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Agencies Join Forces To Promote Fire Safety
Ryan Winton of the Modesto Fire Department welcomes attendees to the Thursday night Community Wildfire Safety Program presentation, hosted at the Gene Bianchi Community Center in Oakdale. Marg Jackson/The Leader

It was a small but interested group of residents that turned out Thursday night, June 10 for a special fire safety and awareness program in Oakdale.

Staged at the Gene Bianchi Community Center, the roughly 90-minute session featured representatives from the state’s Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (CalFire), Modesto Fire Department, Pacific Gas & Electric, the Stanislaus County Sheriff’s Department and Oakdale Police Department.

The overall message to those attending was “Be prepared” – as disaster can strike anywhere, anytime.

Battalion Chief Ryan Winton, who works out of the Oakdale Fire Station as part of Modesto Fire, welcomed the crowd and set the scene for the evening presentation. The event was hosted by the non-profit East Stanislaus Fire Safe Council, said Winton.

Each representative gave a brief overview of their organization and what they are focusing on as we approach what will likely be a very busy fire season.

Mike Webb, a Public Safety Specialist with PG&E, said he has been with the utility for about a year, having moved there following a 27-year career with CalFire.

He explained about the Public Safety Power Shutoffs that PG&E has utilized a handful of times over the past few years, shutting off power in high fire risk areas when certain conditions are met. Webb said there have only been a few and there is a multi-stage warning system for residents if their area is likely to be impacted by a shutoff.

Emily Kilgore, a Fire Prevention Specialist with CalFire, covers primarily Tuolumne and Calaveras counties, as well as a small eastern portion of Stanislaus and San Joaquin counties. She explained about making homes fire safe, providing defensible space and offering information about fire resistant landscaping, as well as what types of plants are the most flammable.

“You need to harden your home,” Kilgore said, by providing several feet of clearance around the home and between any plants on the ground and the trees overhead.

She also urged residents to make sure that, wherever they live, they have visible address markers.

“If we don’t know where you are, we can’t get help to you,” she explained.

Detective Raj Singh, who also works with the Fire Investigation Unit of the Stanislaus County Sheriff’s Department said people should have an emergency evacuation plan in place, making sure they have a plan for whether they are home or not.

“Know different routes out of your neighborhood,” he said, also recommending that families plan a specific meeting place so they can rendezvous if they are not in the same place when ordered to evacuate.

The sheriff’s department has a specific program to aid in emergencies, StanAware, available to all residents. You can receive notifications of emergencies in your area via phone, text or email. Register at to receive the notifications.

Sergeant Stever of the Oakdale Police Department echoed the advice of the presenters that came before him, adding that the region has a solid mutual aid system in place and the local police would work cooperatively with the sheriff’s department and CalFire in the event of a major fire or natural disaster.

Having spent three days in the Paradise fire area a few years ago, Stever said he was amazed at the speed and destructiveness of the flames.

“I have so much newfound respect for CalFire, for PG&E, that fire was moving 800 yards a minute,” he said. “You don’t have time to start putting a plan together.”

To that end, Stever said having an emergency supply kit ready to go at all times is crucial.

Attendees could pick up a personal wildfire action plan booklet, with a checklist of items, as well as information on creating defensible space, at the conclusion of the presentations.

It was the second program sponsored locally by the East Stanislaus Fire Safe Council to help residents get informed and prepare for the fire season.