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Wildfire Evacuation: What to Take

5 min read

When a wildfire is approaching your home and authorities recommend that you evacuate, the smart thing to do… is leave. Don’t wait until you’re ordered to leave or try to delay in the hope that the fire will be contained or change direction. Getting out sooner than later can give you an advantage — a critical advantage that could increase your chances of survival. By leaving sooner, you’ll have a better chance of avoiding congested roads and thick smoke, both of which can impede your ability to reach safety.

Time is of the essence, so this is not the time to start gathering essentials. The key here is to have a plan in place and your evacuation kit packed. Ideally, you want the bags and boxes already stored in your vehicle or easily accessible so you can grab them on the way out. Below we outline some ideas on what to pack to get you, your family, and pets through at least a week away from home.

Food and water

Unless you’re heading to a relative’s or friend’s house outside of the wildfire zone, you want to have at least a three-day supply of non-perishable food and three gallons of water for each member of your family. Packing utensils and bowls is a good idea too, as you don’t know what will be available in temporary accommodation like a shelter. If you have pets, you’ll need additional water, kibble, and a couple of extra bowls.

Meds and hygiene items

Start with essential items like prescription medications for each family member and pet. Then gather basic toiletries and any over the counter items you and your family use like pain reliever, allergy meds, and vitamins. If needed, pack inhalers, spare glasses, contact lenses and solution, and any other necessities. Unless you’re heading to a hotel or motel, include bath towels and sleeping bags as well.

Baby and pet supplies

If your family includes an infant or toddler, you’ll need at least a week’s supply of formula, bottles, non-perishable baby food in jars or tubes, pacifiers, diapers, wipes, blankets, favorite plushy, warm clothes, and a portable crib. We’ve already mentioned pet food, but you’ll also need your dog’s collar, leash, and bed. If possible, get your feline into its carrier, which will make a fast exit easier. If kitty’s resisting, and that’s proving to be too time consuming, or you don’t have a carrier, just grab your cat and put it in the car. Don’t forget to pack treats and toys for your furry friends as this won’t be a fun experience for them either. It’s a good idea to check that your pets’ microchip details are up to date — especially if you’ve moved recently — before a wildfire threat becomes imminent.

Electronics and battery-operated items

You’ll no doubt be bringing your smartphone so don’t forget the charger. It’s a good idea to keep your phone well charged if evacuation seems imminent. If you plan to bring other electronics like your laptop or tablet, bring chargers for those as well. If you use a hard drive or thumb drive, pack those too along with a flashlight, battery-powered radio, and spare batteries.

Clothing and weather protection

It can be hard to leave behind beloved items of clothing but given space in your vehicle will be at a premium, focus on packing for warmth and safety. Sturdy closed-toed shoes or boots, long-sleeved shirts, long pants, and underwear and socks. Depending on the weather, a warm coat and gloves or a rain jacket may come in useful too. Alternately, if you live in a hot climate, you’ll need cooler clothes.

Important documents

Fill a durable binder with key documents, including your mortgage or rental agreement, insurance policies, birth certificates, passports, and bank statements. Make sure to grab your wallet or purse. It may seem obvious, but when it’s time to get out you may be in a panic or just waking up. Life will be less complicated post-evacuation if you have your driver’s license, health insurance card, credit/debit cards, and cash in case ATMs are out of cash or not working. Wawanesa policyholders can keep all their docs in their online account, which means there’s no need to worry about carrying hard copies of insurance papers.

Beloved belongings

Most of us have many cherished items we’d hate to lose, so it can be hard to choose which pieces to take. Long before any wildfire warnings, walk around your house and consider three to five things that mean the most to you. It can be difficult to narrow down so imagine what you’d grab if you only had 15 minutes to pack. Are there handmade items or artwork your kids made? Perhaps some special photos or travel mementos you’d be devasted to lose? Prized possessions don’t need to be valuable or sentimental to earn a spot in the car — your favorite coffee mug may provide much needed comfort while you’re camping out at a shelter or in a motel room.

Home inventory

If you haven’t already, this is a good time to do an inventory of all your possessions as you earmark what to pack and what to leave. Go through each room and catalog everything – furniture, artwork, books, collections, equipment, clothing, electronics, appliances, tools, drapes, and rugs. Take pictures and note what you paid for big items (as well as you can remember). This extra effort will be invaluable if your home is partially or completely destroyed, and you need to file an insurance claim.

The “getaway” vehicle

This may be the most important part of your escape plan. Keep your car or truck well maintained and don’t let the gas tank needle fall below half during wildfire season. Beforehand, pack your vehicle with the items you don’t immediately need and park your vehicle facing in the direction you’ll be driving in. Every second can count when a wildfire is fast devouring the landscape around you. Another potentially life-saving precaution to practice and teach to other adults in the house before your situation becomes urgent: make sure everyone knows how to manually open the garage door — in case you lose power.

Disaster relief programs

No one ever wants to have to go through this type of ordeal but being prepared can help ease some of the anxiety. If you’re worried about how you’ll cope being away from home for a week or longer, the California Fire Foundation administers a variety of programs that provide help to victims, firefighters, and communities affected by wildfires and other natural disasters. The program, SAVE (Supplying Aid to Victims of Emergency) supports the critical needs of those touched by natural disaster — from immediate assistance to long-term recovery. Frontline firefighters can provide SAVE gift cards to help you get necessities including food, clothing, medicine, and temporary shelter.

Being in the path of a potential wildfire is stressful enough, you don’t want to add worrying about your homeowners or renters insurance. For the peace of mind that knowing you’re adequately covered provides, get in touch with a Wawanesa agent who’ll be happy to go over the terms of your policy and advise you on coverage amounts.

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The above content is for informational purposes only and is not a direct representation of coverages offered by Wawanesa or its policies. The information does not refer to any specific contract of insurance and does not modify any definitions, provisions, exclusions or limitations expressly stated in any contracts of insurance. All references within the above content are illustrative and may not apply to your situation. The terms and conditions of the actual insurance policy or policies involved in a claim are determinative as to whether an accident or other loss is covered. To understand the coverage under your current policy, please log into the account management platform to review your policy or contact an agent directly.

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