We live in Southern Oregon, where it’s lush and green and lovely- for most of the year. But during the summer when temperatures here can soar into the 100’s for days at a time, all of that lush, green foliage and grass quickly turns brown and dry. Forest fires are pretty common in my area of the state, causing many hundreds of acres to burn each year. As a matter of fact, last year we had a forest fire threaten homes and property in our community. After an enormous thunder and lightning storm, our area was hit with several large fires.
We learned so much during this time of natural disaster and while we knew wildfire was a definite threat to our area, we had thought we were prepared for that instance. Turns out we weren’t prepared for it at all! Sometimes it takes experiencing an event such as a wildfire or flood to really understand how best be prepared for it. We learned some huge lessons:
1) Have an emergency evacuation plan. Know where you will go, how you will get there, and alternate routes available to you if possible. The homes and families that evacuated this past year had plenty of time to get what they wanted and to get out, i necessary, but that isn’t always the case.
2) Have particulate filtering masks in your preps. You have no idea how much *stuff* gets into the air until you have a fire burning just a couple of miles from your house. Most days it was so dangerous to be outside and breathe the air that our community was basically held hostage in our homes. I would have never thought to have the masks until we needed them, and by then it was too late.
3) If you have large animals, you MUST have an evacuation plan for them. You MUST have a way to transport them to a safe place, whether you own a stock or horse trailer or know someone who does, you have to be responsible for getting your animals to safety. Too many people have livestock or animals that they don’t have a way to transport to safety, don’t have a place to evacuate them to, or just don’t have a good system in place in case of emergency. When you take on the responsibilities of livestock, one of the things you MUST plan for is an evacuation. They are no different than kids- completely dependent upon you. Don’t let your animals down!
4) Have an emergency binder with all of your important information inside. Birth certificates, marriage certificates, titles, copies of credit cards, etc should all be inside an easy to grab binder, folder, or other contained item and EVERYONE in your family should know what it is and where it is at. If you only have a few minutes to get out of your house, the last thing you want to be doing is searching around for important documents. Have them in a centralized place, all together.
5) Have those 72 hour bags packed! If you do have to evacuate for a forest fire, having a 72 hour bag when you arrive at a shelter or any other place you may be staying could be the difference between your family having a few extra comfort items OR being scared, worried, and in a strange place with only what the shelter has available for you.
6) Keep a defensible space around your home. Keep grasses mowed and trimmed, watered to green during the worst of the hot weather if possible. Try to keep a large, open space between your house and forest. Where we live, many homes are just nestled into the woods and when there is a fire your house becomes fuel for the fire in that instance. You need to have a barrier between you and the trees, even if you don’t live in a place where there is forest right to your back door. Keep bushes, underbrush and other weeds trimmed and knocked down.
7) Find a reliable source of news and information. Too often social media is a place for half-truths and misconceptions to run rampant. We saw a lot of, “I heard that…..” on social media when the fires were burning here. This makes it hard to really grasp what is going on. Fortunately, we has a local fire protection agency and our state forestry department both have really great lines of communication with the community, through news releases, social media, and community meetings so that reliable information was readily available.
8) Probably most importantly, remember that most things are replaceable but your life isn’t. Be prepared to leave and don’t risk your life or the lives of your family for the “stuff” in your home or on your property. It can all be replaced, but you cannot.
Stay safe, be smart, and have your ducks in a row. Be ready in an instant! Fires happen quickly and in remote, rural locations firefighting resources might not be immediately available, so the chances of you having to leave your home increase. Be prepared!