Fire Preparedness: Evacuations, Prepping and Plans In Wildfire Areas

The impact a wildfire can have is devastating and it is one of the highest causes of fatalities in natural disasters in the world and now we are seeing the widespread impact of wildfires burning across California raising the need for people to start their fire preparedness before it is too late.

Southern California has been scorched with fires recently provoking drastic measures from people living in urban and regional areas by having to leave their homes in fear and emergency services warning residents to be prepared for last-minute evacuations and fire preparedness.

I write a lot about preparedness, but nothing is more important than being aware of the risk of disasters in your area, this is especially the case for disasters. If you have a slight risk of bushfires or wildfires in your area, then you need to brush up on your fire preparedness in this guide.

Fire preparedness is necessary because fires are unpredictable, large, rapid and overwhelmingly dangerous disasters. Preparing and planning is a strategy to not only be ready for a fire, but to prepare for everything that happens alongside of it, such as power, cell phone reception and radio signals not being available, meaning there is no way to hear alerts, call for help or charge a phone.

Why is fire preparedness so important? 

According to emergency readiness services, a small flame can grow out of control in 30 seconds. That’s incredibly quick and is the reason why fires can grow to a point where the most experienced firefighting forces are overwhelmed by wildfires.

The media below is an example of why you should take fire preparedness steps leave as early as possible in the case of a fire approaching your area.

The Los Angeles ReadyLA program promotes preparedness on various issues, one of the biggest being fire preparedness. They say that every second counts when it comes to fires, and people need to be prepared for the impact fires may cause.

For wildfires, especially in areas that are near national parks and nature reserves, there can be a huge toll on lives lost, as well as homes and animals (both domestic and wild) calculating significant emotional and trauma for anyone involved.

Fire preparedness is a simple plan you can put into effect to prepare days, weeks or months ahead of what might likely be a fire-prone season. This is especially the case if you live in an area that is likely affected by wildfires. This could be areas such as the households of residents in Southern California, as well as other areas of the world where we have seen mass wildfires, for instance:

  • America: California, Washington, Arizona, Oregon, Colorado
  • Canada: Quebec, Saskatchewan
  • Australia: everywhere (especially Black Saturday Victorian fires)
  • UK
  • Spain
  • Russia
  • Portugal

And these are only a few of the biggest fires that have claimed lives and destroyed large quantities of property in the past 10 years. There are a lot more. For most of these fires, they were triggered by something very small by an arsonist, or naturally occurring, with a small glow or puff of smoke and can be caused by multiple reasons such as:

  • Lighting a cigarette
  • Burning a candle
  • Throwing a cigarette out the car window
  • Glass on the side of the road
  • Uncontrolled campfires

And there are many more reasons why fires start that you can think of.

With one small spark caused by any one of those fire starters, a small flame can lead a spark from small, to an entire wildfire in no time. Coupled with the right conditions of dry bush and wood in the summer, as well as unpredictable winds and terrains a giant fire that can travel insanely fast, leaving behind a trail of ash in its path and destroying anything ahead of it with thousands of degrees of heat.

What should you have in a fire preparedness kit?

I am always promoting the message of preparedness in the household, in most cases it is free, easy to do, and can be done right now with the things you might already have.

Ideally, you should put together a basic fire preparedness kit which would be the things you need to survive for at least 72 hours (three days) away from the home. This emergency kit can also be used in the home in situations where fires may limit your escape and where it is safer to stay in the home than leaving an area.

In a basic disaster and fire preparedness kit, you should have the following:

  • One gallon of water per day for at least three days
  • A food supply for at least three days
  • First-aid kit with any prescriptions you and your family need
  • Flashlights
  • Clothing
  • Sanitary supplies
  • A simple respirator, in case you need to run to the car or around the house and there is dangerous smoke. Smoke will also get into the car even with the air conditioning off and the recirculation of air in the car.
  • Phone chargers
  • A hand crank radio
  • Copies of documents such as insurance papers, identification, and bank accounts and keep them in a waterproof holder
  • Local maps
  • A wrench or pliers to help turn off utilities
  • An extra set of plates, cups and eating utensils

If you have pets, consider the items they need as well.

