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Up in smoke: Have an evacuation plan ready in case of fire

Spencer Kellar
Special to The Union
Two Cal Fire firefighters monitoring developments during the Trailhead Fire.
Photo submitted by Annita Kasparian |

Tips to prepare for evacuation

— Prepare an evacuation checklist

— Organize: Critical medications, important personal papers, photos, essential valuables, pet and livestock transport, limited amount of pet food, change of clothing, toiletries, cell phone. Critical papers and effects in a fire-proof safe, an evacuation route map with at least two routes.

— Park your vehicle facing outward and carry your car keys with you.

— Locate your pets and keep them nearby.

— Prepare farm animals for transport.

— Place connected garden hoses and buckets full of water around the house.

— Move propane BBQ appliances away from structures.

— Cover up. Wear long pants, long sleeve shirt, heavy shoes/boots, cap, dry bandanna for face cover, goggles or glasses. One hundred percent cotton is preferable.

— Leave lights on in the house with door unlocked.

— Leave windows closed and air conditioning off.

— Courtesy Cal Fire

In the dry summer months, wildfires become a paramount concern for locals. With fire season in full swing and with the nearby Trailhead Fire charring more than 5,000 acres (see page A3 for more), it’s important to have a plan in case of emergency.

Many Nevada County residents have done just that, discussing their plans not just with their families but with neighbors as well.

“The first priority is our dogs. We figured out how they would get situated in our truck, where the dog leashes are, and that the dogs always have collars on. And then … we had some discussions about what is replaceable and what isn’t,” said San Juan Ridge resident Shannon Snow. “And when we get the dogs and those items, that’s it and we move on and talk to our neighbors. We have some close neighbors, and they told us what was important to them and we told them what was important to us, in case we’re not here or they’re not there.”

Other county residents shared what they learned after going through an evacuation.

“When the Dog Bar fire came a little too close, we wet the front yard down, turned off and unplugged everything,” said Sarah Meyers, who lives in Cedar Ridge. “I walked the house taking video on my cell phone of basically everything in my house … We opened cabinets and briefly described the things inside and made sure to capture everything inside and outside of the house of value. We had a little bit of time so I called the (veterinarian) and asked, if we had to evacuate, if we could bring some or all of our pets in and then located the cats. We threw some pet food in the cars and a couple easy-to-move dog beds too.

“I asked my kids the question, ‘what is the most important things to you in the house, that you feel couldn’t be replaced?” Meyers continued. “In our fire plan, we talked about having to move fast. We talked about where to run to if we had no time to leave and where to be safe at the pond if need be. My kids are 12 and 8 now, so it is easier to figure it out with big helpers… We got all of that done in 17 minutes.”

Evacuations can come quickly and unexpectedly, and this can prove to be disruptive of previously organized emergency procedures. Barbara Warrell Jones had a cautionary tale after she was forced to evacuate by herself in a “horrid” ordeal.

“Our evacuation plan basically failed,” she said. “It involved having the entire family with specific chores (and) obligations. When I had to prepare last time, I was home alone…(with) everyone out of town. I had three dogs and one with a surgical cone on his head.”

Animals, and what to do with them in the event of a fire, are an important part of the planning process. The Nevada County Veterinary Disaster Response Team is a non-profit that operates locally, accepting and taking care of pets that have been displaced by wildfires for no fee.

“Basically, we are the Red Cross for animals,” said Pat Ehlers, one of the directors of the organization. “If you have to evacuate, bring the animals to us and we’re happy to take care of them until it’s safe to go home. It’s no cost to the owners to have the little ones with us.

“Once we get mobilized, we go to a location that will be safe for the animals. With luck, we get the Fairgrounds. And so we open it up, we receive the animals, we decide where to put the animal depending upon its size and type and we feed them and give them water,” she added. “Dogs get walked three times a day. And all the animals get attention. We had a pig last year during the Lowell fire, and he got plenty of attention as well.”

Ehlers also had tips for those who would like to be more prepared for a possible evacuation.

“We recommend that everyone should have an evacuation box or bag for humans and the animals, and have it stored for easy access. A lot of people store it in the trunk of the car; others will store it in the closet. The box, which should be made up ahead of time, should contain a change of clothes, toiletries, copies of important papers, insurance, as well as car and house information,” she said. “We recommend if they have heirlooms or other items that would be devastating to lose, that they have those packed up also. We tell them also, for both the humans and animals, to make sure they have a week to two weeks supply of their medication.”

For more information on how to be prepared for a fire emergency, please refer to the fact box or go to http://calfire.ca.gov/fire_protection/fire_protection_be_prepared.

Spencer Kellar is a freelance writer living in Nevada City; he can be reached at spencerkellar@gmail.com.


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