Preparing for emergency evacuations now helps alleviate problems later

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Southern California is facing what experts are saying will be the worst fire season in the past six years. To date the state has already burned over 31% more than at this time last year and have not yet reached the peak of summer or fall when the Santa Ana winds come into play.

A brush fire that erupted in Oceanside, south of Camp Pendleton, Sunday, June 12, forcing residents in surrounding neighborhoods to evacuate is a good reminder that no matter where one lives, wildfire is always a threat and residents in all areas should be prepared to evacuate and have plans in place to do so.

A good place to start is at the website, http://www.readyforwildfire.org, where readers can download Cal Fire’s Ready for Wildfire app. The app includes checklists with steps for everything from defensible space to evacuation plans, wildfire texts and push notifications and a fire map showing all active fires within the area.

Preparing for an emergency evacuation is never an easy task but http://www.readyforwildfire.org also offers planning sheets that can be downloaded and help simplify things for those working to make or update a plan.

Here are a few recommendations for residents from fire officials that can help make evacuation a bit easier to navigate should readers find themselves in a situation where leaving their home becomes a necessity.

Before you evacuate

Creating a Wildfire Action Plan will help to keep residents prepared in the event they are evacuated due to a wildfire or any emergency that requires such action. This plan should be familiar to everyone within the household and should include a designated emergency meeting area, several different escape routes and information to evacuate pets and large animals such as horses and other livestock. Be sure to practice those evacuation routes so everyone is familiar in the event of an emergency.

Designate an out-of-area friend or family member as a point of contact for family members should they become separated.

Have fire extinguishers on hand and make sure everyone knows how to use them and ensure that everyone in the family knows where the shut-off controls in the home are for gas, electric and water and how to shut them down in an emergency.

When should I leave?

Leave as soon as evacuation is recommended by fire officials to avoid being caught in fire, smoke or road congestion. Don’t wait to be ordered by authorities to leave. Evacuating the fire area early also helps firefighters keep roads clear of congestion and lets them move more freely to do their job. In an intense wildfire, they will not have time to knock on every door. When advised to leave, don’t hesitate.

The terms “Voluntary” and “Mandatory” are used to describe evacuation orders; however, local jurisdictions may use other terminology such as “Precautionary” and “Immediate Threat.” These terms are used to alert residents to the significance of the danger. All evacuation instructions provided by officials should be followed immediately for residents’ safety.

Do not return to the home until fire officials determine it is safe. Notification that it is safe to return home will be given as soon as possible considering safety and accessibility.

What should I take?

Prepare an emergency kit well before a fire strikes. This kit should include things like a first aid kit, a three-day supply of non-perishable food and three gallons of water per person, spare keys and cash and medication. If time allows, then you should pack easily carried valuables, chargers for your cell phones and laptops and anything irreplaceable such as family photos.

Assemble an emergency supply kit for each person and maintain a list of emergency contact numbers posted near the phone and in the emergency supply kit. Some experts recommend each member of the family have their own backpack. Each backpack should include everything that is mentioned above. Seniors, babies and pets should have their own backpack. If you have a pet, prepare a backpack with food and toys.

Keep an extra emergency supply kit in the car in the event that the home cannot be accessed because of fire or some other emergency.

Emergency supply kits should contain a three-day supply of non-perishable food and 3 gallons of water per person, a map marked with at least two evacuation routes, prescriptions or special medications, change of clothing, extra eyeglasses or contact lenses, an extra set of car keys, credit cards, cash or traveler’s checks, first-aid kit, flashlight, battery-powered radio and extra batteries, sanitation supplies and copies of important documents such as birth certificates, passports, etc. Don’t forget food and water for any pets that will also need to be evacuated.

If time allows, take easily carried valuables, family photos and other irreplaceable items, personal computer information on hard drives and discs and chargers for cell phones, laptops or other electronic items.

Cal Fire also recommends keeping a sturdy pair of shoes and a flashlight near the bed and handy in case of a sudden evacuation at night. It is also good to keep a portable radio or scanner handy to stay updated on the fire.

What about pets?

Ask friends and family if they can shelter animals during an emergency. Keep a list of 24-hour numbers for pet-friendly places such as animal shelters, pet boarding facilities and veterinarians.

What should I wear?

If you need to go outside while there is an active fire nearby, put on some protective clothing like sturdy shoes, cotton or woolen clothes, long pants, a long-sleeved shirt and gloves.

One final note on evacuation: when told to evacuate, evacuate. Trying to save property or sheltering in place is a foolish risk that no one should take. Remember, things can be replaced, people can’t.

Kim Harris can be reached by email at valleyeditor@reedermedia.com.