A Fire-Adapted Community is one where residents have effectively prepared to survive wildfire. This includes efficient and safe evacuation during challenging conditions produced by a threatening wildfire. This year has been witness to some incredible evacuation stories, including Alberta’s Fort McMurray Fire where the entire town of 80,000 people was forced to leave their homes on short notice. A YouTube search for “Fort McMurray Evacuation” provides some graphic video.
Conditions often present during wildfire can make the routine departure of a neighborhood much more difficult. Imagine a scene with smoke-filled air making visibility and breathing difficult, no electricity, poor water pressure, darkness (even during daytime), and the presence of many confused, panicking people. These conditions created interesting and innovative evacuation situations and responses by residents during some northern Nevada wildland-urban interface fires, including:
- When asked what she took when she had to immediately evacuate her home during Carson City’s Waterfall Fire, a woman responded, “My clothes hamper. It was laundry day, and knew I had a week’s worth of clothes in there.”
- During the Washoe Drive Fire, wind blew so hard it forced one home’s doggy door wide open, allowing embers to enter the kitchen. The homeowner duct taped the door shut before leaving.
- The Caughlin Fire occurred around midnight, and much of the area was without power. Many residents were awakened and asked to leave immediately. Families quickly loaded into cars parked in garages. Because the power was out, electric garage doors had to be manually opened to drive out. Driving away, some people pressed the garage door remote out of habit, attempting to shut the door behind them. Then, they drove away with the garage wide open. Burning embers entered and started fires. In some cases, homes were destroyed.
Successful evacuation requires preparation. Here are some proper evacuation preparation tips.
Family Emergency Plan: Meet with family members, and work as a team to prepare for emergencies. Develop a checklist of things to do before evacuating the house if there is time (e.g., close windows and garage door, remove combustible materials from around the exterior of the house, etc.). Discuss how to turn off gas and electricity. Select a safe meeting location should family members become separated (e.g., Aunt Cathy’s house, the coffee shop on Main St, etc.). Choose a common out-of-town contact person. It is often easier to make a long distance call than a local call from a disaster area.
To-Go Bag: The To-Go bag should be easily accessible and filled with necessary items to help you quickly evacuate your home. When wildfire is threatening, you may only have time to retrieve this bag. To-Go bag items include: a home inventory, personal toiletries, medications, contact information for key individuals (family members, insurance agent, etc.), flashlight, portable radio, and copies of important documents.
Home Inventory: Complete an inventory of home contents and photograph/video your possessions inside the house as well as exterior landscape features. Place one copy in the To-Go bag and another in a location away from your community. For information on creating a home inventory, visit http://bit.ly/2cMkyZC.
Pets and Livestock: Plan to take your animals with you, and do not turn them loose. Note that animals may not be allowed in emergency shelters. Contact your local animal services for advice on where to take animals during an evacuation. Evacuation preparations for animals include: assemble a pet To-Go bag; make sure all vehicles, trailers and pet carriers needed for evacuation are serviced, ready to use and accessible; exchange veterinary information with neighbors; and file a permission slip with your veterinarian authorizing emergency care if you cannot be located.
Community Evacuation Drill: North Lake Tahoe Fire Protection District’s Battalion Chief Mark Regan observed that neighborhoods which participated in an evacuation drill were better organized and much faster at evacuation during the Caughlin Fire. “It clearly made a difference,” said Regan. Meet with your local fire service to see if there is interest in conducting an evacuation drill.
For detailed evacuation information, visit www.livingwithfire.info/before-the-fire. Or, read the Living With Fire Program publication Fire Adapted Communities: The Next Step in Wildfire Preparedness available from your local Cooperative Extension office or online at www.livingwithfire.info/learning-center . You can also learn about planning and preparing for wildfire evacuation at the Nevada Network of Fire Adapted Communities 3rd Annual Conference on March 27, 2017.
Upcoming Network Evacuation Conference
The Nevada Network of Fire Adapted Communities is an organization dedicated to assisting Nevada communities in reducing wildfire threat. The Network members include residents of Nevada’s wildfire prone communities, fire service representatives, land management agencies and other stakeholders in Nevada’s wildand-urban interface wildfire issue. Their 3rd Annual Conference will be held on March 27 at the Atlantis Casino Resort Spa in Reno. The conference will focus on effective and safe evacuation during wildfire.
Elwood Miller, The Network Coordinator, said, “It was clear from our community representatives that learning evacuation skills and community level evacuation planning was a priority for them. Our agency representatives concurred and added the need to include various agencies involved in Nevada evacuations as well as local elected officials. Fortunately, we have some excellent local evacuation expertise available to present at the conference.”
The need for evacuation planning and training is reinforced by recent local and western regional wildfire events. 4,000 people evacuated their homes during the Caughlin Fire. 10,000 people evacuated their homes during the Washoe Drive Fire. 5,000 homes and 82,000 people, respectively, were evacuated during Southern California’s Pilot and Blue Cut Fires.
Topics to be addressed at the conference include: real-life firefighter and homeowner experiences from actual wildfire evacuations, proper home and community evacuation procedures, how firefighters and other emergency responders can work with residents to develop an effective evacuation plan, planning and conducting an evacuation drill, and an update on The Network and future developments.
Residents of high fire hazard communities; Home Owner Association managers; fire service representatives; individuals from the landscape, construction and insurance industries; and anyone interested in reducing wildfire threat to Nevada’s communities should attend. Membership to The Network is not required. The conference is free, but seating is limited so sign up early. Register at www.LivingWithFire.info. For more information about The Network or to join, visit www.LivingWithFire.info/the-network.
Ed Smith is a natural resource specialist with University of Nevada Cooperative Extension. For information about gardening and landscaping to reduce fire threat, contact a master gardener at 775-336-0265 or firstname.lastname@example.org, or visit www.growyourownnevada.com.