Updated August 30, 2022
California’s wildfire season has been growing longer, deadlier and more destructive every year. As residents worry about their area being hit next, there are steps that they can take to help protect themselves and their property when wildfire strikes.
Before A Fire
The first step to prepare yourself for a wildfire in your area is to sign up for emergency alerts with your county. Find your county in the list below with a link to the sign-up form:
You should also make sure to have defensible space set up around your home. Cal Fire recommends at least two zones that make up 100 feet of a buffer between structures and the grass, trees, shrubs and wildland that surrounds them. AB 3074, passed into law in 2020, also requires a third ember-resistant zone within 0 to 5 feet of the home by January 1, 2023, according to Cal Fire. Read Ezra David Romero’s story about fire preparedness to learn more about defensible space and protecting your home.
Have an evacuation kit packed for yourself, your family and your pets so that you can leave as quickly as possible when evacuation orders come. Many of these items can be packed into a backpack, which should be kept in an easily accessible location so that you can grab the bag and evacuate quickly.
Once an evacuation warning has been given, it’s a good idea to put your evacuation kits into your vehicle so that you can leave once the order is made. Here are some of the key items recommended by Ready.gov, along with some other recommendations from Cal Fire:
- Three gallons of water for each person who would be evacuating, plus some extra in case you need to shelter in place
- Three days’ worth of nonperishable food
- Any necessary medication
- A first aid kit
- A battery-operated radio
- Wool blankets
- Local maps
- A whistle
- Dust masks
- A back-up cell phone battery and charger
- Copies of any important documents in a waterproof container
- Birth certificate
- Insurance policies
- Bank account records
- Pet vaccination and veterinary records
- Pet food and water
- A leash and collar for each dog evacuating with you
- A carrier for each other animal evacuating
Cal Fire recommends that you learn how to operate your garage door and gates manually in case your power goes out in the fire. This can save you from being trapped without access to your vehicle.
Make sure that you have an evacuation plan in place for your pets, and that you have supplies for them in your evacuation kit. Talk to your neighbors and make a plan for them to get your pets to safety if you are not home when the evacuation order is given.
It’s also a good idea to have any important documents or items stored in a fireproof lock box somewhere safe in your home. If you’re looking for recommendations, Wirecutter has a list of the best fireproof document boxes.
You should also take the time to document any valuables in your home to make the process of filing an insurance claim easier after a disaster. Create a home inventory in written form, but you can also do it by taking photos or video of your entire house to document your possessions. If you have any one-of-a-kind, rare or collectible items, you may want to get a professional appraisal.
Find out from your insurance company what the best way is to document your valuables should you ever need to file a claim after a disaster. Cal Fire also has information on their site about how to make sure your insurance is ready when wildfire hits.
During A Fire
The most important thing to do if a fire hits near where you live is to evacuate as soon as you possibly can after an evacuation order is given if it is safe for you to do so. As fires become faster and less predictable, minutes can matter and leaving early can help you avoid traffic. Being prepared and having your evacuation kit handy can help you get out quickly.
If you feel you are threatened by the fire, Cal Fire says you should evacuate even if the order hasn’t been given.
If you have time before you evacuate, Cal Fire has some steps that they suggest you can take to protect your home before you head to safety. They have a Pre-Evacuation Checklist on their site here.
Once you have your evacuation supplies packed, Cal Fire recommends that you change into long pants, a long sleeve shirt and heavy boots to protect yourself in fire conditions. They also recommend that you bring a cap, a dry bandana to cover your face and goggles or glasses.
Ideally, when fire strikes you will already have evacuated to safety. But if you end up trapped in your vehicle, on foot or in your home, here are some things you can do to shelter in place, according to Cal Fire:
- If you are in your vehicle and become trapped by the fire, park in an area clear of vegetation and close all windows and vents. Lie down on the floor of your vehicle and cover yourself with a wool jacket or blanket.
- If you’re on foot, lie face down in a place clear of vegetation and cover up your body as best as you can.
- If you’re in your home, fill your sinks and tubs with cold water and keep your doors and windows closed but unlocked. Stay inside of your house and away from windows and outside walls until the fire has passed over your area.
In all three of these situations, it is important that you call 911 and let officials know where you are as soon as you are sheltered in place.
If you’re looking for more information about how to prepare for wildfires, head to Cal Fire’s Ready for Wildfire site to learn more about preparedness and safety before and during a wildfire.
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