AMARILLO, Texas (KAMR/KCIT) – As drought conditions continue across Texas and wildfires impact many communities across the state, including the High Plains, families in recent days have needed to evacuate their homes on short notice.
“I think a big lesson from today is, if evacuations are needed, to have a plan in order to evacuate your family quickly,” said Ben Oakley, EMS chief of Blanco County, “With the weather that we’re seeing right now in the conditions, the fire can move so quickly that if evacuations are needed, there’s not a lot of time. So that’s one thing we’ve seen all over the state, especially lately, is when that order is given people need to evacuate quickly.”
MyHighPlains.com has compiled a set of checklists and other tips for families to reference when preparing for wildfires and possible evacuations.
Creating an Emergency Supply Kit
According to references published by ReadyForWildfire.org, emergency supply kits are best prepared before a wildfire or other disaster, and best kept easily accessible so that families can take them during short-notice evacuations. Families should plan to be away from home for an extended period of time, and each person should have their own kit.
As for storage, ReadyForWildfire.org suggested that backpacks work well for storing items except for food and water, and food and water can be stored well in a tub or chest with wheels in order to make for easier transport. However, those tubs should be kept light enough to lift and fit into a car.
Emergency Supply Kit Checklist:
- Face masks or coverings
- Three-day supply of non-perishable food and three gallons of water per person
- Map marked with at least two evacuation routes
- Prescriptions or special medications
- Change of clothing
- Extra eyeglasses or contact lenses
- An extra set of car keys, credit cards, cash or traveler’s checks
- First aid kit
- Battery-powered radio and extra batteries
- Sanitation supplies
- Copies of important documents (birth certificates, passports, etc.)
- Pet food and water
Extra items to pack, if time allows:
- Easily-carried valuables
- Family photos and other irreplaceable items
- Personal computer information on hard drives and disks
- Chargers for cellphones, laptops, and other devices.
Creating a Wildfire Action Plan
Experts such as those with ReadyForWildfire.org encourage every member of every household to be familiar with their Wildfire Action Plan. While each household and family’s plan will be different depending on a variety of issues, needs, and situations, a few checklists have been created for reference.
Generally, your evacuation plan should include:
- A designated emergency meeting location outside the fire or hazard area. This is critical to determine who has safely evacuated from the affected area.
- Several different escape routes from your home and community. Practice these often so everyone in your family is familiar in case of emergency.
- Have an evacuation plan for pets and large animals such as horses and other livestock.
- A Family Communication Plan that designates an out-of-area friend or relative as a point of contact to act as a single source of communication among family members in case of separation.
- It is easier to call or message one person and let them contact others than to try and call everyone when phone, cell, and internet systems can be overloaded or limited during a disaster.
- Have fire extinguishers on-hand and make sure each household member knows how to use them.
- Check expiration dates on fire extinguishers regularly.
- Make sure that every household member knows where the gas, electric, and water main shut-off controls are located and how to safely shut them down in an emergency.
- Make sure each person has an Emergency Supply Kit readily available in case of an evacuation.
- Maintain a list of emergency contact numbers near your phone and in every emergency supply kit.
- Keep extra emergency kits in household cars in case you cannot get to your home because of fire or another emergency.
- Have a portable radio or scanners so that you can remain updated on the fire or other emergency.
- Collaborate with neighbors to ensure each household has a Wildfire Action Plan.
The Six “P’s”
Experts such as those with ReadyForWildfire.org suggest that each household remember the “Six P’s” while preparing for immediate evacuation orders:
- People and Pets
- Papers, phone numbers, and important documents
- Prescriptions, vitamins, and eyeglasses
- Pictures and irreplaceable memorabilia
- Personal computer hard drives and disks
- “Plastic” – Credit cards, ATM cards, and cash
Before an Evacuation
When wildfires pop up in the area and an evacuation becomes possible, ReadyForWildfire.org and other experts suggest that households take steps to prepare and give homes a better chance of surviving a blaze.
Inside the Home:
- Have Emergency Supply Kits ready to go
- Make sure your WIldfire Action Plan is prepared ahead of time
- Make sure each household member knows the community’s emergency response plan and have a place to go in the event of an evacuation, as well as the best routes to leave your location
- Shut all windows and doors, leaving them unlocked
- Remove flammable window shades, curtains, and close metal shutters
- Remove lightweight curtains
- Move flammable furniture to the center of the room, away from windows and doors
- Shut off gas at the meter, and turn off pilot lights
- Leave lights on so that firefighters can see the house in smoky conditions
- Shut off the air conditioning
Outside the Home:
- Gather up flammable items from the outside of the home and bring them inside
- Patio furniture
- Children’s toys
- Door mats
- Trash cans, etc.
- Turn off all propane tanks
- Move propane BBQW appliances away from structures
- Connect garden hoses to outside water valves or spigots for firefighters to use
- Fill water buckets and place them around the home
- Don’t leave sprinklers on or water running, these can affect critical water pressure
- Leave exterior lights on so your home is visible to firefighters in smoky or nighttime conditions
- Put Emergency Supply Kits in your vehicle
- Back your car into the driveway, if available, with vehicles loaded and all doors and windows closed
- Make sure that, if you have them, you carry your car keys with you
- Have a ladder available and place it at the corner of the house, if applicable, for firefighters to quickly access the roof
- Seal attic and ground vents with pre-cut plywood or commercial seals
- Patrol your property and monitor the fire situation
- If you feel threatened, do not wait for an evacuation order
- Check on neighbors and make sure they are preparing to leave
- Locate any household pets and keep them nearby
- Prepare farm animals for transport, and consider moving them to a safe location early
Returning Home after a Wildfire
In the wake of a wildfire or other disaster, Ready.gov offered households tips for what to do upon returning home:
- Do not return home until authorities say it is safe to do so
- Avoid hot ash, charred trees, smoldering debris and live embers
- The ground may contain heat pockets that can burn you or spark another fire.
- When cleaning, wear protective clothing – including a long-sleeved shirt, long pants, work gloves and sturdy thick-soled shoes – during clean-up efforts
- Use a respirator to limit your exposure, and wet debris to minimize breathing dust particles
- People with asthma, COPD and/or other lung conditions should take precautions in areas with poor air quality, as it can worsen symptoms.
- Document property damage with photographs
- Conduct an inventory and contact your insurance company for assistance
- Report damage to homes and businesses using the Individual State of Texas Assessment (iSTAT) damage survey
- Send text messages or use social media to reach out to family and friends
- Phone systems are often busy following a disaster. Make calls only in emergencies.
Further resources can be found on Ready.gov. For updates on the latest local news, weather, and fire conditions, check with MyHighPlains.com.