very fluffy and combustible. It’s the most desirable material if you wanted to start a fire out of nothing in the woods. And on the other side of the spectrum is something that’s mostly soil. So it’s very compost, it’s very wet. There isn’t a lot of needles, wood and bark, low combustibility on that side of the spectrum. So mulch is a big deal. People use it for statistics and they’re starting to use it more and more for drought resilience. However, it’s interesting to think about when you put mulch over the ground.
So you’ve put four or five inches of mulch over your ground, you might be thinking, I’m keeping the moisture in the soil. That could be the case. However, if you irrigate that mulch, it’s probably not actually getting to the soil and to the plants. So very few people will move away the mulch deeply irrigate their plant or tree depending on what kind of, and then put the mulch back. Who does that? So my point is people are using mulch excessively in the wrong places. I’m not saying mulch is inherently bad. But especially in the 0 to 5 foot zone, and maybe even 0 to 10 foot zone, it’s not recommended. I just looked at a house in a non fire area, which I also wanted to bring up, Jennifer’s, that people feel like, oh, I live in this part of the county, we don’t have wildfires here. Or I live in that part of the county, it’s going to burn to the ground. That’s not necessarily true. It’s very black and white thinking. Wildfires can happen anywhere, and that’s based on weather. So I really want to encourage people to prepare their properties wherever they are. Because of intense weather, severe weather events, climate change, it’s happening on a daily basis as we all know. I also wanted to comment that firefighters are trained to leave when the weather tells them to.
So last summer, we had the Dixie fire, we had about 15,000 firefighters up in the Sierras fighting these fires, and they were doing emergency landscape removals a lot of the time, by the way. So instead of doing fire suppression or doing other firefighting stuff, they’re literally running around with a chainsaw cutting people’s fences down and cutting their bushes away from their house. So when the weather, looking at those 15,000 firefighters, if we had 30,000, or 90,000, or 180,000 firefighters, which we don’t have, actually, they would all leave immediately when the weather changed. So as soon as the weather changes, they all say goodbye. And the reason I bring that up again is because weather really determines these factors. So if you’re living in an area that’s deemed to be low fire behavior, wildfire behavior, that’s not necessarily the case. I really encourage people to look at wherever they are so people want to move away from certain counties, right? And I said, well, wherever you go, you still need to harden your property. Going back to the mulch, I just looked at a house the other day in the city and there was a big tree that was cut down in the neighborhood, and all the neighbors came to the big pile of mulch and they all spread the mulch all the way around their homes. And I went to look at this home and I said, this was an unfortunate choice for you guys. The first thing, the quickest thing, the easiest thing to do is move that mulch away from the siding so the siding comes down and the mulch is usually right underneath the siding. It’s a bad combination. I’m not saying don’t use mulch. I’m saying, be aware of the interconnections on how wildfire behavior impacts that mulch.
Jennifer Gray Thompson: I appreciate that so much. I’m often amazed because, the county for example is really cool. Chipper Program, then you can go pick up like free kindling to put all around your house. There’s a little bit for me. I love the Chipper Program, but I don’t know, it should come with a warning of where it should go or can go on your property. I’m just amazed by that. Are there any types of plants, for example, that you shouldn’t have near your home?
Stuart Mitchell: Yeah. In essence defensible space, the way I explained it, it has to do with type placement and maintenance. So the type of plant is what you’re referring to. So plants like eucalyptus, rosemary, juniper, doug pine, doug fir. These bamboo doesn’t have a high chemical content, but it’s very explosive, a lot of flame length that comes from bamboo. I’m not a fan of bamboo when it comes to wildfire even though it’s beautiful. So those plants like eucalyptus, bay, those are the ones that people say, oh, those are bad, we need to get rid of them. And sometimes, depending on where they are and their location, that is the case. But the chemical content in juniper, rosemary and these other trees adds a volatility to wildfire, that’s very intense. So what I recommend with firewise landscaping is that I’m not looking for a moonscape. We’re looking for low growing broadleaf high moisture plants that are dispersed and not interconnected as a fused leading to the structure. So in essence, an obvious example might be on one side of the spectrum, you have Aloe Vera. And on the other side, you have rosemary. Rosemary has a lot of dead material naturally in it. It’s got that intense chemical volatility in it, and it’s low moisture. Aloe vera is totally the opposite. So no, you don’t want to plant aloe vera all over your property because you may not like it. But I’m just pointing out that’s an example of high moisture low growing broadleaf versus the other choice.