Keeping all of these in a bag allows them to be quickly grabbed, along with those other things people grab in a fire such as family heirlooms, photos, and sentimental items.

What should you do if you are evacuating the home?

Fire Preparedness: Evacuations, Prepping and Plans In Wildfire Areas

Damage to the Port Hills Christchurch

If you do need to leave your home due to safety concerns over wildfires, there are some things you can do to the home to quickly minimise the effects.

For instance, when leaving the home, you should:

  • Close and lock all windows and doors
  • Remove all window shades and curtains
  • Turn off air-conditioning and gas
  • Leave any house lights on so that firefighters see the house through smoke
  • California fire agencies also recommend moving flammable furniture away from windows and doors

When you are leaving the home, preparing, or knowing, a number of routes to leave your area helps in instances of road blockages where paths of a fire may have a road closed.

Planning the routes to different shelters and evacuation spots can eradicate the need to take unnecessary detours in dangerous or unsafe routes.

Maintaining a plan for fire preparedness

Authorities recommend residents in fire-prone areas create an action plan in case the worst happens and you need to leave your area, or there is a potential risk in your area.

Fire Preparedness: Evacuations, Prepping and Plans In Wildfire Areas

A wildfire burns south of Fort McMurray, Alberta, on Saturday, May 7, 2016. (Ryan Remiorz/The Canadian Press via AP)

According to CalFire, an action plan should include a fire evacuation plan. In making an evacuation plan, you need:

  1. A designated meeting location that is at a safe place outside of your affected area to meet in an emergency.
  2. Plot several routes from your location to the meeting location
  3. Have a plan for your pets, as well as any other animals you may have on your property, such as livestock
  4. A communication plan with a friend or family member that lives out of the area who can act as a point of contact for all friends and family and control a flow of information
  5. If a fire is being reported in your area, listen to news reports and emergency warnings as the direction it is traveling can change rapidly
  6. Follow all evacuation orders given by authorities
  7. Keep at least half a tank of fuel in your car

Preparing the family and home for fire season

Fire preparedness starts in the home, and a big step of that is simple preparedness and planning. When it comes to preparing the family and household for any fire risks in your area, ensure that you not only have fire extinguishers available, but that you and your family know how to use them in an emergency.

Ensure that when making your plan, include your family in all of the important steps, such as how to shut off gas and electricity mains, that each person has a basic disaster kit and to have emergency contact details and information.

For fire preparedness preparing the home for fire season is quite simple, whether you are living in a suburban home, or a large regional property. For instance, some simple things to do around the home are:

  • Keep the brush and trees cleared back from your house (this is a requirement in some areas)
  • Upgrade your hoses to commercial grade hosing with better nozzles than the average gardening hose
  • If you have a pool, consider getting a larger hose to use on a pump or bypass system
  • Have liquid soap to mix with water which can be thrown over shrub and anything else that can catch on fire, this is a stronger bond against fires than plain water
  • Keep smoke alarms in the house and sprinklers in working order
  • Consider getting an outdoor sprinkler system on the roof of your house, there are systems that can completely cover the house and surrounding yard

Strategic homesteading for fire preparedness

Fire Preparedness: Evacuations, Prepping and Plans In Wildfire AreasThis photo from Kansas Air National Guard shows a man’s preparations paying off after the large Kansas 2017 wildfire. How did he get away with an untouched house, green grass and no burning to his property, while the surroundings were scorched and leveled? His aim was fire preparedness of the homestead, and there’s a few things he did to that effect that you can also do to help.

First, and most important thing this landowner did in this example was to keep the space between the bushland and his property at a clear distance.

The landowner also:

  • Had no dead vegetation on this property’s inner boundary whatsoever.
  • Kept trees shorter than the gutter of the house to ensure no build-up of leaves or any fire accelerants in the gutter system
  • Keeping clear boundaries around the external buildings of the property such as the barn on the right
  • Had a strong network of sprinklers to keep the surrounding area and the roof of the house wet as the fire passed

A method for home fire preparedness is to have ‘defensible space’ in your property. This is anything that creates distance between dry brush and your home. Green grass is much less likely to catch on fire than dry dead grass, so is a way of defending the property as the fire passes the home.

Fire Preparedness: Evacuations, Prepping and Plans In Wildfire Areas

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