Fire safety in the summer sun

  • Published
  • By Tim Johnston
  • 30th Civil Engineer Squadron fire inspector
Summer is here and that means barbecues, lemonades by the pool, and camping trips. It also means increasing our awareness of summer fire hazards. This summer, when you're doing all the things that make the season so fun, be sure to do them safely.

Cool summers and outdoor fire places

Anyone who has lived on the central coast knows how cool our summers can be. You can wake up in the morning wearing a t-shirt on a beautiful sunny day and go home in the afternoon wearing a coat. To compensate for these temperature changes many air force members are purchasing free standing clay or metal portable outdoor fireplaces from stores such as the Four Seasons, Wal-Mart, K-Mart, etc. These fireplaces are used for parties or just relaxing with the family and friends. They are safe when properly used, but have the potential for starting a fire if used in the wrong place or at the wrong time of year.

When using outdoor fireplaces, never use them under the patio or in the garage. Keep them away from bushes, trees, shrubs or any combustible / flammable items. Use common sense when placing it around the house or in the back yard. Outdoor fireplaces should never be so close that the radiant heat can be felt on your house or patio furniture. A good rule of thumb is 15-20 ft away from any structure.

Timing and proximity are also critical factors when using these fire places. Vandenberg AFB Fire Season has already started and the wind speeds can reach 30 knots on any given day. You should not use these fireplaces if your house/backyard bumps up against heavy brush areas or tree lines. In theses areas, there is a strong likelihood of outdoor fireplace embers igniting nearby brush and causing a devastating fire.


When it comes to grilling, the first thing to remember is to keep the grill away from other things, including the house and any shrubs or bushes. If you're using a charcoal grill, use only starter fluid made for barbecue grills. Never use gasoline and never add liquid fuel to re ignite or build up a fire.

If you have a gas grill, turn off the valves when you are not using it and store the gas cylinder outside, away from any buildings. Follow the manufactures operating instructions, and if repairs are needed, use a trained professional.

No matter which type of grill you have, don't leave it unattended after you light it.

Pool chemical safety

Hydrogen chloride pool-care products, particularly liquid and solid chlorine -based oxidizers can in some cases spontaneously combust. Chances of spontaneous combustion increase when organic materials, such as body fluids or acid rain contaminate the chemicals, or hydrocarbon liquids, such as fuel or motor oil. If a fire does occur, the fumes will be toxic.

Always follow the manufacture's use and storage directions. Store chemicals outside your house, away from any heat source, in a dry place. If the chemical container is punctured or damaged, dispose of the chemicals properly.


Trim tree limbs so they don't hang over the roof of your house. Keep eaves and gutters free of leaves and other debris that burn easily.

Clear weeds, brush and other flammable vegetation at least 30 feet away from your home. Store firewood away from all structures.

Check with local authorities before burning trash or debris outside. If you do burn trash, supervise the fire closely keep a garden hose running nearby, and keep children and pets far away from the area.


Store gasoline outside your house, preferably in a locked, detached shed. Keep it up high, inside a clearly marked container that's labeled and approved for gasoline storage. And keep it and all flammable liquids away from any heat source or open flame, including pilot lights. Use gasoline as a motor fuel only, and only keep as much as you need to power your gasoline-fueled equipment.

Before fueling, extinguish smoking materials and take the piece of equipment outside into an open area. Wipe up any spills immediately, and move the equipment at least 10 feet from the fueling area before starting it. Before refueling, turn the piece of equipment of and let it cool completely.


Before you fuel your boat, extinguish smoking materials and shut off all motors, fans, and heating devices. Make sure the fueling nozzle is grounded to the fuel intake.

When filing the tank, don't fill it all the way: leave room for expansion. Wipe up any spills immediately and check the bilge for fuel leaks and odors. Before you start the engine, ventilate with the blower for at least four minutes.

If you have a covered boat, install a smoke detector and check it's battery before using the boat each time. Replace the battery at least once a year.


We recommend that you use a flame-retardant tent, and always pitch it away from your campfire. Inside the tent, use only battery-powered lanterns or flash lights. Don't use liquid fueled heaters or lanterns inside your tent or any other enclosed space. This is not only a fire hazard but a carbon monoxide hazard as well.

Build your campfire down-wind of your tent, clearing away all dry vegetation and clearing away all dry vegetation and digging a pit surrounded by rocks. Before you go to bed or leave the campsite pour water on the fire or cover it with dirt.

The State of California declared June 1st the start of fire season so look for signs in national forests or campgrounds that warn of potential fire hazards and always obey park service rules.

Fire Danger Rating System

The National Fire Danger Rating System (NFDR) is used to determine the fire danger rating. It is a complex system of calculating the numerous variables of the weather and its affect on wild land fuels as well as how the fire will react to those variables. The fire danger rating signs on Vandenberg will reflect this. In more simple terms, the signs will reflect LOW during the winter rainy months when the wild land fuels will not readily burn, MODERATE as those fuels dry out and the grasses start to tan. HIGH fire danger is the norm at Vandenberg throughout fire season when fires are easily started and spread rapidly. When all the variables are right for a fire to spread and quickly surpass initial attack efforts of the Fire Department, such as the warm Santa Ana winds, the fire danger signs will indicate EXTREME.

The Santa Barbara County Red Flag Alert Plan is an additional measure used to warn the public of extreme conditions. The plan is used for upgrading public awareness, when hazardous wildfire conditions occur and/or fires in neighboring counties have reduced the region's total emergency response forces. This plan is activated in four stages. During the first stage a WATCH is activated when the weather forecast is indicating hazardous wildfire conditions. The next stage is a WARNING, implemented when the above-mentioned situations are present. Another stage that may be activated is the ALERT, used when extreme conditions are present. Fire closures may be invoked on all public and private lands including certain public roadways throughout the county. Finally, CANCELLATION occurs as the weather and/or the suppression resource situation changes.

These public awareness measures have been adopted because of the continued devastation caused by wild land fires. The devastation of these fires was evident on the Painted Cave Fire in 1990, which destroyed more than 600 homes in Santa Barbara City. Even here at Vandenberg AFB in 1977 when a 10,000 acre fire swept across South Vandenberg and claimed the lives of the Base Commander, Fire Chief, Assistant Fire Chief, and a Dozer Operator. More recently, the Harris Fire, that threatened numerous homes in the east housing area, fortunately none were lost.

If you have any further questions concerning summer time fire safety or the fire danger rating system please call the Vandenberg Fire Prevention Office at 606-4680.