Jennifer Gray Thompson: I’m a little disappointed about the bamboo thing because you’ve just messed up my remodel for my backyard for next year. I did not know about the bamboo thing, I knew about juniper. We have neighborhoods here, an older neighborhood in Oakmont, just full of juniper and they pulled some of it out after the 2017 fires. But I’m still amazed when I drive through there to see how much is there right up against houses.
Stuart Mitchell: I got some good news on that front. So after the 2020 Glass Fire and before that, they have been working on this program called Junk The Junipers. So as of may be right now, actually, there’s a tree company in the parking lot at that huge HOA in Santa Rosa, it has about 3500 homes there, they are mandating that all the Juniper be removed. Why? Because it’s a very combustible problematic species, and to replace it with more thoughtful species. So good news there. I also wanted to say that I did a training for those residents there in Oakmont with Fire Safe Sonoma, which is a great local nonprofit organization, and I educated some volunteer assessment people. They actually have looked at well over 900 homes in their community, a cadre of volunteer home assessment folks. So I was a part of that. I’m proud of that effort to help educate those people to take that into their own hands. And by the way, I would like to talk about at some point, Jennifer, community based organizing and how people can help each other out. But I wanted to talk about that mulch issue. Yeah,
Jennifer Gray Thompson: I love that. That’s such good news. And it also shows what’s possible. The community you’re referring to is 55 and older, it’s everything from active adults to people who are in long term memory care. It runs the entire gamut. They’ve been very active, but they also note that they’re highly vulnerable. They sit up against a state park, they are in the WUI. But what you were mentioning earlier, and we’re gonna get back to the community, which is very important is like Coffee Park which burned 1400 homes in 2017 was nowhere near that WUI. And not only was nowhere near it, it was across a six lane freeway, and the fire took the overpass and just found its way back into one empty lot into about 1400 homes. So I just really want to echo and support you when you’re saying to harden your home. It doesn’t really matter where you live. And the CalFire chief last summer was really clear with California, and they said, look, at some point, every single part of California is going to burn every single part. And so we have to really approach it from that point of view. Yes, it’s going to happen and makes me a little bit of a fatalist. Every time, like painting a wall or something in my house, it’s probably just gonna burn down, whatever. But that just might be a job hazard. I don’t know. Okay, so Stuart, let me just stop you there really quickly so that we can take a commercial break. And once again, we are here with Stuart Mitchell and we are learning about how to have some personal resiliency, resiliency in your home and community, and we’ll be right back.
And we are back again with Stuart Mitchell. And once again, Stuart, welcome to the podcast.
Stuart Mitchell: Thank you. Happy to be here.
Jennifer Gray Thompson: So can you explain what can people do to deal with ember cast? Let’s do that first.
Stuart Mitchell: Sure. So ember cast refers to where embers are flying in the air at high rates of speed or lofting down and landing into a gutter for example. So typically, in California now, everyone has a class A composite shingle roof. So it looks like the asphalt shingles, let’s call it. And they’re highly fire resistant, they’re class A if the roof is clean. So in some areas that we live in, out in the redwoods and whatnot, you got a tremendous amount of redwood guff and other debris that’s on the roof, that roof is combustible. However, if it’s clean, it’s very fire resistant. And then people don’t realize that the roof is really a catcher’s mitt. So everything that falls on the roof comes down into the gutters and you have, you know, potentially three inches of fuel, very combustible, dry kindling in your gutter.
So if you have a steel, metal roof or brand new roof, but you have all this fuel in your gutters, it’s going to light the eaves underneath on fire for sure. So gutter covers are a way of keeping the fuel out of the gate matters, and that’s going to minimize the amount of impacts that embers will have on that receptive fuel bed. The other ideas that people are becoming more and more familiar with are vents. So a vent is ventilating your house, but it also allows embers to go in. So you want to reach the standard, which typically is 8 inch metal mesh, and you’re eliminating, reducing the amount of embers going into your vents.
The other one, though, that I want to highlight is that it’s extremely common in our areas that most people in these rural areas and semi rural areas. They have these decks, and the deck gives you a place to have a picnic, and it’s beautiful. But underneath that deck, it’s a big opening where there’s debris, and there’s a lot of areas where embers can pack in or enter and ignite the deck. And if firefighters have time and the deck is on the slope, and it’s older in the fire is coming to their home, and they have time, I’ve actually seen them cut decks off buildings. Why are they doing that? Because the deck is inherently an appendage that’s added to the building that’s made out of wood. It’s very combustible. It has all these different angles in nooks and crannies where embers can pack in and ignite that structure. And also, firefighters will do an inspection. Sometimes after a fire passes through, they’ll do a walk around, they’ll sign off saying this house is okay. What happens sometimes is that house will burn down a day or two later, and they feel bad about it. But there was nothing they did wrong. There was actually nothing to observe. What happened was there was some sneaky little embers that had infiltrated into the deck, or into event, or in another pocket area and lit up the building a day or two later. So the other way to explain it to is if you had a castle, if you had a home, that’s a castle, a real castle, and the walls are rock, and the roof is rock, and you have a moat around, and you have a walkway, you don’t go into the land, you think, well, I’m fine. This isn’t going to burn down unnecessarily.
