Experts say that it’s not a matter of if a wildfire will hit the Tahoe/Truckee region but when. Will you be prepared should that dreaded notification come telling you that it’s time to evacuate? Is your home ready for you to leave? Do you have a go-bag packed? Plain and simple: Do you have a plan?
When emergency personnel come calling or you get that text alert telling you it’s go time, you may or may not have time to make necessary preparations before leaving. There are instances when wildfire conditions are so dire that you have to evacuate at a moment’s notice; however, officials will always try to give as much notice as possible.
Being prepared for fire includes creating a wildfire evacuation plan. Call a family or house meeting to coordinate to make sure everyone is on the same page. The plan you come up with should designate a meeting place outside the home and identify several different possible escape routes to get to that location. Familiarity is key so practice and review these routes often. Don’t forget to take into consideration any pets or livestock when creating an evacuation plan. It is also crucial to familiarize yourself with evacuation routes in your neighborhood.
The following general information was compiled from Cal Fire’s readyforwildfire.org, as recommended by local fire agencies. On the website, find more comprehensive evacuation lists and extensive guidelines.
In the event of an evacuation, it is important to remember the six P’s: people and pets; papers, phone numbers, and important documents; prescriptions, vitamins, and eyeglasses; pictures and irreplaceable memorabilia; personal computer hard drive; and plastic (credit, debit cards, and cash). Many of these items can be stashed in a go-bag to take as you leave.
Within the home, there are a number of measures to take before departing. Remove flammable window dressings like shades and curtains, and close metal shutters. Any flammable furniture should be moved to the center of the room, away from windows and doors. Shut off gas at the meter and turn off pilot lights. It is a good idea to leave lights on so firefighters can see your house in smoky conditions. Shut off the air conditioning as well.
Outside your home, there are a number of things you can do that will help firefighting efforts. Any flammable items — from toys and door mats to patio furniture and trash cans — should be collected and brought inside. They can also be placed inside a swimming pool. Propane tanks should be turned off, and propane barbecues should be moved away from any structures.
While homeowners are advised to connect any available garden hoses and to even fill buckets with water for quick and easy use by firefighters, it is not wise to leave sprinklers or other water running. Doing so can result in reduced water pressure, which can have an adverse effect on firefighting measures.
It’s also a good idea habitually to back your vehicle into your driveway for parking, so that you can drive straight out should you have to make a quick exit. Be sure to load your car or truck with any valuable and important items you plan to take with you, especially your pre-packed go-bag. Any exterior lighting can be left on to help guide firefighters around your property.
If time permits, seal attic and ground vents with pre-cut plywood or commercial seals. This helps prevent embers from getting inside and causing fire to spread.
Above all else, however, the safety of you and your family comes first. If officials say it’s time to get out now, they mean it.
So what happens if you do become trapped by a wildfire? Readyforwildfire.org has advice on that, too: Remain calm and keep your family together. Call 911 to inform authorities of your location. Fill sinks and tubs with cold water, and keep doors and windows closed but unlocked. Stay inside your house, keeping away from exterior walls and windows.