When it comes to weather forecasts, Peninsula residents should be paying much closer attention when the Woodside Fire Protection District forecasts a hot, dry day. The combination of low humidity and high temperature is ideal for a wildfire. Add wind and the odds of a conflagration go up significantly, fire Chief Dan Ghioro says.
That's a key message fire district officials will be making at a community meeting tonight (Tuesday, Nov. 14) at the main fire station in Woodside, and on Wednesday (Nov. 15) in Portola Valley and Thursday (Nov. 16) in Emerald Hills
Many residents of Portola Valley, Woodside and nearby unincorporated communities in the Woodside district live in what wildfire experts call a wildland-urban interface.
Such communities were among those devastated by recent catastrophic wildfires in Northern California, including in North Bay counties in mid-October when smoke drifted over the Peninsula for a few days.
To offer lessons in the aftermath of those fires and the Skeggs Fire in the hills above Woodside in mid-September, including comments on evacuation plans, Woodside fire officials will hold three 90-minute community meetings on three consecutive evenings Nov. 14-16.
Participating will be Chief Ghiorso, Deputy Chief Rob Lindner, Fire Marshal Denise Enea and Selena Brown, the public education coordinator for the Citizens Emergency Response Preparedness Program.
The meetings are set for:
• 7 p.m. Tuesday, Nov. 14, at the main fire station at 3111 Woodside Road in Woodside's town center.
• 7 p.m. Wednesday, Nov. 15, in the Community Hall at Portola Valley Town Center at 765 Portola Road in Portola Valley.
• 7 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 16, at the Emerald Hills fire station at 4091 Jefferson Ave. in Woodside.
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A key lesson from recent fires is the need to pay close attention when daily high-fire-danger and red-flag notices are issued by Woodside district officials, Chief Ghiorso said in an interview. People in the North Bay were caught by surprise, he said.
Red-flag notices, particularly on windy days, "are very significant," the chief said. "You have to take those warnings seriously. You have to keep your ears and eyes open. It's not acceptable to turn off your phone or keep it in a place where you can't hear it (at night)."
The wind was not a factor in the Sept. 11 Skeggs fire, which is thought to have been caused by lightning and which, over four days, burned 50 acres of woodland above Woodside.
That fire first came to the fire district's attention from a helicopter pilot, the chief said. Firefighters had to wait until the next day to enter the forest and begin fighting the fire. The absence of wind was a significant factor in its containment, he said.
Another possible topic for discussion at the community meetings: warning sirens, and the difficulty of installing them so they can be effective in the fire district, with its wooded hills. "I don't think people here are going to want that," the chief said.