What to do when wildfire strikes

California is a great place to live. Everyone wants to live in, or at least visit California. It’s home to Hollywood, Yosemite, the Golden Gate Bridge, and countless other man-made and natural attractions. All in all, it’s a pretty swell place to be. However, one of the realities of being a Californian is the fact that the state has two very active wildfire seasons; which threaten millions of dollars worth of real estate annually, and the lives of residents.

The two wildfire seasons in California are the Santa Ana season, and the summer season. Unfortunately, dealing with wildfires is a fact of life for many residents in California, and they are only going to get worse due to climate change. So, it is always better to be prepared for wildfires if you live in California.

First, plan ahead and create a family evacuation plan. Get the whole family involved and create a poster with a detailed map of your house. In your evacuation plan poster, include as many escape routes as possible, color code them, and label them. Try to think of every possible scenario and plan accordingly. Creating a plan is actually a fun family activity and it helps to get everyone on the same page. Once you have completed the plan, post it in a prominent space in your house. An area like the kitchen, that family members pass through often is the best place to post it so that it stays in the forefront of everyone’s minds.

After your family has created an evacuation plan, you should practice it at least once a month. Test out different scenarios and evacuation routes. For example, the front door is blocked by burning debris so everyone should know to automatically defer to evacuation route number two.

Finally, your family should make decisions about where to go after evacuation. Will you go to grandma’s house, a hotel, or the local Red Cross shelter? If the plan is to go to a family member’s home, give that person a call and brief them on your emergency evacuation plans so that they know to expect you if a wildfire occurs in your area and there is an evacuation order put into effect. Or, if you don’t have family members nearby, you might check out local motels and hotels to find out their rates. If a hotel is cost prohibitive for your family, talk to your local Red Cross chapter about evacuation centers and shelters. Find out locations, rules, and restrictions. Things will go much smoother during an evacuation if you know where you’re going and what the plan is.

Second, talk to your local fire department, police and Red Cross chapter. Make a list of questions beforehand about your evacuation questions. These community partners can often provide you with a great deal of insight that just might save your life when a wildfire occurs. Fire departments and the Red Cross often hold seminars and workshops on wildfire related topics. Attending these can provide you with a wealth of information that you may not already know.

Third, be vigilant and stay aware. Take some time to “like” the Facebook pages and “follow” the Twitter pages of your local fire and police departments, and local news outlets. “Liking” and “following” these pages will make their posts appear in your newsfeeds. Being connected to these valuable sources of information during a wildfire threat can keep you abreast of where the fire is, and most importantly, when to get out of your home.

Fourth, when there is a wildfire threat in your area, go ahead and pack up any valuables and necessities in your car ahead of time. If you are evacuated and discover that you’ve forgotten something, do not go back! Nothing is more valuable than your life, and the lives of your family members.

Fifth, don’t add kindling to the fire! If wildfire is threatening your area, move all patio furniture, potted plants, and other flammable items inside your home. That lovely chaise lounge that you have on your patio, could turn out to be a very efficient source of fuel for an already raging fire.  Also, close up your home tight. Make sure that all windows, doors, crawl spaces beneath the house, cracks, and crevasses are closed or covered so that flying embers cannot enter.

Finally, get out early, and get out alive! Once an evacuation order has been issued by local authorities, it is time to leave immediately. Do not pass go, do not collect $200. Follow your family evacuation plan and get as far from the fires as possible. Waiting too long to evacuate can not only put your life in danger, but also the lives of first responders trying to fight the fire. Late evacuators often cause traffic jams that block fire fighters access to the fires.

Be safe when it comes to wildfires. Create a family evacuation plan, listen for alerts and evacuate when the order is issued.