This afternoon a wildfire broke out a few miles from my house with winds blowing over 40MPH in my direction. I just got back from a trip out of town and I’m completely unprepared. Luckily, today the fire was put out quickly. But tomorrow, I may not be as lucky.
Tomorrow, I will also be at work instead of at home. What if a fire breaks out while I’m gone? How will my dogs get out? How will I get my stuff?
These might seem like paranoid thoughts, but with dry winds blowing and a history like mine, I’m not taking the risk. My house has burned down twice in California wildfires. So tomorrow when I leave for work, I will leave prepared.
How to Prepare for a Wildfire
Sign up for alerts
Your town or county should have an emergency alert system in place. There may even be a fire specific alert system. Find out, and sign up for it. For my fellow San Diegans, our alert system is called AlertSanDiego and you can register here.
If you can’t find an official alert system, join or create a local Facebook group to get updates. CalFire is also great about tweeting real-time fire alerts. Here in San Diego, that’s how I found out about the fire this afternoon.
.@CALFIRESANDIEGO Crews are at scene of a confirmed structure fire in the 16000 block of Salida del Sol in Ramona. There is a threat to the vegetation and both ground and air resources are en route. #SalidaFire— CAL FIRE SAN DIEGO (@CALFIRESANDIEGO) November 12, 2018
Another great resource is the CalFire map. It’s updated as regularly as possible and links you to evacuation information statements released by CalFire.
Put Together a Go-Bag
If you live in California, you should have a go-bag. If you live anywhere that a natural disaster is prevalent (which is almost everywhere now), you should have a go-bag. Have a go-bag ready at all times.
Start with the basics then expand from there. Here are some good starting points from Amazon
Once you have some basic survival necessities, add to it. Make sure you have some cash, clothes, toiletries, and other personal items inside as well. It’s also wise to keep your passport and important documents in your go-bag instead of your filing cabinet. Some important documents to consider are your:
- Passport (proof of ID/ residency/ citizenship)
- Social Security Card/ Immigration Documentation (proof of residency/ ID/ citizenship)
- Birth Certificate (proof of ID/ citizenship)
- House Deed / Lease Information (proof of address)
- Insurance Information (policy information)
Decide what you would bring with you if you had literally 5 seconds to run out the door. Chances are, you will only have time to get your go-bag. If you run out of your house without an ID of any sort, or clothing, etc., then you will struggle a lot more when the time comes to recover from the tragedy.
Have a General Plan
The reality of the situation is that fires are unpredictable. But you can still prepare. Aside from knowing where your go-bag is and what else you would take with you if you have more than a few seconds, know what routes you can take if there is a fire in different areas.
I personally live in a neighborhood with one road in and out. If I needed to get out and a fire was up that road, where would I go? The fire road down the hill. We have a fire road on the other side that leads into a different neighborhood. If there were fire on both sides. I would get all my hoses out and start watering down my house. I have a great fire break and a fairly un-burnable house and yard – if you don’t count the matchstick palm trees.
But knowing what you would do to get out isn’t the only thing you need to consider. Questions to ask yourself:
- Where can I get real-time information on a fire in the middle of a crisis in my town? Aside from CalFire’s Twitter pages, your own city might have one that will also help provide more logistical support in the event of an emergency. While CalFire is great for knowing about the existence and progress of the fire, your city will have information on where to go, what resources are available, and which roads are closed.
- Where will I go when I need to evacuate? The majority of the time, you will have multiple people driving multiple vehicles. It’s not always easy to stay together when you’re running from a wall of flames, so have a rendezvous point. Know where you will meet up. You will need multiple just in case of multiple fires, or an extremely large fire. Whether it’s at a hotel, or with family/friends, know where you will end up. Evacuation centers should be used as a last resort.
- What will I do when my house burns? The harrowing moment that you realized your entire world has just burned to the ground is NOT when you want to think about the steps to recovery. You want to robotically go through them while you process the amount of serious emotional trauma you’re going through. Think through it. What’s first? Shelter. What’s next? Your steps will depend on your life. Prioritize, write a list, and keep it in your go-bag.
Take Photos of Everything & Bring Your Hard Drives
On a regular basis, update your go-bag with photos of your things. If you have time when you’re evacuating, take an up to date record. This is so that later on when you’re trying to think of all your possessions for insurance, you will have something to help you remember.
You should probably also keep an updated backup on an external hard drive of any important files you have on your computers and keep it in your go-bag. You may have to leave behind your electronics and losing work is almost worse than losing possessions.
Watch the Weather
When you feel that dry strong wind blowing, be prepared. Watch the alerts, make sure your go-bag is accessible and up to date, and start going through the steps of preparing to evacuate.
When fire watch alerts start getting sent out or the winds are strong, go through the following steps to prepare for the possibility of a fire:
- Check your go-bag and put your phone charger in it.
- Fill your car up with gas.
- Get extra cash.
- Prepare your family and/or pets.
- Go over your plan with everyone involved.
- If the time comes, start gathering sentimental items, valuables, and your photos/art.
How I’m Preparing for a Possible Wildfire
This weekend while I was gone, I had a plan in place for my dogs in case of a fire. I was worried when I felt the winds blowing as I left for the airport on Friday. Today when a fire started just a few miles from me, I panicked because I wasn’t ready yet. Tomorrow, I need to be at work.
So now, I’m putting together my go-bag, packing up a few extra things for my dogs and myself, and gathering my important documents. Some of it will go into the trunk of my car to live with me until these winds are over (like my go-bag), and the rest will just be accessible (like my dog’s food bin).
My mom knows to be prepared to help me get my dogs if needed because she will be the closest to my house. We even discussed rendezvous points and alternative plans. It might seem like overkill, but over-preparation is much better than getting caught off guard.
Help Me Help Others
I’m trying to help families and communities prevent and prepare for wildfires by starting a nonprofit called Before it Burns. Before I can get there, I need to recover from my own fire losses. For now, this blog will serve as my effort to help others prepare. Later on down the road, I’ll start a nonprofit