If you're not fighting one, fleeing from one or flying over one, then wildfires can be pretty "interesting" events. Big wildfires can create their own weather systems (which adds a new level of difficulty for air crews doing drops) and they can bypass the ground by jumping from tree top to tree top (called crowning).
Crowning can significantly up the level of "interesting" when tree tops explode and send flaming tree bits upwards and into the underside of aircraft making a pass. Firefighting pilots have literally felt the "thump, thump" of flaming branches hitting the belly of their airplane.
Wildfires can also be a little sneaky. The fire can drop underground and, like a ghost flame, tunnel through root systems to then pop up in a different place, much to the surprise of anyone standing nearby. And, like a nightmarish video game, a wildfire can shoot out fireballs in front of itself.
If all of this wasn't interesting enough, wildfires can also travel faster than you might expect (up to 10.8 kilometres per hour (6.7 mph) in forests and 22 kilometres per hour (14 mph) in grasslands).
Wildfires are not just hard on the crews that fight them, either. During one incident, we found it necessary to keep an entire community on evacuation warning for a week while crews battled hard against a Class A fire that was 10 km. from their doorsteps. Although there was no other choice but to do this, some of the residents lost their minds over the stress it caused and voluntarily evacuated themselves. Others chose to personally convey their annoyance which, in turn, was a golden opportunity for me to talk about the seriousness of wildfire behavior. In the end, the community was saved and the same people who complained ended up offering to cook meals and bake pies for us.
Wildfires are usually visible from far away, putting up enough smoke to rival a decent A-bomb which means that most people will never say "what fire?" Unfortunately, some people will refuse to evacuate despite orders from emergency managers.
No matter if it's a fire, flood or volcanic eruption (deadly Mount St. Helens comes to mind), many people, who have no disaster training or background, will suddenly decide that their house or property is more important than their life. This decision baffles me but I can only assume that the person who refuses to evacuate believes they are not in danger or that they can manage the risk or they're just plain suicidal.
If you've ever second-guessed an evacuation order, it may help to understand what goes on, behind the scenes, in an emergency situation. First of all, there's usually an emergency operations centre (EOC) set-up and filled with emergency managers who are gathering and tracking information, evaluating options and designating resources to the response. They have up-to-the-minute intelligence on the situation and they never take lightly the call for an evacuation.
If you still decide to commit "suicide by disaster," be aware that you might take down a few first responders with you. Many agencies will try to assist those who didn't evacuate but now find themselves in a life-threatening situation which, in turn, puts responder lives at risk and uses resources in the most selfish of ways possible. Today, because of this risk to responders, some agencies will send out warnings ahead of time, alerting the public, that citizens will NOT be rescued if they ignore an evacuation order. Since death by ignorance is preventable, these tragedies do not need to occur.
Although some countries may use different terms, if you find yourself in the middle of an emergency situation, the basic instructions from authorities will look something like this:
An alert to community members in a defined area of a potential threat to life and property from an emergency incident. (There may be a time period attached to this warning such as to expect 15 minutes notice to evacuate, if the order is given.)
An order to move community members out of a defined area due to an immediate threat to life and property from an emergency incident. (This order means you leave immediately. Grab and go.)
A direction to community members to stay inside their current location if a situation does not allow for evacuation or when an evacuation could cause a higher potential for loss of life. (Personally, this one scares me the most. Shelter-in-place orders are often used for active shooter scenarios or incidents like a train derailment where toxic chemicals may have been released. It means the danger is occurring right now and it's close to you.)
Now, if you've got your emergency kits and shelter-in-place supplies ready, you won't suffer the stress of being caught off guard. You'll never be panicking about batteries or bottled water. If you're put on a warning, you can load your car ahead of time, stay informed of the situation and communicate your plans with family members.
If you're evacuated, you'll either drive out in your already-packed vehicle or, if there was no warning ahead of time, just grab the kits, kids, pets and go! If you're told to shelter-in-place, then you'll have your supplies ready. You'll bring pets inside, lock the doors, follow these instructions and hunker down.
By now, if you've been reading my blog posts, you should have:
- An understanding of why emergency preparedness is important.
- Determined your local hazards and risks (using these lists)
- Decided where you'll store your emergency supplies
- Given some thought as to what level you'll prep to (although there's no need to make a final decision yet)
STEP 1: Pillage Your Village
Let's begin at the most obvious place – with stuff that you already own. These items cost you nothing and using them can free up needed closet space, help de-clutter your home and prevent items from entering landfills. Collecting these items first also means you can save your other “prep for free” techniques for items you will actually need to buy.
Since many of us fall into the “copious consumer” category, our closets and storage areas are often stuffed with unused items that are perfect for an emergency kit. Here's how to pillage your village and take advantage of what you already own:
- As you work through your home, make sure you have a designated box or two for the items you'll find. A free used cardboard box is fine for this purpose.
- Create two piles: one for evacuation, work and car kits and one for long-term and shelter-in-place supplies. Don't worry if you're not sure what goes where. I'll help with that in coming blogs.