So what happens is in your castle, if you have a gap where embers can enter in that castle, it will burn from the inside out. So what we see in these after wildfire events is we will see a home that’s essentially evaporated. But the defensible space, which was too close to the home is essentially okay. And some people think a laser beam came from outer space and zap the home. That’s not what happened. It was an ember or a series of embers that entered the home and burned it from the inside out. So the deck screening, the vents, the gutter covers, of course, the connected fences, the gaps underneath, the siding where embers can pack in, those are all details that I look at in a very detailed way when I look at people’s properties.
Jennifer Gray Thompson: Is there a deck material that is recommended to use that is safe or fire resistant?
Stuart Mitchell: Yeah, some are safer than others. The only thing that really doesn’t burn is cement. Eventually, anything can burn. Aloevera can burn too. But what we’re doing is we’re reducing risk and we’re mitigating. So with the decking material, there’s material out there that has metal framing underneath the deck. Frankly, I’ve seen that system, which is really cool, and it’s non combustible. People put tile on top, people put ePay, which is a type of hard tropical wood or iron wood, they use different kinds of materials that will melt instead of flame up. And I would do a little plug for Fire Safe Moran, it’s another nonprofit like Fire Safe Sonoma. Their website has a lot of great videos on it. And on that website, there’s a 14 minute video on decks, and it talks about how to build a deck correctly, how to mitigate against flame impingement, how to add in different features, and what to build it out of. It’s pretty fascinating. It’s 14 minutes long. So an example of one of the great videos they have on their website.
Jennifer Gray Thompson: I love that. Thank you. Can you talk about pools because I have a pool and I had not heard of something I could buy or an attachment to make sure that it could be used in the event of a wildfire. I had no idea.
Stuart Mitchell: So yeah, I’m glad you mentioned that. Usually, I mention it every time I do an assessment not because I’m promoting it necessarily, but because some people think it’s a magic bullet. So I mentioned three non magic magic bullets. One of them is a flame retardant coating which you can coat wood and it will reduce flame combustion and flame spread. Not a replacement for doing what’s appropriate, but it’s a good plan B. Another one is Phos-Chek, P-H-O-S. It’s one of these products that’s, well, it’s used by CalFire a lot in the Forest Service. They drop it from aircraft. It can be applied with a clear version to people’s properties and it’s a good additional asset. It’s not a replacement for physically mitigating the vegetative fuel. So that’s another non magic magic bullet. The third one is water.
Jennifer Gray Thompson: Before you go into the water, you have to go back to Phos-Chek. I know of a material, like a retardant that is dropped, but it’s not as caustic. Not as that with the materials. It’s made out of not quite like aloe but a viscous material. That’s the water base of clearly, I majored in English and not in science. Is that what you’re talking about? Is it something that you would put on your house if you had to leave? What is that?
Stuart Mitchell: I could talk about it for a few minutes, I don’t know how much time we have.
Jennifer Gray Thompson: But given–
Stuart Mitchell: The cliff note effects of it are that it’s essentially water and fertilizer, and it’s used for vegetation, not to be put on the house. For service, it will shoot it everywhere. In emergencies, it’s not really meant for structure protection. You might be thinking about a lot of other products that have gels, foams and things like that. But Phos-Chek, I mentioned it because I do have some experience in using it. A retired firefighter, buddy of mine went up with permission and did some structural protection during the Glass Fire. And that probably helped. Let’s put it that way. So it’s water and fertilizer, and it coats the vegetation. It lasts for several months. And what it does is it limits combustion and flame spread on the vegetation. So that’s the cliff note version.
Jennifer Gray Thompson: I love that, thank you so much. You may move on to the pool now.
Stuart Mitchell: Okay. So the pool idea is that if you have 20,000 gallons of water, you might want to draft water out of it connected to fire hoses, connected to a very big cannon. I’ve done this, demonstrated them and I’ve installed them with a buddy of mine. These are very large agricultural cannons that will shoot water like 80, 90 feet, and you’re shooting it at the sides of the home, which is usually the most vulnerable area underneath the eaves and around the property. Wetting down the vegetation and changing fire behavior. And I’m quick to say that it’s not a guarantee. There are no guarantees when it comes to these events. But if someone has their own water source, they can spend a fairly nominal amount of money to hook up one of these systems, pull it out as the fire is coming, set it up, start it up and leave. That’s going to change the fire behavior of your property.
