How you can prepare for wildfires

Flames tower above firefighters
Flames tower above firefighters during the Carr fire in July 2018.
(Josh Edelson / AFP/Getty Images)

The best way to get through a wildfire safely is to prepare for it before it happens.

It’s a good idea to put aside supplies, make plans with loved ones and think through arrangements for pets even if there’s no emergency threatening you.

“People underestimate how long it will take them to get what they need,” so it’s crucial to prepare ahead of time, said Michele Steinberg, wildfire division manager at the National Fire Protection Assn.

Her nonprofit encourages people to “think through disasters so that they don’t have to live through disasters,” she said. When trying to narrow down what you need, she said, “ask yourself: What would I take if I only had 10 minutes to get out of my house?” Making that decision in advance can cut down on chaos and save time when an emergency does strike.


Here are steps you can take to prepare for a wildfire in your area, according to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection and other experts.


In your house:

* Have a fire extinguisher handy and check its expiration date regularly. Make sure everyone in the home knows how to use it.
* Know where your electric, gas and water main shut-off controls are and how to turn them off.
* Keep a list of emergency contact numbers near your landline (if you have one) or in another easily accessible place.
* Get a portable, battery-powered radio or scanner to stay informed on fire updates.
* Keep a flashlight and a pair of sturdy shoes, such as hiking boots, near your bed in case of power shut-offs and sudden overnight evacuations.


Make an emergency supply kit

It should contain:
* At least three days’ worth of water and nonperishable food. For each person, there should be a gallon of water per day. Don’t forget food and water for pets.
* A map marked with at least two evacuation routes in case GPS isn’t working
* Prescription medications
* Extra clothes and batteries
* Flashlight
* A first aid kit
* Passports, birth certificates and other important documents
* Moist towelettes and other sanitation supplies
* A whistle to signal for help

Bring the kit with you if you evacuate, or keep a duplicate in your car.


Prepare for the possibility of evacuation

* With the other members of your household, agree on an emergency meeting location outside of the fire and hazard areas.
* Plan several routes to escape your home and leave your community, and practice them.
* Pick a friend or relative who lives outside of the fire area to be a point of contact in case household members are separated and communication systems are down or overloaded.
* Make sure your pets and large animals, such as livestock and horses, factor into your evacuation plan.


A way to organize your thoughts

Emergency experts recommend thinking about “the six Ps” when considering what to prioritize if you need to evacuate.


People and pets: These should be your first priority. If your pets are on a leash or in a carrier or tank, emergency shelters in Los Angeles should let you bring them along.

Papers and phone numbers: Passports, birth certificates, marriage licenses and other legal documents should come with you. If you have pets, pack proof that they’re up to date on vaccinations. A list of essential phone numbers — including doctors, relatives, an out-of-state contact, neighbors, coworkers, your insurance agent, your lawyer and your landlord — should be there too in case your phone runs out of juice.

Prescriptions: If you need it for your health or survival, take it with you. This includes prescription medication as well as eyeglasses, contact lenses and vitamins. If you have any babies or toddlers, make sure to pack wipes, diapers and a stroller.

Personal computers: Your laptop or desktop likely has a lot of important documents, photos and files, and it may be crucial for staying in contact and accessing services if you lose your home or have to be away for a long time. Don’t forget about your external hard drive.

Plastic: This includes credit cards, ATM cards, ID cards and insurance cards. It also includes cash.


Pictures and personal items: It would be painful to lose albums, framed photos and other irreplaceable memorabilia. But if packing these things will delay your evacuation, leave them behind.

To stay updated on fires and evacuations in Los Angeles, you can follow the city’s Emergency Management Department on Twitter @ReadyLA.

Elaborate sprinkler systems could be a waste of money in protecting your home from wildfire. A better strategy, experts say, is to team up with neighbors to fireproof your entire community.

Oct. 3, 2019