It’s Wildfire Season, Are You Ready?

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It’s Wildfire Season, Are You Ready?

It’s time to start thinking about wildfire season and preparing!

On July 3, 2012, our family went to Warm River, Idaho, for a family reunion. Due to her work schedule, our 18-year-old daughter stayed at home.

Just after 2 pm I received a frantic phone call from her that she could see a large fire burning in the mountains behind our house and she wanted to know what to do if she had to evacuate. My first reaction was, how bad could it be? She took a picture and sent it to me and yes her alarm was justified.

This wildfire, known as the Quail Hollow fire, consumed nearly 2,900 acres and caused the evacuation of 500 homes. At the time, it was the highest priority fire burning in the United States because of the perfect fire conditions and the dense population it threatened.

I am ashamed to say that we had never discussed this as a family. So now, hundreds of miles away, we put a plan in place. We told our daughter what to do in case our house 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 had 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 be able to put our plan into action.

We were not one of the 500 homes evacuated, but I know several that were. When talking to them, they had very little time to evacuate because of the speed of the fire. It was very fast due to drought 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 lucky that day.

Our plan was flawed in a couple of ways: (1) I left a step out 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 must have a plan. How come?

  • 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 don’t plan in an emergency – not the best idea.

Where should one start?

  • Find out what your wildfire risk is

  • Make a plan

  • Create or restock your emergency kits

  • Communicate and practice your plan

ACKNOWLEDGE WHAT YOUR WILDFIRE RISK ARE

Depending on where you live, your wildfire risk will vary. Understanding the risks helps you formulate a plan. If you are at risk, find out

  • How your local government plans to handle a wildfire situation

  • How will your local government communicate with the community,

  • What are the evacuation routes (sometimes roads are closed to facilitate emergency vehicles).

Knowing the inherent risks can help you minimize some of the risks to you, your family and your property.

Maintenance of your home:

  • Keep goats clear

  • Remove flammable materials from around your home (ie wood piles)

  • Landscape well, so that fire-present landscape 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 each other, especially if normal lines of communication are not available.
  • Predetermine common meeting places if you are separated. Depending on the circumstances, it could be a meeting place outside your home, local school, church, or a family or friend’s home in another city.
  • Collect contact information for your family, friends and other important or relevant contact numbers for emergency contacts. Make sure everyone has a copy of this information.
  • Have access to a radio or other types of communication and know where to go to get warnings. Keeping yourself informed will help you execute your plan.
  • Create contingency plans for various scenarios.
    • When to evacuate
    • If you are caught
    • Maybe you should stay where you are
    • Your family members are in different locations
  • Involve all members of your family in the planning

BUY, CREATE OR RESTACK YOUR EMERGENCY KITS

As I mentioned earlier, wildfires happen quickly and unexpectedly, often leaving you with 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 extent of the emergency, it may take emergency crews some time to arrive and provide services, especially if they cannot access the area immediately.

You can buy an emergency survival kit or make your own 72-hour kit. Here is a recommended supply list. Feel free to adjust based on your own personal needs and your plan of action.

Food and water for 72 hours:

  • 1 Gallon of water per person per day, for washing, drinking and cooking.

  • Non-perishable food. (MREs, survival food bars or canned food work great in a kit). Items that do not require cooking are best. If you use freeze-dried food, you need to increase your water supply.

  • Emergency water filters and purification supplies. This may not be necessary, but it will expand your water, which can be very important in the hotter temperatures of wildfire season.

Cooking, heating and lighting supplies:

  • Cooking: utensils, cups and dishes. Portable cooking stove if you need to cook food. I still recommend food that does not need to be cooked.

  • 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

  • Need for care for pets, children and the elderly

  • Feminine Hygiene products

Medicines and prescriptions:

  • Enough medicine to last enough time until you can get some more, especially in case your house is destroyed.

Emergency Weather Radios:

  • An Emergency Radio preferably a hand crank radio is very important to keep you informed of the latest news

  • Two-way radios are particularly useful for communication

Money:

  • It is always good to have money on hand in small denominations

  • Credit card

  • Phone card

Clothing and bedding:

  • Sleeping bags, blankets

  • An extra change of clothes including extra layers of items if they are in colder climates or it gets cold at night

Important documents: (not all are a necessity, but certainly nice to have)

  • Your disaster plan for every emergency survival kit

  • List of compiled emergency contact information; this may also include possible evacuation routes and predetermined collection points

  • Copy of identity documents (licence, passport)

  • Insurance information

  • Maps, GPS, or travel information in case of evacuation

Sanitary Supplies:

Too often we ignore the importance of hygiene and sanitation in an emergency.

  • Portable Toilet

  • Hygiene cleaning wipes

  • Toothpaste and toothbrushes

  • Toilet paper

  • Soap and towel

It is best to store emergency survival kits and extra supplies in plastic containers on wheels. This will keep your gear organized and easier to carry. Always start with the basics of what you need and add to your kits over time.

Communicate and practice the plan

This is a crucial step as we found out. If your family doesn’t know what the plan is, what their share is or where your supplies are, none of the previous steps matter. Every person should know:

  • What are the responsibilities of each person

  • How each person will work together

  • Where all your emergency survival kits are stored

  • What and how to use all the items in your emergency kit

  • Practice as much of the plan as you can, including contingency plans. Practice will also show you flaws or inconsistencies in your plan.

Wildfires can strike without warning. Assess your wildfire risk and take the necessary steps to protect yourself, your family, your pets and your property. You will never regret taking the time to prepare. Discuss the plan during family meetings. You can even have a fire safety week or month for your family in which you build the plan, make or buy the kits, and practice what to do in a wildfire emergency.

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