Additionally with that system, you can put a sign out in front of your property so that firefighters know that you have fire pump system and they’re gonna say, oh, wow, I can see your address, I can see your home, we can turn around, they have a pool pump system, let’s go check out these guys. And then what they’ll do is they’ll shut down the system and turn it back on when they want to. They’ll make a note on their computer or in their logbook that that’s an asset that they can actually draft water out more quickly for them. Because most people don’t realize fire engines only have like 300 gallons of water. That’s it. They never want to use their own water because it’s a safety issue. They will use it when they need to. But once they use it, guess what? They gotta go look for more. So if you have a garden hose, a garden hose is attached to all your spigots, around your home, they love seeing an extension ladder out, they love seeing rakes, shovels and things that encourage them to stick around. They don’t have to pull those tools off their engine because you’ve already set them up. So the pool pump system is very awesome in the sense that you’re not drawing down water from the municipal water grid. In Windsor during the Kincade Fire, people did turn on their water in the city of Windsor. And what that did is a draw it sucked down all the pressure. And firefighters were very unhappy about that. If you have your own independent source of water, like a pool, it’s a great asset.
Jennifer Gray Thompson: We’re recommending an idea. There is a group called fire signs, and you can actually order a sign that you put on your gate or someplace that has all the assets that are in your house. And I feel like if they don’t have the pump on there, that it’d be great if they added that as an option. I will go online, we’ll put a link to what they do below. But it also came out of the 2017 fires and just this idea that we could in fact do more to help or participate in the safety of our communities. And so we will look into the fire pump. I’m super excited about that. It’s one more thing I can come home and tell my husband that we’re going to do.
Stuart Mitchell: Yeah. By the way, these systems that cost $100,000, $200,000 whenever they’re very involved in backup batteries, their own tanks, I’m talking about a simple Honda pump that drains water out and connect a fire hose is a very tried and trued low tech solution. You don’t need to take out a second home loan to buy it. Again, it’s not a magic bullet, but it can be a great additional asset.
Jennifer Gray Thompson: Well, it’s interesting because every time we’ve had to evacuate, or be ready, or during all the red fire alerts, we pull our cards out, there’s certain things that we do. It’s a good idea to make sure that you pull a couple of shovels out, put them on the side of your house, pull your extension ladder out, we could totally do that. But I’ve always taken the cover off of our pool because I wanted them to be able to see it, but unfortunately there were so many people who survived fires in the pool. Some of that.
Stuart Mitchell: I don’t recommend that.
Jennifer Gray Thompson: I’m thinking more of like firefighters, they’re in the neighborhood, I’m already gone. You don’t want them to actually need this last minute protection. And then I’m trying to pull my cover off and it’s–
Stuart Mitchell: No, absolutely. They’ll have to bring a pump over to the pool, or pull out their pump and connect it. So this system is already potentially set up for them. So that’s good. By the way, Southern California is way ahead of us in terms of this. In order to get a house permit and you’re in that zone where they recognise a wildfire is really bad, and there aren’t hydrants everywhere, you’re required to make a standpipe from your pool all the way to the curb. You have to pay for that. Why? So what fairings are pulled up, they can draft water right out of it on the edge of the curb. So we don’t have that around here. We were a little bit behind SoCal when it came to accessing pool water.
Jennifer Gray Thompson: Fascinating. I did not know that either. You remind me of like, we’ve worked in the Woolsey Fire. So I think of the people rebuilding in Malibu and some of them had money. A lot of people who were able to rebuild, or people who have a little bit of money, a lot of people who didn’t have money couldn’t, but you could see how that would be. It’s just a necessity. It’s very rural, it’s very interesting.
Stuart Mitchell: You can also draft out of a tank. So a lot of people in our area have 5 and 10,000 gallon tanks. That’s a decent amount of water. You can drop a hose and that and draft out of that as well.
Jennifer Gray Thompson: We’re doing a remodel next year, and I was thinking that I would like a 5000 gallon tank. We don’t have a big lot, but it’s also good for greywater systems. So there are other ancillary benefits to doing some of these things. It’s not just a doomsday prepper, it’s more like, what can I do so that the first responders can attend to other people? The more that we can do for ourselves, or if we can help our neighbors if they are medically fragile, or elderly or for some reason, they can’t evacuate alone. It sort of brings us to the next topic, which should be, I’m super passionate about is, how do you prepare when you have to evacuate? Do you provide those services or that advice? Or what is your advice around that?
