Previously, we talked about how we can plant and maintain the vegetation around our homes to help reduce the risk of fires, particularly wildfires, from spreading to our homes. What do you do when even after all that hard work in the yard and garden, your home is threatened by a fire?
What you can do depends on your evacuation order. These 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. They are already going to do their best to save your home. You do not need to stay for them to do so. They have houses and families too. They understand how important they are. They understand that often times, it isn’t just your house, it’s your home or your castle or your livelihood. 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 there is a fire getting too close for comfort but no evacuations have been ordered or you have a received a Level 1 evacuation order, there are still some things you can do to help firefighters save your home.
First off, if you are going to be working outside to implement any of these tips, make sure you dress appropriately! 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 work in. Protect your eyes with goggles. If your home is being threatened by wildfire, the last thing you or your family needs is for you to require a trip to the emergency room!
Once you’re dressed appropriately, start implementing these tips outside your home:
-Get your tools and water sources ready. Gather shovels, rakes, and long hoses together. Connect hoses to water valves. You can fill buckets and other large containers with water. Place a ladder tall enough to reach your roof against the side of your house preferably near a corner on the side opposite from the approaching fire. You can use these tools yourself but firefighters will also be able to make use of them quickly and easily if they need to.
-Turn off propane tanks and move any tanks or equipment that uses them, such as BBQs, away from the house and other structures.
-If your home uses it, turn off the natural gas or butane at the tank or meter and the pilot light (most if not all of our jurisdiction does not have gas as an option at this time).
-Figure out which cars you will be taking and start getting things loaded. Park as many cars as you can inside your garage facing outwards with the car(s) you will be using to evacuate easily accessible and close the door. Remember to close the door again if you end up needing to evacuate! Any cars that do not fit in the garage should be parked facing the direction of your evacuation route – make sure that they do not block the car that you will be using to evacuate though! Make sure all windows are up and doors shut on all of your cars. Know where your keys are!
-Bring flammable objects around your house, such as toys, patio furniture, decorations, door mats, and trash cans, inside your garage or your pool if you have one.
-If you have a combustible roof, wet down the roof with a hose.
-Turn on exterior lights to help firefighters locate your home easier in smoky conditions or at night. For large wildfires, multiple agencies respond. Not all of the firefighters will be our local volunteers who know where your house in relation to the surrounding area (although with the darkness of night, smoke, and the wildfire itself, it can be very disorienting even for locals!). Some will be from other local agencies that don’t make it out here much, others might be paid wildland firefighters from across the state or even brought in from out of state (for extremely large fires)!
-Keep your water main turned on but do not leave water running. Shut off faucets, turn off sprinklers and their timers, etc. Leaving water running can affect the water pressure that firefighters might need to save your house.
Inside your home, you can use these tips to help prepare for an evacuation:
-As you go around your house to pack, take the opportunity to close all windows and any blinds, heavy curtains, or other window coverings that you have. Take down flammable window coverings of all kinds as well as lightweight curtains. Close interior doors as you finish with each room. Don’t forget the door between the garage and house!
-Move flammable furniture into the center of the room and away from windows and doors.
-Close all outside doors (including garage doors), vents, and other openings or entrances into your home but leave doors unlocked. For ground or attic vents, you can use commercial seals or pre-cut plywood to close them off. This all helps prevent the small, sneaky sparks that are a leading cause of house fires during wildfires from getting inside your home!
-Shut off the air conditioning.
The last thing you can do as you evacuate is to leave a sign up for firefighters and law enforcement that you have evacuated. This can be especially helpful on large farms where large numbers of livestock have had to be evacuated. Only do this as you have shut your front door for the last time or are pulling out of your gate for the last time. You do not want firefighters and law enforcement to think that you have already evacuated if they come to your house with an updated evacuation order, etc.!
As you head home after the evacuation order has been lifted, pay attention to the conditions leading to and around your home. Are there downed wires or trees? How close did the fire get? When you get home, make a thorough check of your home to make sure that there aren’t any smoldering fires or embers that got in. Check all of your lines, regulators, and propane tanks before turning gas on.
Remember to keep an eye on your property! If you feel threatened, you do NOT have to wait for an evacuation order! You can pack up and go before an order is issued! Leaving early can actually help ease road congestion making it an easier evacuation for everyone as well as helping to clear the roads for firefighters.