An average of 1.2 million acres of U.S. woodlands burn every year, so homeowners in wildfire-prone areas should spend some time learning about fire mitigation techniques and how to prepare their properties to withstand the onslaught of potentially devastating fires.
Of course, loss of property matters little compared to the loss of life when evacuation notices are not heeded or when homeowners flee too late. Here are some wildfire evacuation tips to help you prepare.
1. Plan escape/evacuation routes
Know the best evacuation routes to leave your neighborhood. Also have a plan in place to escape the house itself in the event of an emergency evacuation. Designate two meeting places; one can be a safe place outside your home, while the second should be a safe place outside your neighborhood.
2. Keep all important documents together
Have a small safe or lockbox for all of your important documents; it’ll be easier to grab than searching for paperwork during an evacuation. These documents might include passports, Social Security cards, birth and marriage certificates, wills, insurance policies and bank records.
3. Have a family evacuation kit
This should include car keys, credit cards or cash, important documents, a First Aid kit, a flashlight, medical supplies if needed, computer hard drives if they contain important records, and photos (digital or print) of every room in your home as well as special valuables for insurance purposes. If these items aren’t all in one place, assign certain items to each family member so they can be gathered quickly. Additionally some applications may allow you to inventory your home and belongings digitally, making evacuation that much easier.
4. Pack an overnight bag
You may have to stay in a hotel or with family or friends for an extended period. Pack extra clothing and shoes, blankets or sleeping bags, extra pairs of glasses or contact lenses, nonperishable food items and bottled water. If you have an infant or elderly family members, pack any special items they might need.
Once you’re notified that you need to evacuate your area, there are several things you may need to do in a short amount of time. As always, preparation is key, so if you receive a pre-evacuation notice stating that you might need to leave at a moment’s notice, here are a few things to do in advance to make your exit go smoothly.
1. Prepare your pets
Confine your pets to one room so you can evacuate them easily. If you have large pets such as horses, make sure you’ve planned — and practiced — your evacuation routes in advance, and leave your trailer where you can hitch it up quickly. Have your pets’ identification documents on hand, as well as any necessary gear/tack. And, while county fairgrounds and local humane societies might house evacuated animals, have a backup boarding plan.
2. Prepare your vehicle
Park in an open space or in your garage with your vehicle pointing toward your escape route. Leave your key in the ignition, with doors and windows closed. Try to keep your gas tank full so that it’s one less thing to worry about.
3. Prepare your home
You can help the firefighters. Close all windows, vents, doors and noncombustible window coverings; turn off gas or propane; turn on lights in each room; move furniture away from windows and glass doors; remove outdoor gas grills; put propane tanks in the garage; connect hoses to outside taps; place noncombustible ladder against the house; and remove firewood, shrubs and other stored combustibles near the home.
4. But always remember…
If you’re given an actual evacuation (not pre-evacuation) notice, or if conditions on the ground warrant an emergency escape, execute your plan immediately. Tie a white towel or sheet on your front door to signify to emergency workers that your house has been evacuated; load your family, pets, evacuation kit, important documents and overnight bags into your vehicle; and leave the area as quickly and safely as possible.
Property can be replaced. Lives can’t.