“Since these fires have been happening, the authorities, law enforcement and especially firefighters- they really appreciate people who are organised to help each other.” -Stuart Mitchell
Stuart Mitchell: Absolutely. It’s a great segue for community activism in terms of preparation. There are groups that are organized, like CERT Teams, that’s starting to come back. There were some liability issues with different cities who didn’t want to support educating their populations in the past. But since these fires have been happening, the authorities, law enforcement and especially firefighters, they really appreciate people who are organized to help each other. So like I mentioned, there’s programs like Map Your Neighbourhood, MYN and COPE, Citizens Organized in Preparation for Emergencies, I believe it’s called. And essentially, what you’re doing is you’re getting to know who your neighbors are. That is one of the pluses that came out of these fires and other events across the country is you get to know who your neighbors are. So if Jennifer and I are neighbors, I’d say, oh, well, did you know Jennifer that I wear a hearing aid? And at night, I can’t hear the knocking on the door. And you say, okay, let me write that down. Stuart’s, he’s got a hearing problem. I need to go wake him up if there’s an evacuation. All right, I find out that Jennifer has an extension ladder and a battery powered chainsaw. And she has a pool pump system. And she is good with kids. And so we learned our strengths and our challenges in our neighborhood. And then we basically get to know each other, become familiar, work together, maybe even develop a plan around what to do if this event happens. What do we do when the power gets shut off? Are we looking at how to power our houses with independent generators which can be safe or dangerous depending on how you do it. And I think it’s a great opportunity to bring people together, get people to know each other and draw on each other’s assets.
“When people can help each other, maybe they don’t need to call 911 necessarily at the drop of a hat. And it really becomes an asset.” -Stuart Mitchell
And firefighters and law enforcement, they’d love that because they’re busy doing other things. And when people can help each other, maybe they don’t need to call 911 necessarily at the drop of a hat. And it really becomes an asset. And during the 2017 fires, because I was a CERT trained, the local fire chief actually Emailed me and said, hey, Stuart, are you doing anything? And I said, sure, what do you mean? He goes, well, we’re busy doing stuff. In other words, we’re not as available, would you want to be a part of a group that checks out the area? And I said, sure. I have a fire extinguisher, I have a shovel, I have a phone, I have gloves. I could see something, potentially put it out and call it in or call it in. So the point is that that grassroots citizen based preparedness model is super powerful. It’s being duplicated around the country more and more, but it’s also really empowering.
Going back to the traumatic stress, and the mental health stuff, and anxiety that we all experienced from time to time, it really gives us a way of directing our energy. And it’s been proven to dissipate that anxiety, actually, when people are taking action physically and getting involved. Yes, it can raise some anxiety talking about these types of subjects. But as we get more involved and physically moving forward, and coming together with a plan, a lot of times, people feel better. And in fact, after I do my assessment with people on their property, I’m there with them for a while. And my main mission is to sit them down, actually, for a few minutes and explain some of the principles and then go around with them looking at things case by case, plant by plant, feature by feature, building by building. And at the end, I said, well, we went over a lot of stuff. What do you think? And a lot of times they’ll say, I feel better. And initially I was like, oh, wow, okay, good. I didn’t overwhelm you because we just talked about 900 things. And they said, no, you helped me feel like I can prioritize things. I understand the issues. I know that I don’t need to cut down those big trees away over there, that he does save the money from that and put it over here. I feel better. So to me, that’s very heartwarming on a personal level, but it’s also very practical for them. So preparing yourself, that community and helping first responders, that’s really my mission.
“We need to look at ourselves and what we can do individually, and we need to work together as a community so we shouldn’t be pointing fingers so much as pointing to ourselves.” -Stuart Mitchell
Jennifer Gray Thompson: I love all those. Those are great things, and I’m going to have you sum that up one more time. But I find that it’s really sad when we see people who just strip their land bear and you’re like, that’s actually not necessarily what’s going to keep you or your neighborhood safer. And they may have even like gotten rid of trees. If you have a big oak tree, it’s not necessarily a bad thing at all. My mom builds a house in 20, like 2009 with a big oak trees all around it. And she’s all the best practices way ahead of time, and it was up on St. Alena Mountain. It’s the only thing that survived up there. Her house. And part of that sure is luck, but most of us, because she built way above the code and she didn’t she had sold the house in 2016. So it wasn’t affected, but I stopped by and saw it recently, and I was just amazed because everything around it is gone. But you can actually do things, you don’t have to strip your land, you just have–
Stuart Mitchell: No. In fact, and wanted to touch back real quick on something you said earlier about Annadel Park and how it’s right near the Oakmont, there’s a massive park there. The fuels all, yes, it’s a dangerous environment. However, when it constantly find is that people are pointing there, and there, and there. And what the old adage is, you point one finger that way at someone and three fingers are pointing back at you. I mentioned that because there’s a lot of folks in Oakmont, other places and they blame the utility companies, they blame their neighbors, they blame the forest, and really where it’s at is that first 0 to 100 feet, not a half a mile and a lot of people think, oh, if we just had a fire break around Annadel, we’d be okay. And that’s absolutely incorrect. As you mentioned earlier, embers fly right over defensible space, like the 101 freeway. And so looking down at where we are, so this is the kind of interesting dichotomy, I guess, is that we really need to look at ourselves and what we can do individually, and we need to work together as a community so we shouldn’t be pointing fingers so much as pointing to ourself. What can I do my 0 to 5 foot zone and work that way out, not forced in.
