Wildfire Prevention Tip #17 – What to Do When the Wildfire Comes

February 23rd, 2015

First, you should have already done all of the fire-damage prevention to your home talked about in the previous tips. Those “tips” helped you harden your home against urban wildfires and their deadly embers, by working on the landscape and vegetation-intense areas surrounding your home, and by tending to the exterior skin materials and weak points in the walls, roofs, windows, vents, and all other places where flying fire embers can gather to cause fires.Assuming you have already accomplished these prevention measures and are now need to escape an urban wildfire sweeping toward your home, what are the next steps? Here is some guidance based on many experiences with wildfire.

Preparation Work (well before a fire):

1.      Identify a place where you, your family and your pets can stay for 4 to 5 days “because of fire.” (NOTE: If you have family or friends outside of the potential fire zone, this is good.  If not, make a list of 5 or more hotels which will prearrange to reserve space for your family and pets for a 4 – 5 day period.  Call each hotel well in advance of a potential wildfire and find out their procedures for handling fire victims and make whatever arrangements you can).

2.       Have “escape bags” ready to go. (with sufficient quantities to accommodate your family for 4 to 5 days away from home):

  • Clothing for each member of the family
  • Medicines/medications for each family member
  • Feeding/watering bowls, pet foods, and pet medicines for the pets
  • Important documents that “cannot be lost in a fire”
  • Jewelry and other valuables you do not want to lose in a fire (NOTE: Many safes and vaults are NOT FIREPROOF and you can lose your valuables in such safes/vaults.  Be sure that a safe or vault is certified to withstand a house fire for an extended period of time, i.e. 3 – 4 hours, in any case.)
  • Cell phones/iPads/etc., chargers, and their cables, so that you can notify family and friends of your predicament regarding the urban wildfire event.


Exiting activity (The fire or smoke is visible or you can smell it.)

1.       Call 911, report fire, its location, and your location.  Have the family vehicle ready to go.

  • VERY IMPORTANT: Account for all family members and all pets
  • VERY IMPORTANT: Know where your car keys are: put them in your pocket or purse. You don’t want to waste valuable time searching for them after you have things packed
  • Park the car close to the primary exit door of house.

2.       Escape the fire.

  • Your family needs to already be prepared, so that they don’t panic when the fire sweeps toward you, and so that they react to your game plan to get everyone (people and pets) into your vehicle, get the escape bag into the vehicle and leave.
  • Plan your escape route(s) based on the direction from which the fire is coming, turn to get away from the fire i.e. left or right at the street away from the fire
  • Watch out for fire trucks and other emergency vehicles and yield right-of-way!


Returning to the site for your pets?

Do not return to the fire site until approved by officials.  Dogs and cats will know before you do that a wildfire is in the area; their sense of smell is far superior to that of humans.  They will become hyperactive before the fire reaches your location, and they may run or escape or hide. Don’t let this happen – put  them in crates or X-pens for their own safety and put them in the car.  Be aware that if you can’t find your pets and you have to leave without them, your children will want to go back and find them.  This happened to people in the Steiner Ranch fire and the Bastrop fire.  Don’t let it happen to you or your family. Take care of the pets and take them with you!
For additional guidance about these topics, review or download the Ready, Set, Go brochure in the Wildfire Prevention Archive in the Resource section of this web site. It provides great guidance, along with checklists for how to get ready before a fire threatens, what to do when the fire arrives, and a list of emergency supplies to pack. 

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