It is time to start thinking about wildfire season and getting prepared!
As a result of her work schedule our 18 year old daughter remained at home.
Only after 2pm I got a frantic phone call from her saying she could see a huge fire burning in the hills behind our house and she wanted to know what she should do if she needed to evacuate. My first response was, how bad could it be?
This wildfire, called the Quail Hollow fire, consumed almost 2900 acres and caused the evacuation of 500 homes. At the moment, it was the highest priority fire burning in the United States due to the perfect fire conditions and the dense population it was threatening.
So now, hundreds of miles away, we were putting a plan in place. We told our daughter what she needed to do in case our home was at risk and, most importantly, that if she was asked to evacuate, she would do so immediately.
We let neighbors know that she was home. I did have emergency survival kits and items in storage ready for a fast evacuation, but we never discussed the plan officially as a household. That was a big mistake. For some reason, I’d always imagined that I’d be the one at home and able to put our strategy into action.
We were not among the 500 homes evacuated, but I know many who were. In talking to them, they had very little time to evacuate because of the swiftness of the flame. It was very fast moving because of drought conditions and the wind. Many only had time to grab a personal item or two and leave.
Even though we were convinced that our daughter was safe and far enough away from the fire, we should have been better prepared. We were just plain lucky that day.
Our plan was flawed in a few ways: (1) I left out a step by not communicating the details of the program for my loved ones, and (2) it lacked contingency plans for unexpected events. Things will not always happen as we plan and planning for multiple scenarios is crucial.
So what did I learn from this experience? You NEED to have a plan. Why?
Emergencies occur without notice, particularly wildfires.
Your family may not all be in 1 place, as was the situation for us.
So everybody knows what to do in an emergency and where the supplies are.
So you are not planning during the crisis – not the best idea.
Where should one begin?
Create a plan
Produce or restock your emergency kits
Communicate and practice your plan
RECOGNIZE WHAT YOUR WILDFIRE RISKS ARE
Based on where you live your risk of wildfires will vary. Understanding the dangers help you formulate a plan. If you are at risk, then find out
How your Community government plans to handle a wildfire situation
How will your Regional government will communicate with the community,
What are the evacuation routes (sometimes roads are closed down to ease emergency vehicles).
Knowing the inherent risks can help you minimize some of the dangers for you, your family and your property.
Maintaining your home:
Remove fire prone materials from around your house (i.e. woodpiles)
Landscape properly so that fire likely landscaping is away from significant structures.
This can be the difference between receiving fire damage or not.
CREATE A PLAN
Decide how you will communicate with one another, especially in the event that normal communication lines are unavailable.
Predetermine common meeting places if you’re 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 city.
Collect contact information to your loved ones, friends and other important or applicable emergency contact numbers. Make sure everybody has a copy of the information.
Have access to a radio or other sorts of communication and know where you need to go to get alarms. Keeping yourself informed will help you exercise your plan.
Contain contingency plans for various scenarios.
When you need to evacuate
If You’re trapped
Perhaps you need to stay put where you are
Your family members are in different locations
Involve your all members of your family in the planning
PURCHASE, CREATE OR RESTOCK YOUR EMERGENCY KITS
Like I mentioned earlier, wildfires happen quickly and suddenly, often leaving you no time to put a bag together. Having an emergency survival kit that’s ready and easy to catch is a must have in an emergency evacuation situation. A kit that could provide food, water and supplies for 72 hours is recommended. Depending on the size of the emergency it can take emergency service groups some time to get in and supply services, particularly if they’re unable to immediately access the area.
You can purchase an emergency survival kit or create your own 72 hour kit. Here’s a recommended supply list. Feel free to customize according to your personal needs and your plan of action.
Food and Water to last for 72 Hours:
1 Gallon of water per person per day, for washing, cooking and drinking.
Non-perishable foods. Items that do not need cooking are best. If you use freeze-dried foods you will need to increase your water supply.
Emergency water filters and purification supplies. This might not be required but it is going to extend your water which could be very important during the hotter temperatures of the wildfire season.
Cooking, Heating, and Lighting supplies:
Mobile 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 traditional bulbs), Glow Sticks.
Pet, Child, and Elderly care needs
Feminine Hygiene products
Drugs 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 rather a hand crank radio is very important to keep you up to date on the latest information
Two-way radios are especially helpful for communication
It’s always good to have money on hand in small denominations
Clothes and Bedding:
Sleeping bags, Blankets
An extra change of clothes including additional layering items if situated in colder weather or gets cold at night
Your Disaster Plan for each emergency survival kit
Listing of compiled emergency contact information; this may also include potential evacuation routes and predetermined gathering locations
Copy of Identification papers (license, passport)
Maps, GPS, or travel information in case of evacuation
Too often we neglect the importance of hygiene and sanitation in an emergency.
Hygiene cleansing wipes
Toothpaste and Toothbrushes
It’s best to store emergency survival kits and extra 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 Exercise the Plan
This is a crucial step as we found out. If your family does not know what the plan consists of, what their part is or where your supplies are none of the previous steps matter. Every person needs to know:
What each person’s responsibilities are
How each person is going to work together
Where all your emergency survival kits are saved
What and how to use all of the items in your emergency survival kit
Practice as much of this plan as you possibly can, such as contingency plans. Practicing will also show you defects or inconsistencies in your plan.
Wildfires can strike without warning. Assess your risk for wildfire and take the essential actions to safeguard yourself, your loved ones, your pets, and your property. You will never regret having taken the time to prepare. Discuss the plan during family meetings. You might even want to have a fire safety week or month for your family during that you build the program, make or purchase the kits, and practice what to do in a wildfire emergency.