Jennifer Gray Thompson: And all that goes with our other conversations that we have, and I’m going to actually send this to Kyle so you can put it on our YouTube. Like last year, the red flag warning, I did a TikTok which sounds silly, but that actually reached a lot of people on how to pack a go bag. And simple things can make you feel less afraid. I just packed my truck when we got the red flag warnings. I pull it in, I make sure that it’s facing towards the road. I just want to make sure that I am not panicking, and that I feel like I have enough control that I can get my two big dogs in there. I’ve taken care of my end of the equation because then I feel like it’s going to be, even if I lose my house, that I won’t lose my life, or my husband, or our children, or our dogs.
Stuart Mitchell: Absolutely. Another that’s so important. I’m glad you shared that. I mean, that’s just the way to look at things. I just thought of another thing while you were talking around communication. So communications, authorities are really dialed around that. However, sometimes communication breaks down. So some of these folks are more common than not, yeah, I work with people way out in Cazadero and have a very, very long one lane road. Well, guess what? Those people are getting radios, GMRS radios and they can talk to the outside. It can travel many, many miles depending on different factors. So it’s basically an advanced type of walkie talkie. What that allows you to do is have communication when everything else is out. So that’s another bigger topic.
Jennifer Gray Thompson: I love that. You’re gonna be so proud of me, Stuart, because I have a family radio network that I bought. Those kinds of walkie talkies, they go 30 miles and they’re not just your basic, I’m 10 and I have a walkie talkie, they are way more expensive than that. And then we’ve placed two of them in every home, my mother, my niece and her fiance, my sisters, my mother in law with my father in law, my aunt and uncle in law, in our house, we bought an entire network. And then my 15 year old, he programmed them all. And then we went around, we made sure everybody knew how to use them because I didn’t know how to use them. I had no idea. But one of my fears is not being able to communicate. And part of that came from a documentary I watched about Paradise. We’d already experienced our mega fire here so we knew the challenges around communication. But in Paradise, there was a firefighter who didn’t know for eight hours if his family had died, and they didn’t know if he had died. There was no way for them to communicate. My in-laws are older and I want to make sure that I know where they are, and we make sure they have to because we don’t know, like, what if they were separated for some reason?
Stuart Mitchell: Fantastic. I love it. That’s so great. And that’s one of those assets that Map Your Neighbourhood. They would say, hey, Jennifer has a GMRS radio or whatever kind of radio you have, she can at least communicate with the outside world. That’s another tool in your toolkit, which is amazing.
Jennifer Gray Thompson: And everyone should have a NOAA radio too, a hand range radio. And everything I carry in my car is an inverter. You can get them for as low as $30 on Amazon’s that you can essentially plug in your laptop, or you can plug stuff in. My car has a regular plug in it because it’s a truck. It will run a laptop but it doesn’t run a lot of things. And so this is actually enabling. Highly recommend an inverter. You can do a lot of these things over time. I didn’t try to just buy it all at once. Our family radio network system in each house costs $50, which isn’t bad. And then they’re highly recommended. Is there anything that you wanted to talk about today that I have not touched upon?
Stuart Mitchell: Well, just a little bit more on this idea that we have come a long way since the 2017 fires. We did have a major fire in Lake County next door in 2015 which decimated that community. And so I just wanted to highlight the fact that we have improved. We have fire cameras now. They can see 50 miles. We have improved alert systems, we have improved evacuation planning, we have strike teams that are put out now during a red flag. They’re not waiting at the station, they’re actually sent out in advance. We have additional helicopters, we have a lot of money going to different departments throughout the state. That’s all amazing stuff. And I love it, and it’s definitely part of the toolkit. However, I do really go back to the point of when the weather determines that people need to leave, including firefighters, they will be leaving. So it goes back to us receiving the information early and evacuating as early as we can, and then preparing our properties to be self defended. So culturally, we tend to rely on technology. We rely on the cavalry, when are they going to be here? They’re going to come save us. I always advocate, yes, have your driveway available so they can turn around. Have your address signs on the road and have all these things prepared in case they come. But in a big event, they’re actually, probably not going to come.