- Pillage one room at a time, working carefully through every drawer, cupboard, cabinet, nook and cranny. Be ruthless. Don't assume that, just because you put it away, that you actually need it anymore. Put on your preparedness hat (not the tinfoil one) and view each item with the mindset of “do I really need this” and “could I use it in an emergency?” If you haven't used the item in a year or more, then it's up for grabs.
- Think outside the box and consider how you might use an item in a different way. For example, a hand-held make-up mirror can be a great signalling device to alert rescuers.
- Size does matter. Evacuation kits, work kits and car kits are not the place for full-size versions of things. Save the big stuff for long-term supplies.
- Remember, used items are fine for emergency kits. There's no need to start off with brand-new items (with a few exceptions).
- A carrying case such as a backpack. If it has Spiderman or Barbie on it, that's even better. Kid's backpacks are less likely to be seen as carrying anything important. Just make sure they're large enough or, if smaller in size, designate them as packs that your kids can carry. A small suitcase on wheels or a duffle/sports bag is also fine. Try to pick something that you can walk easily with and that, preferably, keeps your hands free. Your car kit doesn't have to be a backpack (although it's not a bad idea) but your go-kit evacuation bag should be. If the student in your family needs a new backpack, buy it and then re-purpose the old one as your kit bag. If desired, you can get everyone in the family to carry a backpack (as long as they're physically able to). My 90-year-old mother has her own backpack and loves the security it brings her.
- Durable containers. Free used food buckets with lids (don't forget to ask for these at local bakeries and restaurants) and plastic totes work great for shelter-in-place supplies or as containers for long-term bug-out supplies (be sure to thoroughly wash and dry first). They may not be completely watertight but they're still much better than storing items in cardboard boxes. For smaller items, margarine, yogurt and cottage cheese containers just need to be cleaned well before becoming free kit organizers inside your backpack or totes.
- Food items. In coming blogs, I'll explain how you can collect food supplies for free but, basically, you'll want to include food items that are high-calorie and nutrient-dense, if possible. Nuts and dried fruit are two good examples and the reason why trail mix is so popular with hikers. These foods provide a lot of energy and nutrition but only take up a little space.
- Baby supplies. A few disposable diapers won't be missed but they'll go a long way to make your life less challenging during an evacuation. Look through your baby supplies for items you can pilfer.
- Clothing. Don’t forget to include a few articles of clothing, especially underwear. Remember that, during a disaster, wearing second-hand clothes may be necessary but finding your right size in underwear could be difficult. Wearing a comfortable bra or underwear can make quite a difference in your mental outlook so include one change of clothing plus unmentionables. If you live in a cold climate, don't forget winter gear like gloves and a warm jacket.
- Shoes. It's important to include a good pair of walking shoes in your car kits. If you wear heels to work, you may also want to keep a spare pair of walking shoes there as well.
- First aid supplies. You're not going to miss a few Band-Aids from the box so raid whatever you can from your supplies and then use my future steps to fill in any missing items.
- Medicine and eyeglasses. There's nothing worse than being evacuated with a miserable head cold. Make sure to include over-the-counter medication. You don't need to take a whole box but include a small amount of cold medication, allergy medication, anti-diarrhea medication and pain killers. If you take life-sustaining medication like thyroid pills, for example, try to store a small amount in your kits or talk to your doctor about an extra prescription. Remember to watch for expiry dates on medication and rotate out of your kit. For controlled temperature medication like some types of insulin, consider using a future prep-for-free technique to purchase a cooling wallet that will maintain the right temperature for two days. Another option is a wall or car-charged insulin cooler. (Note: Many insulin types do not require refrigeration for up to a month or more.) You can also use a free baggie, filled with water and frozen as an ice pack. Just don't accidentally freeze your medication by placing it directly on the ice pack. Make sure to include critical pet medications in your kit as well.
- Miscellaneous. Blankets, dust/paint masks, scissors, batteries, matches, umbrellas and whistles will rate high on your emergency supply list. If you have extras of any of these, put them aside for your kits.
- Pet supplies. Got a collar that looks a little worse for wear but still works? Or a leash that's dirty and ready to be replaced? Include old collars and leashes, used margarine containers or plastic bowls (which can double as a food and water dishes) and one or two extra toys or used balls. Fill a plastic grocery bag or free produce baggie with dry pet food and then store inside a margarine container. Note: As soon as possible, ensure that you have a pet carrier for evacuations. Do not leave pets behind. If you have to use a cardboard box, then do so but standard pet carriers are best and far more secure. Cats can shred a cardboard box very quickly so use only as a last resort. Remember, pets will be stressed in an evacuation and more likely to bolt from vehicles so keep them secure at all times.
- Personal hygiene products and feminine supplies. Remember all those items you stole, I mean, got from a hotel? Travel size items of soap, shampoo and lotion, etc., are perfect for kits. In later steps, I'll show you how to get these things for free but, if you already have them, put them aside for your kits.
- Water. I carry three bottles of water in the side pocket of each of my vehicle's four doors. This means, in one vehicle, there is 7.5 liters (2 gallons) of water at all times. Of course, I always carry the Life Straw in my evacuation kit which I talked about in this blog post.
Good luck on taking your first step! In the coming weeks, I'll be posting the next steps as well as more insight into disasters.
Thanks for stopping by,
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