By Douglas W. Motley
Because we live in a fire danger zone, and earthquakes are a real possibility as well, we all need to be prepared for an emergency and need to know what to do. The most important thing is to be prepared. If told by authorities to evacuate, don’t hesitate, just go.
With a half-dozen fires currently burning throughout Southern California – including the El Dorado Fire in the San Bernardino National Forest near Forest Falls and the Bobcat Fire in the Angeles National Forest, which, at press time, had burned over 17,000 acres and more than 41,000 acres, respectively – fire officials urge residents to be prepared to evacuate if another blaze erupts in the mountaintop area.
Before another wildland fire sweeps through the area, and it will sooner or later as history has demonstrated time and again, residents need to make a plan for where the family will meet if they get separated, whether in the neighborhood, on the mountain or down the hill. Everyone should know all family members’ phone numbers and an out-of-area family member to contact to let them know where you are.
In the case of a wildfire, you may have as long as two to four hours to evacuate, or as short as five to 15 minutes to get your stuff ready to leave. If told by authorities to leave immediately, load all family members and pets in the car and leave. Your life is more important than stuff.
If you have time to gather your stuff, know in advance where your important papers and documents are so they can be quickly assembled and taken at a moment’s notice. It’s best to prepare a designated drawer or waterproof plastic “grab-and-go” box or bag in advance, where everything is in one place so it can be taken with you.
Some of your important documents can be placed in advance in a safe deposit box, if you want extra security, including insurance policies for your home and vehicles and medical insurance cards and policy, as well as pictures of every room of your house showing your valuables and inventories of valuables, furniture, appliances, electronics, including serial numbers, your deeds, mortgages or rental agreements, bank account numbers, credit cards, loan documents, wills or living trusts, and copies of other important documents and warranties. Most of these items could also be conveniently stored on a computer thumb drive. DMV titles and registration and two years of income tax records should already be in a safe place or ready to go.
If a fire is in the area, be sure your car is parked facing outward, so you don’t have to back out. During fire season, you should never let your car’s gas tank get more than half empty, as you may have to evacuate through Big Bear if the front side of the mountain is closed off by fire, as was the case during the 2003 Old Fire.
Have a ready-to-leave backpack filled with emergency supplies, in case you cannot reach a shelter immediately. The backpack or emergency plastic container should include food, daily medicines and prescriptions, extra eyeglasses, pet and baby items, copies of driver’s license or ID, cash, and sanitary supplies such as toilet paper, trash bags, wipes and a small bucket. This backpack should be readily available, near the front door. Remember at least two changes of clothes for each person.
Other supplies such as camping gear and blankets, extra batteries and flashlights, battery-operated radio, pencils and paper, food items that do not need refrigeration and can opener, a pan and camp stove, heavy-duty gloves, jackets or sweatshirts, even in hot weather, rain gear, boots, socks and hats may all be needed during the evacuation. Take one gallon of water per person and a first aid kit.
If you have children, take something – a book, age-appropriate games and videos or other toys – to keep them occupied. Take snacks they like and, if possible, present a calm attitude as it will help them cope with the change and confusion of the moment.
Know at least two ways to exit your neighborhood, in case one is blocked by fire. Lock your doors and leave a note in an obvious place stating when you left and where you are intending to go.
Follow the directions of officials directing the evacuation. Drive calmly out of the area at a reasonable speed, with your headlights on, even in the daylight. Never use off-road shortcuts because, if you break down, no one may find you until it is too late.
Register at the evacuation shelter, even if you are staying with friends or family members, so authorities can account for all residents. Contact your insurance agents at the evacuation center and stay out of the fire or disaster area until told by authorities it is safe to re-enter.
For more information on evacuation procedures, log onto San Bernardino County Fire Department’s Reay, Set, Go website: https://sbcfire.org/readysetgofire/.