“There’s no excuse for us to stay behind and put our first responders in jeopardy because we do know better.” -Jennifer Thompson
Jennifer Gray Thompson: Don’t put them in the position of persuading you to follow an evacuation order. So people love those stories of, I stayed behind. Sometimes in brand new wildfire areas, I understand that more. But we’re not brand new in Sonoma County. There’s no excuse in Sonoma County for us to stay behind and put our first responders in jeopardy because we do know better, because we have experiences over, and over, and over again. When they ask you to leave, leave the first time. There’s no need to become all of a sudden a wildfire expert. We see a lot of that during red flag warnings, even here, but less. And PSPs, all of a sudden, everybody understood wind, energy and wildfire behavior. And you’re like, I work in this field. I’m going to have for, since October 8, 2017, and never have I once argued or tried to convince a firefighter that I knew more than they know about wildfire.
Stuart Mitchell: I absolutely agree with you more that we need to get that information and get out as early as we can. Another thing that is happening too is some of the people are preparing their bug out vehicles. Jennifer’s talking about her truck, which is awesome, and her tools and things that she needs. But then there’s other people who are buying motorhomes that are 20, 30, 40 feet long. I don’t know about you, but I haven’t driven a vehicle that big myself. People who are not experienced driving those vehicles, they’re clogging driveways. Big vehicles stuck on a steep driveway, they’re blocking intersections, all the more reason to leave early and find alternative routes. Everyone tends to go the same way that they’re used to going, and you really want to have minimum two or three alternative routes if you can. During the Kincade fire, I lived in Sebastopol. Sebastopol was evacuated like most of Sonoma County, and I told my wife don’t go the main road to Petaluma, go way out to the coast, to Valley Ford, and go that way. And she got there in 30 minutes. And everybody else took three hours to drive 20 minutes because everybody’s going the same way. So you’re right, Jennifer, people need to get those alert systems. Get out as early as they can, and get out of the way so it’s safer for everyone.
“Get out as early as you can, and get out of the way so it’s safer for everyone.” -Stuart Mitchell
Jennifer Gray Thompson: I highly recommend for those of you who are fully dialed into this podcast, in my home office I have a box, it’s an open box, and it’s on my bookshelf. And the only things that go in there are like our birth certificate, marriage license, the things that, our checks, insurance, there’s not a lot in there. It’s mostly empty. Passport, second, everybody knows where it is. Whatever, I’m gonna move it in my house. But it’s just that when we have to go, we need access to that stuff during the rest of the year. But I know that I can just grab that box and leave whatever you can do to protect your property, but also just simplify the process for yourself. So it’s not super stressful. We do have people who are moving out of the area, not a huge number, but I know a few people, anecdotally, but friends who were like, I couldn’t take it anymore. I just couldn’t do it anymore. That’s not an option for a lot of us. There has to be sort of a sane way through this. And a lot of the things that you’re talking about today, really go back to not only your physical resiliency, but also your emotional and mental resiliency. I highly recommend and I love that you’ve chosen this as your path. So I thank you so much, Stuart.
Stuart Mitchell: I appreciate it. I’m really passionate about these topics and this work. I really love it. And before we start running out of time, I just didn’t want to mention insurance. So insurance as you know is a very convoluted, confusing, stressful dynamic that happens in the business world. And it’s really essential that people prepare their homes around insurance. Make sure all your possessions are documented, make sure you get the best policy that you can have. And hardening your home does have a benefit in terms of depending on how the insurance company works. A lot of times, they’ll reduce your rate or reinstate your rate after you’ve had someone come and do the assessment, and do the mitigation work that can actually reduce costs for you. And additionally, especially when it comes to structure hardening, when you harden the structure, those improvements are gonna last 20, 30 years. And for one reason or another, that property will be sold and the real estate agent and the buyer will say, oh, they took care of this. They had a certified person come and do an assessment. The place is worth more. So people are spending money to harden their properties, but the constellation is increasing the value of the property. And I think it makes it much more attractive, and that’s going to become more and more of a theme. And a requirement, certainly by insurance companies, but also in the real estate industry. I just did a Zoom this morning talking to a local real estate group around that concept of, hey, this also adds value to your property.
