Being from Southern California I can tell you that wildfires have become commonplace in my life and I have been evacuated several times. Wildfires move quickly and can be unpredictable which has caused many people to lose their possessions and their lives. Often when wildfires happen you will have plenty of time to pack up what you truly need and move, but what happens when you either can’t move or are trapped while trying to move, or you run out of time and are now stuck? What if you have pets and kids? Well you honestly don’t have a lot of time and need to always be ready.
Should you stay or should you go?
Let’s be honest sometimes it makes more sense to stay, but this means that you aren’t in actual danger of being hurt by the fire and that if the fire actually did come close that you would be able to still get away in time. But it truly never fails, there is always someone who decides to stay and try to fight for their home and then they get trapped and either have to call for support from the fire department or lose their lives. It’s not worth losing your life and possibly your families to protect a house that can be rebuilt and other material items. But let’s say you do choose to stay because common sense is not something you actively practice at home. You’ve got a few options that will help keep the fire away and keep you and your family safe. You can:
- Use your hose and try to keep the surrounding area wet. This includes everything from your grass to the roof on your house. The problem with this is that regular garden hoses do not put out a lot of water all at once and if it’s just you doing the firefighting then how are you going to be able to watch all sides of your house? You can create a fireline with water by soaking the perimeter of the fire which will prevent spreading. Basically the safest thing you can do as far as your property is concerned is to flood it.
- Keep your grass short. If you have a big yard that’s all grass (or weeds if mowing isn’t your thing) and you don’t maintain it then you’ve surrounded yourself with the perfect fire spreading fuel it needs. Keeping it short doesn’t mean it won’t catch on fire but it does mean that it’ll burn out a lot quicker and you may have time to run over and put out the flames if they aren’t at eye level. A good way to make sure a fire doesn’t get to you is to actually fight it with fire. Creating a fireline will ultimately take away all the fuel that the wildfire would need to continue to grow. If you’ve already burned all the dry plants before the fire gets there then the fire cannot spread. But do remember that embers can still spread in the air and can skip over the fireline that you have created. One very important thing to remember if you’re are going to do this is that you should absolutely contact your local fire department and see if it’s okay to do a controlled burn. If there is a red flag warning in your local area for fire it is probably not a good idea to do one since you can run the risk of creating a wildfire yourself.
- Grass is not the only thing that can burn though. Keeping things like your rain gutters clear will help you protect your home and not turn it into fuel for the fire. I have a massive pine tree in my front yard and I can tell you that it makes a huge mess and the mess is perfect kindling for a fire.
- One of the most important things to remember is that smoke will kill you. If you’ve decided to stay and you’re doing a good job at saving your home you can still run the risk of either becoming very ill or dying because smoke is not something to mess with. Not only that but if the air is hot enough and you breathe it in you still run the risk of burning your respiratory tract. And on top of both of those you also run the risk of breathing in harmful chemicals if they are burned and in the air. Think of all the plastic and cleaning chemicals kept around your house; now think of them on fire and you breathing it in. Sounds pretty horrible right? Unfortunately for you there isn’t a whole lot you can do except try to move the chemicals away from where your family immediately is before the fire reaches them but once the wind kicks up you are ultimately screwed. You can of course always wear your gas mask but when fire is directly in front of you and it’s suddenly become well over 140 degrees having something on your face is not the greatest idea, passing out from heat stroke will not help your family.
- Of course fire extinguishers are a great thing to have in any home and work amazing for small fires. But unless you have stock piled an unrealistic amount of fire extinguishers in your home you probably won’t be able to fight a very large fire.
- If you have a pool or some sort of larger body of water on your property then make sure you have a route that you can access to get to it because it could really come in handy if you ultimately do have to leave your home because the fire is close. If you are going to go this route though remember that you may be here for a while before the fire is contained enough to try to leave again so pack accordingly. If need be put as much food as you can in waterproof bags or containers so it can go in the water with you in case the fire reaches a close proximity.
Kids and Wildfires
If you are like myself and you have children then your response time and carrying load has now at the very least been doubled. I do not recommend staying to protect your home from a huge wildfire if you have young children. Every parent knows how much responsibility their children can handle. However I still couldn’t imagine risking my children’s lives to save material possessions. If you do choose to stay and you have children with you just know that children are more at risk than you are to things like smoke inhalation and because of this should never be kept near smoke for any period of time. Children are also going to be outright terrified of what’s going on and will have no control over their emotions so it may be a battle to keep your child calm, which will be a huge distraction for you. If you can keep your child calm enough while evacuating then give them some simple tasks like:
- Picking out a few of their favorite toys, you absolutely will not be able to bring all of them.
- Have them help pack up their clothing, you will need to explain to them what type of clothing or they will grab whatever is near and shove it into their bag and we all know that a snow jacket and pajama shorts are not going to be helpful as an outfit.
- Have them help pack up some food. I come from the old school thought you if my parents put it on my plate I was eating it and that’s how my husband and I raise our children, but not everyone is like us so if you have a picky child then give them a bucket/box/whatever it is that you’re using and tell them to go get whatever food it is that they want a put it in there.
