MADERA COUNTY, Calif. (KSEE/KGPE) — The mountain communities in the Central Valley saw devastating fires rip through their towns this summer, and on Tuesday they gathered at the Oakhurst Community Center to talk about ways they can prepare for the next fire season.

Assemblymember Jim Patterson was one of the people in attendance. He shared his tips on fire prevention and resources; specifically, how the state can help those affected. 

“Our offices can provide real help when it comes to people who have difficulty with divisions, departments, bureaucracies of the state of California. We’ve learned ways of getting these bureaucracies to stop saying ‘no way’ to our constituents and start saying ‘yes,'” he said.

This summer, Madera County was devastated by fires like the Oak Fire, which destroyed nearly 200 structures, most of which were homes. One of them was the home of Wesley Smith and his family. However, because of lessons learned from the 2017 Detwiler Fire, the actions Smith took to create a defensible space helped keep his neighbors’ homes safe.

“You need space around your home so that if a fire comes in your yard, you have time,” he said.

Another fire survivor recalls a time when lives were saved by neighbors helping neighbors – people knocking on each other’s doors and sounding the alarm to leave.

“In our neighborhood, we lost 1400 homes. We only lost five people. Five casualties. Had we not been a close-knit community, we would’ve lost at least 100,” she said.

She advises people in the mountain communities to keep a savings for fire emergencies, have an evacuation plan with your family, and make sure they have loss of use coverage to help pay living expenses if a home becomes uninhabitable.

“In a normal situation – a fire in your kitchen – you have two years of loss of use. Pay for your rent, pay for your contents. If it’s a disaster, that is increased by three years,” she said.