Jennifer Gray Thompson: I love that. I’ve actually been thinking about that a lot. And even when you mentioned the pool thing, it’s not that, we actually really love our house, and we’ll keep it. And maybe one of the kids will get it or something. But I thought about that because we’re doing solar and battery installation also next year. That’s something that people are going to be looking for more and more in the real estate market. And so while it is a little bit of an investment, it will come back. It’s a good investment in your home and your safety. The other thing is that every year, we go through with our phones and we videotape our home, and then I delete the one from the year before. It’s kind of a big file, but it only takes about 10 minutes to walk through your entire home and screengrab, screenshots off. You can take photos, if you prefer, just make sure that you’re also opening up closets and drawers. And you’d be amazed at if you’ve never, it would get you to do that as if you ever saw somebody’s contents list who has lost their home, and it’s really a thing of wonder to see, would you remember everything in your bathroom? And what about your hallway? We have a shockingly high number of things in our hallways, and this is just one more thing that you can do that you’re investing in your future self. Should you lose everything, you’ve got at least some systems in place that are going to absolutely mitigate, mitigate, mitigate, mitigate the misery of experiencing a wildfire. So thank you.
Stuart Mitchell: Absolutely. Yeah. Now, that’s a great point. And plus, when you’re seeing those images later, you’re gonna be remembering, oh, yeah, I did have that in there. But otherwise, it’s hard to remember all the things that we own. So that’s a great point.
Jennifer Gray Thompson: It’s really hard. And a side note, technology is really leaning into all of these areas. We’re super fascinated with technology. We believe that there are, it’s like, (inaudible) apps are so cool. Apply technology to these really complex problems. But there’s a company, and I don’t honestly don’t remember the name of the company right now, but they contacted me because they’re doing NFT’s. Essentially, they are going into people’s homes and they’re doing virtual reality, immersive content filming so that you can actually walk through your home, should you lose it or if you want to memorialize it for any reason. That’s obviously something that I think would be very expensive right now. But something like that will bring the cost down, especially as we adopt the technology. A VR headset which I’ve already adopted so that they have, so there are things on the horizon that are even going to be more and better tools for how to do this. I just want to say, Stuart, that I think that people will find this really valuable. And I really thank you, this is one of those very instructive. Sometimes on this podcast, we were talking about ideas, and you gave a lot of actionable items here that I think people will really appreciate no matter where they are. There are fires burning in New Mexico right now. We have listeners across the United States, we all have to be prepared.
“It’s really based on how people maintain their properties. They’re all the homes that look identical but they’re actually different.” -Stuart Mitchell
Stuart Mitchell: Absolutely. I really appreciate the opportunity to talk to all of you, and I hope you all do what you can and don’t over rely on the cavalry and get your homeless looked at. Looking at pamphlets and videos are really helpful, but there’s no replacement for having someone come and kind of explain your particular situation to you. And what I find is that even on a suburban street when all the homes are identical, they’re not. It’s really based on how people maintain their properties. They’re all the homes that look identical. They’re actually all very different. I know that because I’ve done this so much.
Jennifer Gray Thompson: This is a side note. We were in the Marshal Fire a couple months ago, and we’re going back again next month, and that was a suburban grassland fire. And the main source of ignition after the initial ignition was of course homes, and that was fueled by ember cast. So it was very striking to me to stand in his neighborhood called Sagamore and look around. Like my neighborhood is pretty working class, working middle class, but not fancy at all. 1200 square foot houses built in the 50’s, in the 60’s, and it was very identical to our neighborhood except they all had basements, which is going to make the entire thing a little more complicated. I had one of my neighbors come out and they were like, oh, yeah. It was just half higher. And my neighbor, Bob, he’s like, oh, we just had that fire. It was in Colorado, and it was a grassland fire. I’m like, yeah, but it was the houses that actually kept the fire moving along. So we all have to think in those terms. Mitigation, no promises, but yeah, we can do it.
Stuart Mitchell: Yeah. I guess I think that’s a great point. I would say it’s the properties. So the house, and then there’s the vegetation, and all that happens on the property. So it’s property. So that’s a really great point you make.
Jennifer Gray Thompson: Thank you. Well, thank you again Stuart, we’re going to drop a bunch of information about you and a lot of things that we talked about today in the comments part of this or in the description rather of the podcast so you can reach out to Stuart directly. Where can people find you? Tell them once more.
Stuart Mitchell: wildfiremitigationadvisors.com. I’m in Sonoma County, but I serve the North Bay Area, and I’d be happy to answer any questions that people have. It’s been great to speak with all of you.
Jennifer Gray Thompson: Alright, thank you so much. Tune in another episode of How to Disaster. Thank you for joining us on the podcast, How to Disaster. For more information, please visit our website at afterthefireusa.org. And if you liked this video, please hit subscribe.