To draw up a fire plan, check with local resources about high-risk seasons and potential evacuation routes. Know where local emergency shelters are—including ones that take pets. Understanding what the official networks will be doing will help you take advantage of the resources they offer as you make your own plans.
Once you have done your early research, prepare a plan. Be sure to have more than one conversation with your family and write down the details of your plan. Consider practice drills in high risk seasons.
Your plan should include:
• A map of the house showing all the possible exits as well as clearly marked best exits
• The location of your firefighting equipment such as extinguishers, axes, water hoses and buckets.
• The place to meet if everyone is home when a fire comes through
• A place to meet as well as a contact number to call if people are separated when it’s time to evacuate
• An alternative meeting place in case something happens to the initial safe place
• Information about who to call if parents are at work, kids are at school or the dog is in doggy daycare when a fire comes
• An assignment page noting who is in charge of what.
For example, you may be in charge of getting the car loaded. An older child may handle placing your pets one room while another child stays with them to keep them calm. This makes it easier to know where everyone is and spreads out the responsibility. It also makes the plan inclusive with everyone feeling they are part of the solution while the wildfire is the problem.
Having an evacuation plan is only part of your preparation. You will need to plan and prepare to spend time away from home. This will be covered in depth in later sections, but it’s important to consider that you may not be able to return home right away in your initial plans.
When you leave your home, you may not know when you will be allowed to come back. You’ll need to cover having relevant ID and other paperwork to deal with aid agencies if they’re a part of your plan, meds or care plans to cover medical issues, and reliable supplies of food and water. To this end, you will need to:
• Put together emergency kits–often called bug-out bags—loaded with what you’ll need to thrive away from home. Make one for each member of the family—including the four-legged members.
• Keep copies of all valuable documents–from insurance form to birth certificates, personal ID, marriage and driver’s licenses, passports, bank account numbers and other valuable papers—in a safe place. A safety-deposit box or other fire-retardant container are one choice, or you can store copies with close friends or family members who live outside your region.
• Stock up on food and water. While a 72 hour supply should be in your bug out bag, you may also want to have additional food stores and water caches in case you end up on your own for several days or even several weeks. Plan for any special dietary needs up front for your own peace of mind and later security.
• Make a specialty kit with unique items to care for your family’s specific needs. This may contain items such as prescriptions (actual and the paper form) specialty items for seniors, and toys, diapers, or formula for the very young.
IMPLEMENTING THE PLAN
To successfully put your family’s wildfire safety plan into action, make sure everyone knows what to do and when. Go over your meeting place and meeting systems. Cover off on pets, locating separated family members, and getting valuables secure. Have a system that incorporates modern technology with a fall back plan if phone lines or the internet is down.
Once you create the fire evacuation plan, keep it updated. Go through your entire plan twice each year at the beginning and end of fire season.
This will help you practice what you’ve set up and adapt to new trends or changes each season, such as damage to meeting spots, new additions to the family, or changes to your home.
Even if your teenagers roll their eyes, run the whole family through the drill. Have everyone hit the exits and meet at the designated spot outside the home.
Practice loading your car in 10 minutes and hiding valuables if those things are in your plan. The more you do it, the more comfortable it will seem and the faster you can fix any kinks in your planning. This will help everyone be ready physically and psychologically for the real thing.
ODDS AND ENDS
You can also help ensure your family’s protection in other ways. Encourage all members to take courses relating to fire safety if they’re offered in your community. You should also make sure everyone knows how to correctly operate your fire extinguisher and outdoor water hoses. Other things to consider as you prepare your family for a wildfire is the location of the utilities.
Everyone, including children, should know where the shut-off valves are for the water, power and gas. For kids, let them see how they can turn them off— stressing they should do so only in the case of an emergency such as a wildfire.
Yet, even with the plan in place, there is the chance you may run into problems.
What happens if you can’t leave? What happens if you manage to leave but fire overtakes your car? What if you need to flee on foot and a wildfire strikes while you are out in the open?