Opening delivery: In the wake of wildfires

October 5, 2015 By    
Brian Richesson Photos: LP Gas Magazine

Photos: LP Gas Magazine

As I write this column on the first day of fall, with the winter heating season knocking at our door, California is recovering from the massive destruction of summer wildfires.

When it comes to wildfires, most of the propane industry – regional in nature – is immune to these types of disasters. But for those living in the dry, drought-stricken West, these incidents are a reality.

Two wildfires in particular struck parts of California at summer’s end: the Valley fire in the northern part of the state (Lake, Napa and Sonoma counties) and the Butte fire, roughly 50 miles southeast of Sacramento, Calif.

As of press time, these fires were well contained, but they have left a destructive path in their wake.

According to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (Cal Fire) in late September, the Valley fire ranked as the third most damaging fire in the state’s history. It burned more than 75,000 acres and 1,700 structures, and it led to three deaths. The Butte fire, which was seventh on that list, burned more than 70,000 acres and 900 structures, and it led to two deaths. Cal Fire expects these numbers to grow following a full damage inspection, and the fires’ causes remain under investigation.

The Western Propane Gas Association (WPGA), which represents about 200 member companies, is based in Sacramento. The group shifted its focus to the fires, opening lines of communication with companies in the affected areas and helping to disseminate propane safety information.

“It’s affecting our members in multiple ways,” says Joy Alafia, who became the president and CEO of WPGA one year ago. “A lot of them live in these areas, so it’s affecting them personally and, of course, there are a lot of customers in the areas.”

Whether sharing information via a conference call or webinar, WPGA has worked to refresh members’ knowledge of proper codes and safety procedures for servicing customers and propane equipment in the wake of a wildfire. It’s also been in close contact with state agencies like Cal Fire for regular updates about the fires.

The association also believes in the importance of reminding customers about propane safety in these circumstances. A module on its website provides information on “how to keep your family safe during a wildfire.” It also allows users to download a brochure on the topic.

These wildfire preparedness materials were developed by the Propane Education & Research Council in 2008, says Stuart Flatow, the council’s vice president of safety and training. They are part of a natural disaster communications series designed to inform propane users on what they can do before, during and after such an event, whether it’s a winter storm, thunderstorm, hurricane, earthquake or wildfire. And they are available to any state association or propane marketer.

So wildfire concerns aren’t exactly new to the propane industry. Alafia, though, believes the fires are becoming more common and the fire season is growing.

“Just the magnitude of these fires and how quickly they spread have been different than years prior,” she says.

The numbers seem to support Alafia’s claim. According to Cal Fire, 5,345 fires have burned over 298,133 acres between Jan. 1 and Sept. 19 of this year. That’s up considerably from a five-year average of 3,763 fires burning over 105,586 acres.

“With this drought, I imagine it’s something we’ll have to deal with for many years to come,” Alafia says.

A note about cancer

I’m sure you’ve noticed our pink brand logo on the cover. For the second year, LP Gas magazine’s parent company, North Coast Media, is donating a portion of its revenues across all brands to cancer research.

It goes without saying how much our lives are impacted by this disease. We’ve all known family, friends and colleagues who have battled it. This issue gives us a chance to tell the stories of propane industry members who have faced cancer head-on. To Deb Grooms and Wendy Gorham, we say thank you.

About the Author:

Brian Richesson is the editor in chief of LP Gas Magazine. Contact him at or 216-706-3748.

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