Wildfires in the West: 8 things you can do right now to prepare for a wildfire evacuation
Note to readers: We’ve made this story free as an important public service to our North State communities. If you are able, help power local journalism. Subscribe to your local newspaper for as little as $1.
Families can work together to prepare what they'll take and how they'll leave if there is a fire approaching their area.
They can also educate themselves as to where to go for updates on fires and know if an evacuation warning affects them.
"This year’s conditions are so dry, we’ve seen day to day activities that spark wildfires," Cal Fire Shasta-Trinity Unit spokeswoman Cheryl Buliavac said. “We cannot stress how important it is to prepare to go, and go early."
When possible, many California communities receive advance warnings they may be evacuated. That means residents may have time to pack.
"An evacuation warning means 'be prepared,'" Buliavac said. "An order means ‘go now!’"
Even something as simple as a road closure can mean you need to leave immediately — 10-15 minutes at the most," said California Incident Management Team spokesperson Raj Singh, who in June was stationed near the Lava and Tennant fires burning in Siskiyou County.
Common mistakes evacuees make is forgetting medications, he said.
Another is some people wait too long. That can be fatal.
"If your house catches fire, grab your family and get out," Singh said. "If a neighbor’s house is on fire (and you have time), quickly grab credit cards, medications and get out. If you have a little more time, grab important documents."
Here are some steps you can take to prepare in advance for a potential evacuation:
1. Sign up for your community’s warning system and know where to go for fire updates.
Go to www.ready.gov/alerts#wea for other alert apps to download. Others are:
- FEMA at bit.ly/3AFmrRD
- Cal Fire's "Ready for Wildfire" app and website at plan.readyforwildfire.org/
- California Office of Emergency Services (Cal OES) at www.calalerts.org/
- The National Weather Service (NWS) at www.weather.gov/alerts
2. Know all possible evacuation routes in and out of your neighborhood.
During Lava Fire evacuation warnings, some residents only knew how to get home on Highway 97, Singh said. "At that point the highway was closed.” Drive each route so you know it, and choose a place out of town where family can meet: A home, parking lot or park.
3. Plan for pets and livestock.
Keep assembled pet carriers and leashes ready. Have your name, cell number and vet's name and office number written clearly on carriers. For more information on preparing pets for evacuation, see the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) website at https://bit.ly/3jXC7K7.
4. Have important documents and photos handy.
Protect important documents and photos in a fireproof safe or bank safety deposit box. Create password-protected digital copies to put in a second secure location.
5. Be ready to go in the middle of the night.
Keep a flashlight, sturdy shoes and your cell phone near your bed.
6. Have an easily-accessible list of emergency contacts.
Numbers for family, friends, doctors, insurances, veterinarians, etc. Put a copy in your emergency kit, and one near your phone or in your cell phone. Have an out-of-town family member or friend you can call who will pass updates to family and friends for you.
7. Have a practice evacuation drill.
Time how long it takes you to pack your car and for everyone to be in it and on the road. “Practice (evacuating) with your animals, too," Buliavac said.
8. Have an emergency "bug-out" kit.
Make sure it's easily accessible and includes the following items:
- Prescriptions, medications, medic alert jewelry and your doctor's contact information
- An N95 respirator mask, a three-day supply of non-perishable food and three gallons of water for each family member
- Water, food, poop pick-up bags and other supplies for each pet
- A map with at least two familiar evacuation routes.
- At least one change of clothes for each person in your household
- Extra pairs of glasses and contact lenses
- Extra set of car keys
- Credit cards, cash or traveler’s checks
- Extra cell phone charging cord
- First aid kit
- At least two working flashlights with newer/recently-charged batteries, and extra batteries
- An emergency battery-powered radio with extra batteries
- Cleaning supplies and toiletries
- COVID-19 pandemic protection, including gloves, alcohol wipes and extra masks
- If time allows, add easily-carried valuables, family photo albums, computer files on stick drives, laptops and other electronics.
The best way to stay safe is to avoid fires in the first place, Buliavac said. "Take the extra time to be fire safe in all of your activities. Make those prudent decisions not to use mechanical equipment after 10 a.m. Lawnmowers were designed to mow green grass, not dry weeds.”
Sources: California Office of Emergency Services, California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (Cal Fire), Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and U.S. Department of Homeland Security.
Jessica Skropanic is a features reporter for the Record Searchlight/USA Today Network. She covers science, arts, social issues and entertainment stories. Follow her on Twitter @RS_JSkropanic and on Facebook. Join Jessica in the Get Out! Nor Cal recreation Facebook group. To support and sustain this work, please subscribe today. Thank you.