Preparing for a fire

The summer of 2013 is going to be a very long one in the state of Colorado.  We’ve already seen the most destructive fire in the state’s history, which after last summer, is saying a lot.  Our hearts and prayers are with all of those affected by the Black Forest Fire and all of the dozens of other fires currently burning across the state.

Here’s an excellent article – one of the best short articles on the subject that I’ve read.  Ben Sobieck does and excellent job.

So before I get into some of my thoughts, here’s an interesting test video so you know what we’re talking about.  And for those that think you’ll just stay home and fight the fire with a garden hose, watch this:

Ok, some thoughts:

Step 1 – accept that at some point, you may be personally affected by Mother Nature.  Get over the Normalcy Bias.  Yes, it’s possible that bad things will happen to you.  Admit it.  But that’s why we’re doing this: to do our best to prevent it from happening and how best to mitigate the physical and emotional/psychological damage if it does.  Good so far?

Next, we need a plan.  Typically, these things unfold pretty quickly.  With the Waldo Canyon Fire last summer, by the last estimates I heard, the fire actually started on Saturday morning or afternoon way up in the woods, then by Sunday night, it’s tearing through homes in western Colorado Springs.  That’s not a lot of evacuation notice time.

If there’s one bit of evacuation advice that I could give, having watched my parents struggle though this life-changing event, it’s have a THINGS TO GRAB ON THE WAY OUT THE DOOR list.  Create that list now when you’re in a reasonable state to be considering all your options.  It’s also a good idea to put a location where each item usually lives since stress and adrenaline tend to do strange things to memory.

Things to consider bringing with you:

  • Bug-out-bags (that’s the whole point of them)
  • Pet food, leash, bowls
  • Cash (just ask those who evacuated from Hurricane Rita how hard it was to get cash)
  • A pillow
  • Games / football / frisbee / playing cards
  • Firearms (better than leaving them at home, right?)
  • USB flash drive with important documents on it (encrypted is best)
  • Anything you might need for work like your ID badge and a change of decent clothes
  • As much spare water as you can bring
  • Cell phone charger
  • Walkie-talkies
  • Sleeping bags

Clearly, the priorities include anything that you can’t replace.  Think long and hard about which things you’ll never be able to forgive yourself over if you don’t bring them (like baby pictures).

I also recommend prioritizing your list.  If you only have time to grab 5 things on your list, make those your top-5.

Keep your list in a place that you’ll never forget, ideally near your front door or garage door.  Ours is taped to the back of a picture which hangs in a hallway near the door to the garage – you have to walk right past it every time you walk out the door.  And our whole family knows where it is.

Last tip: don’t forget to inventory your bug-out plans and bags regularly.  If you’re like us, occasionally your BOB gets raided when you lose a pair of work gloves or whatever; stuff gets moved around, things tend to expire, batteries die, your priorities change, etc.  The day that the smoke from the Black Forest Fire filled our house, we had an inventory-ing party in our living room – all of the BOBs came out, and EACH of us (including our 5-year-old) went through everything piece-by-piece.  (side note: it’s important for me that we each pack our own bag – my son needs to know what’s in his bag and take responsibility for maintaining it)

I asked my 5-year-old for what advice he would give to kids everywhere about what to put in your bug-out-bag and here’s what he said:

  • “Fun stuff, something to play with.”
  • “Be sure to bring your sleeping bag and not your bed.  Your bed won’t fit in your BOB.”
  • “Flashlights.”  That’s my boy!!
  • “Water bottles.”
  • “I think that’s about it.”

Last summer we had a Neighborhood Watch meeting on fire prevention and here are some of the notes I took from that meeting.  (And if you’re with our HOA, I hope you’re happy that you kicked our Neighborhood Watch group out of the neighborhood.  Don’t get me started on our HOA.)

—–

  • The most common extinguishers are 1-pound and 5-pound. The 5-pound extinguisher that I brought tonight is available at Wal-Mart (or any number of local places like Home Depot, Lowes, Target, etc.) for around $20-30.
  • 5-pound extinguishers will put out nearly every small fire in your home. 80% of the recent house fires in Castle Rock were started in the kitchen. The common “dry chemical” extinguishers work great on those. If the fire isn’t out after using up your extinguisher, GET OUT. (don’t try and get another extinguisher)
  • It may sound like common sense, but remove the source of the fire! If it’s an electrical fire or an oven fire, cut the power to the device – otherwise, even the best extinguisher is useless against it.
  • Don’t forget to give your dry-chem extinguishers a shake about once a year. The chemicals inside can actually settle inside. You won’t hurt it, just turn the thing upside down and give it a light shake once a year.
  • The CR FD doesn’t bill you for responding to 9-1-1 calls. There is still a fee associated with a full response to a false alarm, but those are VERY rare (i.e. they roll all the trucks out to your house and they find out it was a prank) as well as if they end up transporting you to the hospital. But just like the Police Department, they would ALWAYS PREFER THAT YOU CALL. Don’t be afraid, it’s what they do. Let them do their job.
  • The ideal spot for storing propane or gasoline is outside. If that’s not feasible, the next best place is in a metal container in the garage. Don’t forget to label it!!
  • Wildfire mitigation: one of the big determining factors as to which homes burned in Waldo Canyon appears to be landscaping. Juniper bushes, especially, are horrible when it comes to stopping fires – they burn like a match and the oil they secrete is flammable. If you must have juniper bushes, the further away from your house you can plant them, the better.
  • A great resource to learn about wildfires is http://www.firewise.org/. They have lists of plants to try and avoid and lots of great stuff. Check it out!
  • Here’s another amazing video that a friend of mine sent me about fires (he’s also a firefighter):

The Red cross has some cool apps which let you know when there’s trouble near you.  Check them out here: http://www.redcross.org/mobile-apps/tornado-app

If you’re struggling with how to help, let me recommend Mercury One.  The Red Cross is great, too.  Beware of scammers.

Stay safe out there, folks.  I’m praying for you.

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