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fire fighter fighting mountain fire

“It’s so picturesque here!”

Those were the words that tumbled out of my old friend’s mouth after driving in silent reverence from my home to a remote farm in rural Mendocino County.

2013 California WildfiresHe was absolutely right, we could see the river, the rugged landscape, a single boulder stark and lonely in a green field… but all I could think of was “How the hell do I get out of here in a fire?” My house burned down when I was a kid so I think about fire more than most I suppose but I grew up on a farm as well. My business being water tanks, I regularly consult on irrigation water and water storage for grapes to almonds, cannabis to cattle. But, I also handle rural firefighting equipment, and I realized early on that though many newer agricultural operations have fire protection tanks, older ones many times do not, and neither old nor new have much on property in the way of firefighting equipment.

I began to wonder if most farmers in general had ever truly considered the logistics of fire protection and suppression. In terms of fruits, nuts, and cattle, some have, most not. Then I really began to wonder about cannabis farmers. Marginalized as they are, they don’t enjoy the services typical farms enjoy via governmental entities. Their status has forced them to be self-sufficient, but fires can’t be fought alone.

Having been to a number of cannabis farms, first impressions are that the remote geographical locations of these farms coupled with hilly terrain and lack of hydrants or uniform water storage would make firefighting a nightmare. After speaking to Casey O’Neill of the California Growers Association, my suspicions were confirmed.  If you are an outdoor grower anywhere, it is fairly likely you are in one of those “picturesque” areas; up on a hill, remote, lovely, and everything… but no water.

That being the case: How do you prepare for or fight a fire on your farm with no hydrants or fire department close by?

Water TankSome of the examples below will seem odd because they involve working with fire departments openly.  As cannabis is increasingly integrated into mainstream society, cannabis will likely be treated like tobacco or any other regulated crop. In fact, there are already very strict regulations on water usage, fire tanks and preparedness, wastewater storage, and more that farmers will have to adhere to. Any improvement to your farm needs to be an improvement for the future, your future and the future of your family, as in my experience most farms are family farms. Make your farm as compliant as any vineyard or pistachio grove. Legality aside, all life and property deserves protection. Additionally, many farms are quite near other farms, so perhaps it behooves you to take this article to your neighbors and speak frankly about how using this information you can help protect one another’s families and livelihoods.

So, I would like to ask all farmers or anyone who works and lives on the land a few simple questions:

Q. Do you know who your local responder is? Is it you? 

It is a safe bet most cannabis farmers have never called their local fire department and asked what the response time might be to their location. That would be a sobering conversation. The safer bet is they have never even considered making that phone call, the thought itself being hilarious, but the ramifications are deadly serious.

 Q. Have you ever considered asking your local fire responder to come to your property and assess your preparedness? 

CAL FIRE calls this “pre-planning”, you can call them and ask about it. Go HERE.  If you are uncomfortable with that have you considered asking a professional water provider to come take a look?  

Q. How long would it take local fire responders to get to your location, and how much water will those trucks would be carrying? 

This info can be garnered via GoogleMaps if you know your responders address, and you can call your fire responder and ask them about the amount of water they carry and trucks they would use, “Water Tenders” in conjunction with Fire Engines.

Humboldt Bay and Eureka

Additional Questions

Q. Where are all access points to water located on your property? Are they well marked? Do you have this in a map form; is your staff familiar with it? Do you have laminated waterproof copies to give to fire responders in an emergency? 

Q. Do you have a water tank, how many gallons? How many tanks?

Q. Do you have a pond? Is it lined? Do you have a pump at the edge that is protected from the weather and regularly tested?  Do you have a pump you can carry to the pond’s edge and use in an emergency to “draft” water out of that pond? Do you have the right equipment to do that? 

Q. Do you REALLY have a 100 foot defensible zone around your structures? Can you fight a fire on all four sides of your house or the buildings containing your crop? Can you drive round them easily? 

Q. Do you have warning system, a bell on the property you could ring, or siren in case of fire? Something your neighbors can hear at a distance to warn them as well? 

Q. Do you conduct drills with your staff on what to do during a fire?

Q. Do you have an evacuation plan? 

Q. How are you fixed for extinguishers, can they handle chemicals? 

Q. Do you have a big shed full of flammable chemicals which can rapidly fuel a fire? Are those flammable chemicals next to your fertilizer? Where is your diesel and gasoline stored? Propane? Chemicals, fuel, and fertilizer have no business being stored next to each other; that is a recipe for disaster.  

Q. Do you have big piles of old pallets on your property? Fence posts or felled trees? 

I will stop here for now as that is a lot to think about. Walk your property, think about these questions, and see how the answers you come up with “sit” with you.

The next article by us will cover the logistics of fighting a rural agricultural fire, in particular what kinds of fittings most fire departments will want to see on your tanks to attach their hoses to. Think of it this way, you can’t screw a ¾ bolt into a ½ nut. The intent of this article is not to be perfect by any stretch of the imagination, but I do not see anything out there specifically addressing the concerns of cannabis farmers or any rural agricultural operation in terms of fire prevention. So let’s consider this a work in progress, and as thus I welcome your input, let’s work together. It is better to develop guidelines within your own industry then have them thrust upon you.

 * Gregory Slugocki will be speaking at the May 26th 2016 meeting of the Mendocino Chapter of the California Growers Association Meeting. *

Thursday May 26th, 2016
3pm at The Grange
Laytonville, CA 95454

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