It’s time to start thinking about wildfire season and prepare!

On July 3, 2012, our family was headed to Warm River, Idaho for a family reunion. Due to her work schedule, our 18-year-old daughter stayed home.

Just after 2 pm, I received a desperate phone call from her saying that she could see a huge fire burning in the mountains behind our house and that she wanted to know what she should do if she had to evacuate. My first reaction was, how bad could it be? She took a photo and sent it to me and yes, her alarm was justified.

This wildfire, known as the Quail Hollow fire, consumed nearly 2,900 acres and caused the evacuation of 500 homes. At the time, it was the highest priority fire in the United States due to perfect fire conditions and the dense population it threatened.

I am embarrassed to say that we have never discussed this as a family. So now, hundreds of miles away, we were putting a plan in motion. We told our daughter what she was to do in case our house was in danger and, most importantly, that if she was asked to evacuate, she would do so immediately.

We notified the neighbors that she was at home. She had emergency survival kits and items stored ready for a quick evacuation, but we never formally discussed the plan as a family. That was a big mistake. For some reason, she had always imagined that I would be the one at home and able to put our plan into action.

We were not one of the 500 evacuated households, but I know several that were. Talking to them, they had very little time to evacuate due to the speed of the fire. It was moving very fast due to dry conditions and wind. Many only had time to grab one or two personal items and leave.

Although we were confident that our daughter was safe and far enough away from the fire, we should have been better prepared. We were just lucky that day.

Our plan was flawed in two ways: (1) I missed a step by not communicating the details of the plan to my family, and (2) I lacked contingency plans for unexpected events. As Robert Burns wrote: “Even the best laid plans of mice or men go awry.” Things will not always go as planned and planning for multiple scenarios is crucial.

So what did I learn from this experience? You NEED to have a plan. Why?

  • Emergencies happen without warning, especially wildfires.

  • Your family may not all be in one place, as was the case for us.

  • So everyone knows what to do in an emergency and where the supplies are.

  • So, you are not planning during the emergency, it is not the best idea.

Where should one start?

  • Recognize your wildfire risk

  • create a plan

  • Create or restock your emergency kits

  • Communicate and practice your plan


Depending on where you live, your wildfire risk will vary. Understanding the risks helps you formulate a plan. If you are at risk, find out

  • How your local government plans to handle a wildfire situation

  • How will your local government communicate with the community,

  • What are the evacuation routes (roads are sometimes closed to facilitate emergency vehicles).

Knowing the inherent risks can help you minimize some of the risks to yourself, your family, and your property.

Maintenance of your home:

  • Keep gutters clear

  • Remove fire-prone materials from around your home (i.e., woodpiles)

  • Landscape properly so that fire-prone landscaping is away from important structures.

This can be the difference between taking fire damage or not.


Communication is the key to any successful plan.

  • Decide how they will communicate with each other, especially in case normal lines of communication are not available.
  • Predetermine common meeting places if they are separated. Depending on the circumstances, it could be a meeting place outside your home, the local school, church, or the home of a relative or friend in another city.
  • Gather contact information for your family, friends, and other important or relevant emergency contact numbers. Make sure everyone has a copy of this information.
  • Have access to a radio or other types of communication and know where to go for alerts. Staying informed will help you put your plan into action.
  • Incorporate contingency plans for different scenarios.
    • When you need to evacuate
    • if you are trapped
    • Maybe you need to stay where you are
    • Your family members are in different places
  • Involve all members of your family in planning


As I mentioned earlier, wildfires happen quickly and unexpectedly, often leaving you with no time to pack a bag. Having an emergency survival kit that is ready and easy to grab is a must in an emergency evacuation situation. A kit that can provide food, water, and supplies for 72 hours is highly recommended. Depending on the magnitude of the emergency, it may take some time for emergency services groups to enter and provide services, especially if they cannot immediately access the area.

You can buy an emergency survival kit or create your own 72-hour kit. Here is a list of recommended supplies. Feel free to customize based on your own personal needs and plan of action.

Food and water to last 72 hours:

  • 1 Gallon of water per person per day, for washing, drinking and cooking.

  • Nonperishable food. (MREs, survival food bars, or canned food work great in a kit.) Items that don’t need cooking are best. If you use freeze-dried foods, you will need to increase your water supply.

  • Emergency water filters and purification supplies. This may not be necessary, but it will spread your water, which could be very important during the hotter temperatures of wildfire season.

Cooking, heating and lighting supplies:

  • Kitchen: Utensils, Glasses and Plates. Portable kitchen stove if you need to cook your food. I still recommend foods that do not need cooking.

  • Heat: Emergency Blanket, Hand Warmers, Sleeping Bag, Tent.

  • Lighting: Battery-powered or hand-cranked flashlight (LED flashlights last longer than conventional bulbs), glow sticks.

  • Extra batteries.

First Aid Kit and other Special Needs:

  • First aid box

  • Pet, child and elderly care needs

  • feminine hygiene products

Medications and Prescriptions:

  • Enough medicine to last long enough until you can get more, especially in case your home is destroyed.

Emergency Weather Radios:

  • An emergency radio, preferably a hand crank radio, is very important to keep you updated on the latest news.

  • Two-way radios are especially useful for communication


  • It’s always good to have cash on hand in small denominations

  • credit card

  • Phone card

Clothing and bedding:

  • Sleeping bags, blankets

  • An extra change of clothing, including extra layering items, if you are in colder weather or if it is chilly at night.

Important documents: (not all of them are a must, but they are certainly nice to have)

  • Your disaster plan for every emergency survival kit

  • List of emergency contact information collected; this may also include possible evacuation routes and predetermined meeting places

  • Copy of identification documents (license, passport)

  • insurance information

  • Maps, GPS or travel information in case of evacuation

Sanitation supplies:

Too often we neglect the importance of hygiene and sanitation in an emergency.

  • Portable bathroom

  • Sanitary cleaning wipes

  • Toothpaste and toothbrushes

  • toilet paper

  • Soap and towel

It’s best to store emergency survival kits and extra supplies in plastic wheelie bins. This will keep your gear more organized and easier to transport. Always start with the basics of what you will need and over time add to your kits.

Communicate and practice the plan

This is a crucial step as we discovered. If your family doesn’t know what the plan is, what their share is, or where your supplies are, none of the above matters. Every person needs to know:

  • What are the responsibilities of each person?

  • How will each person work together?

  • Where all your emergency survival kits are stored

  • What and how to use all the items in your emergency survival kit

  • Practice as much of the plan as you can, including contingency plans. Practicing will also show you flaws or inconsistencies in your plan.

Wildfires can happen without warning. Assess your wildfire risk and take the necessary steps to protect yourself, your family, your pets, and your property. You will never regret taking the time to prepare. Discuss the plan during family meetings. You may even want to have a week or month of fire safety for your family during which you develop the plan, make or buy the kits, and practice what to do in a wildfire emergency.

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