It’s time to start thinking about wildfire season and get prepared!
On July 3, 2012 our family was headed to Warm River, Idaho, for a family reunion. Due to her work schedule our 18 year old daughter remained at home. Just after 2pm I received a frantic phone call from her saying she could see a large fire burning in the mountains behind our home and she wanted to know what she should do if she had to evacuate. My first reaction was, really how bad could it be? She snapped a picture and sent it to me and yes her alarm was justified.
This wildfire known as the Quail Hollow fire consumed almost 2900 acres and caused the evacuation of 500 homes. At the time it was the highest priority fire burning in the United States due to the perfect fire conditions and the dense population it was threatening.
I am ashamed to say that we had never discussed this as a family. So now hundreds of miles away we were putting a plan in place. We told our daughter what she needed to do in the event our home was in danger and most importantly if she was asked to evacuate she would do so immediately. We let neighbors know that she was home. I did have emergency kits and items ready for a quick evacuation but we never discussed the plan formally as a family, which was a big mistake. For some reason I always imagined I would be the one at home and able to put our plan into action.
Even though we were sure she was safe and far enough away from the fire we should have been better prepared. We were just plain lucky that day.
We were not one of the 500 homes evacuated but I know several who were and in talking to them they had very little time to evacuate due to the swiftness of the fire. It was a very fast moving fire due to drought conditions and the wind. Many only had time to grab a personal item or two and leave.
So what did I learn from this experience? You need to have a plan. Why?
- Emergencies happen without notice, especially wildfires.
- Your family may not all be in one place, as was the case for us.
- So everyone knows what to do in an emergency and where supplies are.
- So you are not planning during the emergency, which is never good.
So where should you begin
- Recognize what your risk is for wildfires
- Create a plan
- Create or restock your emergency kits
- Communicate and practice your plan
RECOGNIZE WHAT YOUR WILDFIRE RISKS ARE
Not all of us live in areas that are at risk for wildfires, but understanding the risks help you formulate a plan. If you are at risk then find out how your local government plans to handle a wildfire situation. How they will communicate, evacuation routes (sometimes roads are closed down to facilitate emergency vehicles), fire breaks between natural wilderness areas and private property. Knowing the adherent risks can help you minimize some of the risks for you, your family and your property. Maintaining your home by keeping gutters clear, fire prone materials away from your house and landscaping so that fire prone landscaping is away from structures can be the difference between receiving fire damage or not.
CREATE A PLAN
Communication is the key to any successful plan.
- How will you communicate with one another, especially if normal communication lines are unavailable.
- Predetermine common meeting places if you are separated. Depending on the circumstances it may be a meeting spot outside your home, local school, church or a relative or friend’s home in another town.
- Collect contact information for your family, friends and other important or pertinent emergency contact numbers. Make sure everyone has a copy of this information.
- Have access to a radio or other types of communication and know where you need to go to get alerts. Keeping yourself informed will help you exercise your plan.
PURCHASE, CREATE OR RESTOCK YOUR EMERGENCY KITS
Like I mentioned earlier wildfires happen quickly and unexpectedly, often leaving you no time to put a bag together. Having an emergency kit that is ready and easy to grab is a must have in an emergency evacuation situation. A kit that can provide food, water and supplies for 72 hours is what is recommended. Depending on the magnitude of the emergency it can take emergency service groups sometime to get in and provide services especially if they are not able to access the area.
You can purchase a kit like the ones offered by Muskrat Gear or create your own 72 hour kits; here is a recommended supply list. Feel free to customize as you want based on your own personal needs.
Food and Water to last for 72 Hours:
- 1 gallon of Water per person per day, for washing, drinking and cooking.
- Non-perishable Foods. (MRE’S, survival food bars or canned food work great in a kit). Items that do not need cooking are best.
- Emergency Water Filters and Purification supplies. This may not be needed but it will extend your water which could be very important during the hotter temperatures of the wildfire season.
Cooking, Heating, and Lighting supplies:
- Cooking: Utensils, Cups and Dishes. Portable cook stove if your food needs cooking. I still recommend food that does not need cooking.
- Warmth: Emergency Blanket, Hand Warmers, Sleeping Bag, Tent.
- Lighting: Battery or Hand Crank Operated Flashlight (LED Flashlights last longer than battery), Glow Sticks.
- Extra Batteries
First Aid Kit and other Special Needs:
- First Aid Kit,
- Pet, Child and Elderly care needs.
- Feminine Hygiene products
Medications and Prescriptions:
- Enough medicine to last enough time until you can get some more. Especially in the event your home is destroyed.
Emergency Weather Radios:
- An Emergency Radio, preferably a hand crank radio is very important to keep you up to date on the latest news.
- Two-way radios are especially helpful for communication
- Always good to have cash on hand in small denominations.
- Credit Card
- Phone Card
Clothes and Bedding:
- Sleeping bags, blankets
- An extra change of clothes including additional layering items if located in colder climate.
Important Documents: (not all are a necessity but certainly nice to have)
- Your Disaster Plan
- Listing of complied emergency contact information. This can also include possible evacuation routes and predetermined gathering locations.
- Copy of Identification papers (license, passport)
- Insurance information
- Maps, GPS, or travel information in case of evacuation.
- 5 Gallon Bucket, Sanitary bags, Hygiene cleansing wipes, Portable Toilet.
- Toothpaste and Toothbrushes
- Toilet Paper
- Soap and Towel
It is best to store emergency kits and additional supplies in wheeled plastic containers. This will keep your gear more organized and easier to carry. Always start with the basics of what you will need and over time add to your kits.
COMMUNICATE AND PRACTICE YOUR PLAN
The title says it all. This is where our family failed. If our daughter was unable to get in contact with us she would not have known what to take and where everything was stored. Once she knew where everything was, she was able to put the plan in action and had everything ready to go if she was asked to evacuate. Plans not communicated or practiced are just good intentions.
You will never regret having taken the time to prepare.