All it takes is one spark to start a wildfire that could burn thousands of acres and destroy homes and property. In 2019, about 4.7 million acres burned in the United States due to wildfires. Nearly 260,000 acres burned in California alone.
If you live in an area prone to wildfires, such as desert climates or an area facing extended drought, you should plan ahead in case of emergency. Creating a wildfire evacuation plan helps you and your family be ready to get to safety at a moment’s notice. You want your pets to be safe too: download this handy pet rescue sign to alert firefighters to the presence of domestic animals in case of emergency.
Use these six tips to create your evacuation plan in the event of a wildfire.
1. Learn Local Evacuation Routes
Most cities, towns, and local communities in areas with a high risk of wildfires put evacuation routes in place to get residents out of the area quickly and safely. Reach out to your community leaders to find out if your community has evacuation routes in place. If so, practice driving the routes so you know where to go if you need to evacuate.
While it’s important to learn the route from your home, you should practice from other places your regularly visit. Once Covid-19 restrictions are lifted, consider the best way to evacuate from your place of work. If you have children in school, find the safest evacuation routes from their schools as well.
2. Designate a Safe Meeting Location
Your family may not be able to evacuate together, especially if you have older children with vehicles of their own. When disaster strikes, communication lines often go down. You may not have access to phone service, text messaging, or the internet. Designate a safe place to meet that’s well away from the emergency evacuation area to make sure everyone in your family is safe.
The homes of relatives or friends that are outside the evacuation zone but within driving distance can be an ideal place to meet. If you need to use a public meeting location, try to find a location that isn’t likely to be crowded in an emergency. This should make it easier for your family members to find one another.
3. Create an Emergency Supply Kit
One key way to prepare for any natural disaster is to build an emergency supply kit. Wildfire emergency kits should include fire safety materials in addition to normal emergency supplies like non-perishable food or a first aid kit, such as:
- Respirator masks that filter harmful smoke and debris particles
- Fire extinguisher with a current expiration date
- Map with evacuation routes
Make a central emergency kit, as well as smaller kits for each family member with their clothing or personal products. Packing a backpack for each family member makes it easy for each person to manage their belongings. You should also consider putting a disaster kit in your car in case you can’t go back to your house before evacuating.
If a wildfire is moving close to your home and you think you’re going to be evacuated in the coming days, pack up important personal belongings like irreplaceable family heirlooms or pictures. Keep these things with your emergency kit so they’re easy to take when you’re ready to evacuate.
4. Fireproof Important Documents
Wildfires move fast, so it’s often not possible to take all of your belongings with you when you leave. You’ll probably have to leave your filing cabinet at home, so make sure your important documents are safe from flames.
You can use a fireproof safe for birth certificates, insurance information, homeownership documents and other important files. It could also be beneficial to scan copies of these documents and store them electronically using cloud-based storage. Storing documents in the cloud is not only secure but also makes it easy to access them if you can’t get back to your home for a while.
5. Make a Plan for Pets
Most people plan to take their pets with them if they need to evacuate due to wildfires. Make sure your evacuation plan includes specific plans for your pets. Consider these things when evacuating with pets:
- Make sure your emergency kit has food, water, and first aid supplies for each pet.
- Train your pet to ride in your car safely before you need to evacuate.
- Pick a place to stay that allows pets, such as a relative’s home or pet-friendly hotel.
- Collaborate with neighbors to evacuate pets whose owners aren’t home at the time of evacuation.
You should also make a plan for large animals such as horses or livestock. Try to move large animals to a friend or relative’s home, boarding facility, or public evacuation area (such as fairgrounds) well before you’re ordered to evacuate. If you have to let animals loose when evacuating, help keep them safe by writing your contact information on their hooves in permanent marker and close gates after releasing them so they don’t get trapped.
6. Reduce Potential Damage to Your Home
It’s difficult to leave your home knowing that a wildfire is moving in your direction and could potentially damage your property. You can help reduce your risk of property damage by using fire-resistant landscaping.
Plan your landscaping to incorporate defensible spaces to help slow or stop wildfires on your property. Regularly clean up plant debris and litter that serve as fuel for wildfires. Trim your bushes and trees so they’re not overhanging your home. You should also consider using hardscapes as visually-appealing fire breaks around your property.
Stay Safe with a Thorough Wildfire Evacuation Plan
The most important part of a thorough fire evacuation plan is to be prepared and ready to evacuate when the order comes. You might get a day, or you might only have a few minutes to evacuate your home. If you live nearby an ongoing fire, are experiencing a drought, or are otherwise at risk of wildfire, don’t wait to create your emergency evacuation plan.