When it comes to wildfires, the number one tip is to prepare early! Prepare yourself and your family. Prepare your pets and livestock. Prepare your home. Prepare your yard. Prepare early and listen to your evacuation orders!
Evacuation orders are put in place to help prevent you and your family from being caught in the fire and the smoke. Evacuation levels are based on threat level, road congestion, and other factors. If the threat to your home is great enough, you will be told you need to leave immediately (a level 3 evacuation). In that case, grab your children and pets and go. Please. Listen to your evacuation orders. Get to somewhere safe. The only time we recommend going against orders is when you make the decision to evacuate to a safe location earlier than is required. Staying will not just endanger you and your loved one’s lives, it will endanger the firefighters. Staying means that they now have to protect not only themselves and the structures but you too. And that makes their job harder and more dangerous. So, please, as we say with any house fire, get out and stay out!
If you get an evacuation order, take a moment to read over it and understand what level of evacuation it is. Then review your plans for evacuation – escape routes, meeting location, single point of contact and other emergency numbers. If there is time, dress to protect yourself against the heat and embers. Wear cotton or wool, 100% cotton is preferable. Wear long sleeves, long pants, hat, and gloves to reduce your amount of exposed skin. Also wear a dry bandana, handkerchief, etc. over your nose and mouth to help protect your face. Your shoes should be a good, sturdy pair that you can walk in if necessary. Protect your eyes with goggles. Load up your children, pets, and emergency kits and then GO!
When evacuating without an emergency supply kit already prepared, remember the 6 P’s! 1. People and Pets; 2. Prescriptions and eyeglasses; 3. Papers, phone numbers, and important documents; 4. “Plastic” (credit cards, ATM cards) and cash; 5. Pictures and irreplaceable memorabilia (only if there is time); and 6. Personal computer hard drive and disks (only if there is time). Keep children and pets inside so they don’t wander your property – you want to be able to find them in a moment’s notice. Take pets out on a leash to do their business. Place papers, phone numbers, and important documents, like insurance paperwork and birth certificates in a single box or bag along with pictures, flash drives, etc. If you receive a grab and go evacuation order, you do not have time to do anything other than grab your family, including pets, and go. If you have these in a bag sitting next to the door, you can literally grab it on the way out as you grab your keys. No extra time needed.
Preparing for an evacuation before it is needed can make the process easier and safer for everyone. Always follow your evacuation orders, if you need to grab and go, then just grab and go! There is no time for preparations at that point! The most important thing is for you and your family, including your furry family members to make it out alive!
If you choose not to listen to an evacuation order or an evacuation order comes too late, there are still things that you can do to increase your chances of surviving a wildfire. Please remember that we strongly encourage EVERYONE to follow their evacuation orders! Please do not think that you can ignore them and depend on these tips to get you through. These are worst case scenario survival tips. You are at a great risk to be severely burned or killed even with these tips. You do not want to put yourself or first responders in a position where they have to be deployed.
Regardless of where you are, there are two things to remember to do. First, stay calm. I know this is far easier said then done but your and your family’s survival might depend on you keeping calm. You need to be able to think as clearly as possible. Take a moment. Breath. Meditate. Pray. Do a grounding exercise. Whatever you need to do to get your focus back and quick. Second, call 9-1-1. Let them know what has happened and as close to your exact location as you can. Let them know the conditions – how close is the fire? Do you or did you see any crews already working nearby? How many people are with you?
If you get caught by a wildfire while at your house:
- It might seem a little counter intuitive, but get inside your house! Your house gives you additional protection for the massive amounts of heat that wildfires give off. Your home will get hot but it will be far hotter outside.
- Make sure all windows and doors are closed but unlocked. You want to help first responders help you as much as possible. Close interior doors too. If your house does catch fire, a closed door can help delay its spread.
- Fill up any sinks, tubs, etc. with cold water. Keep a bucket or large bowl nearby that you can use to bail out water.
- Stay together as a family.
- Stay in a room that is away from outside walls and windows. If you know which direction the fire is coming from, try to find a spot on the opposite side of the house.
- Keep flashlights with you. The power could go out. Keep exterior lights on just like when you evacuate to help first responders find you.
- Keep fire blankets and fire extinguishers with you.
- If you have them and you need to, activate any home sprinkler systems you can. Don’t turn them on or continuously run water unless you need it – you could cause firefighters to lose water pressure that they desperately need.
- If your house begins filling with smoke, get low and stay low. Have a dry bandana or other cloth, preferably 100% cotton, to cover your face.
If you get caught by a wildfire while inside your car:
- If you can, find some place to park that is free from vegetation. Check the ground and look up to check for overhanging branches.
- Turn on your headlights and hazard lights to help increase your visibility to first responders and other cars.
- Close all windows and vents. Sparks and smoke might still enter your vehicle.
- Turn off the ignition. The car might not be able to restart. Cars that are running or even moving might stall and not be able to restart.
- Lie on the vehicle floor.
- Cover yourself with your fire blanket or a wool blanket or wool coat.
- Prepare yourself and others for the effects of wildfire. Your car will also heat up very quickly. You might pass out. The fire will be very loud and it might be hard to hear one another to reassure one another or to check on each other. Air currents might shake the car. It is going to be very scary but everyone needs to stay as calm as they can.
If you get caught by a wildfire while on foot:
- Find an area free of vegetation if you can. Check the ground and look up to check for overhanging branches. If you have a bit of time, try to clear out any debris there might be. A place with level ground that has a ditch or depression or where you might be able to quickly dig a bit is best. Or if you are close to water, you can also get into the water and try to stay submerged as much as possible.
- If you still have time to keep moving, put water or a road in between you and the fire and then keep moving to find an area free of vegetation.
- Lie face down and then cover yourself up. Use your fire blanket, a wool blanket, or a wool coat if you have one or anything else that might provide some protection if you don’t have any of those. Avoid synthetics that can melt.
Please listen to your evacuation orders! Houses, cars, and property can all be replaced. Your life and the lives of your family members cannot. Prepare early. Leave early.