Safe Evacuation of Your Family in Wildfire
Evacuation in the face of a wildfire can be frightening and challenging. The safest choice is to evacuate early. Buildings can be replaced but lives cannot. If you live in an area of limited road access (one way in and out) and could be trapped by a fire, early evacuation is critical for the safety of you and your family. If in Doubt, Get Out.
Typically, when a wildfire threatens homes, residents may be advised or ordered by the Sheriff or fire personnel to evacuate when the fire is approaching. You must be prepared well in advance for a wildfire event. When a large wildfire occurs near your home, your safest option is to evacuate early, even before an evacuation order is given. A safe and calm evacuation requires that you have made plans and preparations that include such things as: items to take with you, last-minute preparations to protect your home, where to take pets, where to meet family members or how to make contact with them if separated, and route information for safely leaving the area.
During wildfires, dark smoke and delayed evacuations have caused panicked evacuees to drive off roads or become disorientated, trapping them in the fire’s path. In areas with limited road access (only one way in and out) which could be blocked by a wildfire, residents must identify alternative routes for evacuation. If you invest time in preparing for evacuation now, you will be ready to leave in an effective, rational and safe manner.
Make a list of items you want to take with you during an evacuation. Consider the 5 Ps:
3. Pills (medications)
5. Papers (important documents)
Keep your list handy along with boxes to load your 5 Ps. Prepare an Emergency Supply Kit with clothing, food, water, medications and items such as phone chargers.
Know the emergency evacuation plans for your family members in school, assisted living and childcare facilities. If a wildfire occurs while school is in session, the school district could be evacuating your children to an alternative school. Prepare how you will manage pets – carriers, food, leashes – as animals may become nervous and difficult to control.
Designate a relative/friend as an out-of-area contact through whom family members can relay information. Make sure that everyone in your family has that person’s phone number. Identify and learn alternate ways out of your neighborhood, in case the usual way becomes blocked. Keep the car fuel tank at least half-full during wildfire season.
Take a deep breath, and remember your plan. Remember that life and safety always take priority over property. Park your car facing toward the street in the driveway; loading is easier, you have the best visibility when you decide to leave, and entering into the traffic of other cars evacuating the area is easier. Leave car unlocked with windows tightly closed (rolled up). Keep the keys in a convenient location. Remove flammable material from the open bed of pickups or trucks (hay, fuel, rags, etc). Load your 5 Ps and emergency supply kit into the car.
Dress in long-sleeve, long-leg, non-synthetic clothing (cotton) and be wearing close-toed shoes, not sandals or slippers, a non-synthetic fiber hat like a baseball cap, leather gloves and a bandanna to cover your mouth and nose, if available. Evacuate elderly, disabled or special needs people early in the emergency situation. Check with your neighbors to ensure they can safely evacuate.
Do not wait to be told to evacuate. If you feel threatened, leave on your own initiative. In some cases there is not enough time for formal evacuation notification due to quickly changing conditions. Tune into a local radio station and listen for instructions. Social media such as Twitter will have information from the Jefferson County Sheriff with up-to-date information. Listen to the emergency instructions regarding evacuation routes. Your normal route out of your neighborhood may not be the safest.
Acting early is the key to a safe evacuation. Wildfire conditions change quickly. Notice of an evacuation means that the Sheriff and fire officials feel you are at risk. Do not delay your decision to evacuate. Consider leaving your house unlocked to allow firefighters quick access during the fire. Your house may be an ideal place of refuge for firefighters, allowing them to shelter in your home as the fire front passes, then emerge to protect your home.
Drive with your headlights on for visibility and safety. Drive calmly and with special attention to fire trucks. They are not as maneuverable as your vehicle. Firefighters may be out of the trucks on foot working in your neighborhood. Do not block access to roadways for emergency vehicles or other evacuees and do not abandon vehicles on the roadway.
Check in at an emergency shelter. Whether you stay there or not, your checking in will help others know that you are safe. Checking in at the evacuation center will also allow for reunification with family members and your pets. Emergency pet shelter and provisions will be established by Jefferson County Animal Control.
This article appeared in the Aug. 10, 2016 issue of Life at Ken-Caryl.