It’s time to start thinking about wildfire season and getting 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, 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, 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 quick evacuation, but we never discussed the plan formally as a family. That was a big mistake. For some reason, I had always imagined that I would be the one at home and able to put our plan into action.
We were not one of the 500 homes evacuated, but I know several who were. In talking to them, they had very little time to evacuate due to the swiftness of the fire. It was very fast moving due to drought conditions and the wind. Many only had time to grab a personal item or two and leave.
Even though we were sure 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 couple ways: (1) I left out a step by not communicating the details of the plan to my family, and (2) it lacked contingency plans for unexpected events. As Robert Burns wrote “Even the best laid plans of mice or men go astray.” 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 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 the supplies are.
- So you are not planning during the emergency – not the best idea.
Where should one 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
Depending on where you live your risk of wildfires will vary. 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 will your local government will communicate with the community,
- What are the evacuation routes (sometimes roads are closed down to facilitate emergency vehicles).
Knowing the inherent risks can help you minimize some of the risks for you, your family and your property.
Maintaining your home:
- Keep gutters clear
- Remove fire prone materials from around your house (i.e. woodpiles)
- Landscape properly so that fire prone landscaping is away from important structures.
This can be the difference between receiving fire damage or not.
CREATE A PLAN
Communication is the key to any successful 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 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.
- Incorporate contingency plans for different scenarios.
- When you need to evacuate
- If you are trapped
- Maybe 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 unexpectedly, often leaving you no time to put a bag together. Having an emergency survival 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 highly recommended. Depending on the magnitude of the emergency it can take emergency service groups some time to get in and provide services, especially if they are not able to immediately access the area.
You can purchase an emergency survival kit or create your own 72 hour kit. Here is a recommended supply list. Feel free to customize based on your own 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, 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. If you use freeze-dried foods you will need to increase your water supply.
- 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 conventional bulbs), 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
- It is 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 or gets cold at night
Important Documents: (not all are a necessity but certainly nice to have)
- Your Disaster Plan for each emergency survival kit
- Listing of compiled 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
Too often we neglect the importance of hygiene and sanitation in an emergency.
- Portable Toilet
- Hygiene cleansing wipes
- Toothpaste and Toothbrushes
- Toilet Paper
- Soap and Towel
It is best to store emergency survival 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 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 stored
- What and how to use all the items in your emergency survival kit
- Practice as much of the plan as you possibly can, including contingency plans. Practicing will also show you flaws or inconsistencies in your plan.
Wildfires can strike without warning. Assess your risk for wildfire and take the necessary steps to protect yourself, your family, your pets, and your property. You will never regret having taken the time to prepare. Discuss the plan during family meetings. You may even want to have a fire safety week or month for your family during which you build the plan, make or buy the kits, and practice what to do in a wildfire emergency.