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Wildfire Preparedness

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Amongst the multitude of fires that have blazed through the state of California, is the currently active Thomas Fire, which has thus far burnt over 280,000 acres in nearby Ventura County. Fueled by dry vegetation and the fierce Santa Ana winds, it posed a threat to numerous Southern California residents in the past several weeks, prompting evacuations and road and highway closures. Although this fire is now 92 percent contained, it is beneficial as a resident of Southern California to always be ready and know what to do if such a situation arises again. Listed below are tips and steps to prepare for a wildfire from the Red Cross and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).


Before the fire…

  1. Stay informed by monitoring weather reports by TV or radio, and subscribe to local emergency alert notifications in order to receive the latest changes in road access, fire activity, and warnings. In the event of a power outage, make sure to have a battery-powered or crank radio and, if possible, a phone charger.


  1. Identify an escape route if an evacuation is ordered. Have backup routes in case the initial one cannot be crossed. Also identify a mode of transportation to use in an evacuation. If you are using a car, keep it in fueled and in good condition and pack it with emergency supplies and essentials. If you are using public transport, contact the local government to find out how said system would operate in an emergency. Next, identify a place away from home to stay for an extended period of time, such as with friends or family. If staying at a shelter is your only option, use the American Red Cross Shelter Finder app to find a suitable location at which to stay. Make arrangements for pets beforehand.


  1. Have necessary supplies and important belongings stored in a safe, accessible location. This will aid in a quick evacuation. Focus on the five P’s: people (such as friends, family, pets), prescriptions (medicines, batteries, eyeglasses, etc.), papers (important documents, both online and hard copies), personal needs (clothes, food, water, money, first aid, phones, etc.), and priceless items (irreplaceable items like pictures and valuables).


  1. Discuss plans with family, housemates, and others who are relevant in an evacuation scenario. Make sure they understand what to do in case of an evacuation, including what supplies they should have on hand, which route to take, and where to relocate. Also establish a form of communication from which you can contact each other.


During the fire…

  1. If you see a nearby approaching fire, do not assume someone else has reported it. Immediately contact 911.


  1. Evacuate immediately if you are ordered or advised by the authorities. Take essential items (the 5 P’s, see above) with you.


  1. If you have the time, take steps to help firefighters protect your house if were to catch fire. Turn on the lights in every room to increase visibility in the house if it were to be filled with smoke. Close all windows, vents, and doors to prevent radiant heat and drafts from spreading flames. Connect garden hoses and fill tubs and sinks with water. Shut off the natural gas supply and remove fuels and oils and other flammable materials from the vicinity. Turn off automatic garage door openers so that firefighters can manually open garage doors if needed.


  1. If you happen to be trapped inside your home, immediately contact 911 to explain your location and situation and take the steps above to protect yourself.


  1. When driving away from the fire in high levels of smoke, drive slowly, turn on headlights, roll up windows, and close air vents.


After the fire…

  1. Only once authorities deem it safe to return to affected areas of a fire or evacuation site should you go back home. Have a professional examine the structure of your home to ensure it is safe to return, as the stability of it may have been damaged during the fire. Use caution while entering burned areas for potential hazards, wear leather gloves and thick-soled shoes to protect your hands and feet, and check the house for smoke or fire. Keep pets away from hot spots and embers.


  1. Outside, look for fallen power poles and report them to 911, wet the roof and gutters to extinguish any sparks and embers, and watch for any other hazards. Report these to the authorities and warn family and neighbors.


  1. Seek emergency medical help immediately if you or anyone around you has been burned or otherwise hurt. Cool and cover burns to reduce the risk of infection or further injury. Listen and follow any recommendations from the local health department. Watch for signs of anxiety and depression in yourself and others and seek help from local mental health providers if necessary.


  1. Communicate with friends and family via text or social media. Use phones only for emergency calls as telephone systems are often overwhelmed after a disaster. Keep informed with emergency alerts, radio, and apps.


  1. Discard food exposed to fire, smoke, soot, or ash. Similarly, do not use water sources until officials have declared it safe.


  1. Photograph property damage and contact your insurance agent. Take necessary measures to repair and prevent further damage.


Of course, it is crucial to prepare for times of crisis. Proper preparation and practice for such an event allows for a more streamlined evacuation in which everybody is able to vacate quickly and efficiently. Taking the steps to gather supplies and plan ahead also ensures a higher level of safety during a wildfire. Fortunately, we are able to have measures to protect ourselves and others, all thanks to the tireless efforts of firefighters, other first responders, and relief organizations across the state.

(Thomas Fire Picture credit: “Air Quality Warnings in Effect in California as Thomas Fire Advances.”, ABC News,

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