With all of this being said please remember that you should always have an exit plan no matter what when you have children and that it is YOUR job as the parent to make sure that everything is ready. If you have young children it is not reasonable to think that they will be able to take care of themselves in a disaster situation. If your children are a bit older you may be able to get away with giving them a little bit more responsibility, but ultimately it is your job to protect and provide. Every child is also different so if you do need to keep your child calm because they are freaking out you should do whatever fits your child. Sit them down with a coloring book or let them play a game on your phone or whatever you have just try not to freak out around them or let them see anything on any form of media that will make them panic.
Many of us also have pets that rely on us as well. Now this paragraph may piss some people off because as much as I love my pets I also understand that they are pets and not humans. With that being said I would never leave my pup behind unless it was some crazy situation where she would be better off making a run for it than with us. Animals have a natural instinct that will kick in and tell them to get the hell out of dodge. Most pets are a lot like kids when it comes to getting ready, only most of them are of absolutely zero help when it comes to packing up your stuff and it’s not like they have the ability to pack up their own things. So assuming you have a standard pet that you can pack up with you there are some things you can do to make it easier on you:
- Have their food and some water already packed up for them and set aside so you can grab it and go. If you are not as organized as some of us though and don’t have this already set aside it should be one of the first things that you do. It is recommended to have a bag in your home and also have one ready to go in the car at all times.
- If your pet is sick or on any medications make sure that they are packed as well.
- Make sure you have either a carrier or leash with you so that they do not run off while you’re evacuating. Like I said earlier, animals have a natural instinct to run away from danger and will bolt if they think it’s a better option. And make sure that your leashes are close to the exit so you can grab them and go.
- It is recommended that you give your most trusted neighbor a key to your house to get your pets out if you are not home. Now I do not like the thought of someone having access to my home when I am not home so I would alter this slightly to hiding a key somewhere and then if something does happen I can call or text them to let them know where it is and then they can save my pets. But also remember that your neighbors are also having to evacuate and may not be able to do this and that ultimately they are your responsibility to take care of.
- Also there are stickers that you can get that you place in your front window that will tell firefighters that you have pets inside the house and they can keep an eye out for them in the event that your house does catch fire.
Now if you do not have animals that can easily be packed up (ie. Horses, livestock, etc) because you don’t have a trailer or you think your pets would be better on their own then truthfully your best bet is to get them to run. Now I know that sounds harsh and yes there is a large possibility that your pet will be hurt or worse but you give them an actual chance if you release them to figure it out rather them confining them to a stall or cage. There are also organizations out there that will help evacuate horses and other livestock if you cannot. But you need to have these numbers on you beforehand and figure out what their qualifications are for helping you with their animals. Also understand that the longer you wait the less likely it will be that they will have space for your animal since you won’t be the only person having this issue. Every location has different organizations that will help but your local humane society is a great place to start.
Something to keep in mind for both your children and pets is first aid. Make sure that you have a first aid kit filled with things that can be used for both your pets and children and make sure that you have enough for everyone. Things can happen when you’re moving fast to get out of dodge and if the worst really does happen you don’t want a small cut turning into a huge infection. I don’t believe in dressing up your pets but I will say that having booties for your dogs is an amazing idea. Your pet having burnt paws is horrible and very painful. If you have a large dog you may not be able to carry them so they will have to walk and if they have burnt paws it will be agony for them.
The last really big thing I want to touch on is smoke. I’ve written about it a little bit above but smoke inhalation is actually a huge deal. According to Wikipedia “It is estimated that 50–80% of fire deaths are the result of smoke inhalation injuries, including burns to the respiratory system. The hot smoke injures or kills by a combination of thermal damage, poisoning and pulmonary irritation and swelling, caused by carbon monoxide, cyanide and other combustion products.” Smoke inhalation is very dangerous for anyone who has any issues with their heart or lungs like heart disease, lung disease, asthma, and anything else that can be made worse by a constriction of oxygen. Older adults and children are also put at a higher risk for something happening because their lungs are not as strong. Smoke inhalation is also not just the breathing in of smoke, you can also be burned by breathing in the hot air or burning chemicals. The CDC has given the following guidelines when it comes to avoiding smoke.
- Check local air quality reports.
- Consult local visibility guides if they are available.
- Keep indoor air as clean as possible.
- Avoid activities that increase indoor pollution.
- Prevent wildfires from starting.
- Follow the advice of your doctor or other healthcare provider about medicines and about respiratory management plan if you have asthma or another lung disease.
- Do not rely on dust masks for protection.
- Evacuate from the path of wildfires.
If you take away anything from this I hope it’s that you will become prepared if you are not already. Wildfires are not the only natural disaster that can happen so having a bugout bag for your entire family is so important. If you have the time to collect photo albums and other material things along the way out then do so but if you do not please do not risk your life or your loved ones lives for things that can be replaced.
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