If you live anywhere in or near Utah or Colorado you might be wondering where exactly the wildfires are and if they’re headed your way any time soon. Heck, even non-preppers are starting to poke their heads out and look around.
The question really is: are you ready if wildfires are headed your way?
On the one hand, wildfires are a “better” disaster to prepare for because they are one of the few disasters that you can actually see coming and, thus, take appropriate actions. So long as you’re paying attention to the news and NOAA emergency feeds you should be able to evacuate with ample time. Additionally, you may be able to take quite a few steps to improve your home’s likelihood of surviving the onslaught as well.
On the other hand, wildfires are a “worse” disaster to prepare for because they can affect many dozens , if not hundreds, of miles (which can make evacuations difficult), they can move fast (faster than you can run), and they can even be unpredictable in their direction of travel.
Wildfires are definitely dangerous business. So, what can you do right now, if you had to?
Think “Get Out” First and Foremost
If it were me, the very FIRST thought would be to formulate an effective and efficient evacuation plan. Always remember that your belonging can be replaced; lives cannot. Don’t be lulled into thinking there is always time to evacuate later or that you can easily outrun a wildfire in your car; who knows, maybe this is the day your car decides to break down when you need it the most.
Now, get your stuff together and get moving!
Think about what’s most important. Obviously the kids, probably the pets. Grab your bug out bags. Probably include the extra gasoline you had stored for just such an event. Grab the extensive first aid kit, remember your Rx meds for sure, pack a bit of extra clothing, toss in a few blankets, and definitely remember Mr. Fluffy (the stuffed animal your child will NOT go to sleep without). Hopefully, your bug out bags include extra cash and your emergency contacts; if not, grab that too. Oh, and does all this fit? Hopefully it does.
Pack it all in your car (remember space for occupants as well) and be ready to move at a moment’s notice. Decide where will you go? What routes will you take? Do you have alternate routes plotted? Is the wildfire moving in a direction where you may not be able to evacuate to or where roads may be blocked off?
If you haven’t figured it out already, the point is to be among the first people to choose to evacuate otherwise you may not have the option to evacuate at all because you’re stuck in never-ending gridlock.
Now Save Your Home
Next, if I had time–let me stress ONLY if I had the time–would I attempt to ready my home for an oncoming wildfire. Of course, many suggestions for reducing the damage caused by wildfires are best attempted well before there is an oncoming wildfire. We’ll skip those today.
The first thing to know is that wildfires are more than just a wall or wave of fire. Though bad enough, wildfires also bring a lot of smoke, which can be quite deadly in-and-of iteself. Additionally, wildfires distribute a lot of far-floating embers that tend to land on rooftops or meander into house vents and subsequently catch stuff on fire… look out!
Please understand that I am NO wildfire expert. Nor do I actively plan for wildfires because, though possible, they really aren’t a huge risk in my neck of the woods. Having said that, the first thing I would want to do is to minimize the amount of flammable materials outside of my home. So, I would bring EVERYTHING I can inside. I would also look to clear any obviously dead vegetation near the home but this is more of a mitigation suggestion and may take entirely too much time if a wildfire is imminent.
I would also want to batten down the hatches as much as possible. That means close every door and window for sure. Board up any outside openings to the home (such as for the dryer, vents in the attic, pet doors, etc). Look for any possible entry for an ember and close it up! I would then want to thoroughly drench the home in water (especially the rooftop) and as much of the vegetation around the house as possible; I would think at least a dozen feet or more from the house perimeter is a minimum distance. Think in terms of a water park and you’re on the right track. FEMA acutally suggests placing sprinklers atop the roof… that’s not a bad idea.
Inside the home I would want to remove as many highly flammable items away from the windows and doors as possible. This includes drapes, blinds, furniture, floor mats, and so on. Move these items to the innermost spot in each room or shove them in a closet. I would also close all interior doors too in order to minimize the possibility of drafts causing a stray ember to migrate from one room to another.
On my way out I would shut off utilities, including natural gas, electricity, and propane. I would KEEP THE WATER ON and just let it drench the rooftop while you drive away.
Tools to Help Your Future Planning
A good start for wildfire prevention (including mitigating actions you can take well before an oncoming wildfire) can be found at Ready.gov. You can actually find all of the Ready.gov suggestions as well as evacuation planning tools (and plenty more) inside the Excel-based reThinkIt! Preparedness Tools file, which is 100% free… you only need to subscribe using the sidebar to the right… you can learn more here.
Choose to bookmark the Real-Time Hazards Monitoring page where you can quickly see up-to-date information about wildfire risk within the 48 contiguous states. You might also check out the wildfire information found here. You will find a checklist for homeowners, information on dealing with burns, and more.