Preparing for Wildfire Emergencies
By Loren Grube, Publisher
At the end of June, Stevens County experienced a historic triple digit heatwave with temperatures lingering above 90 for most of July. High heat along with low humidity influenced a dangerous wildfire situation threatening homes in the South Stevens County area. On July 23, fire danger elevated from Very High to Extreme. On July 31, Fire District 1 reached 1,129 calls, which, 10 years ago, was the total number for the entire year. There were 69 calls related to wildfires (33 during June and July). Last year, there were a total of 59 wildfire calls for the entire year. It’s only thanks to our skilled and dedicated firefighters’ fast response on the ground along with skilled air support and other support agencies that fires have been contained in time to avoid devastation in most instances.
But have you thought about the possibility of having to evacuate your home? What if you received a Level 3 emergency alert on your smartphone today? (Read further for evacuation levels.) Would you know what to do? Would you be ready to leave your home immediately, without time to pack? Have you thought about where you would go? Statistics show that very few have actually taken the time to prepare both physically and psychologically for a disaster.
Stevens County Emergency Management has provided an easy-to-follow guide to help us prepare for that disaster situation we hope never happens. The first step is to sign up for Hyper-Reach (a mass emergency notification system) to receive notifications about emergency situations in your area.
Sign up for Hyper-Reach
Landlines are automatically signed up for Hyper-Reach. However, many county residents no longer use landlines and need to sign up online through the Stevens County Sheriff’s Office community sign-up page to receive notifications by cell phone or email. Visit https://secure.hyper-reach.com/comsignupw.jsp?id=41001.
Know the evacuation levels
There are three evacuation levels, each representing a different level of escalation in an emergency. The following describes what each level means so that you are ready to respond appropriately.
Level 1 – Be ready. Know about the danger in your area. Prepare for evacuation and start moving people with special needs, mobile property and (potentially) livestock and pets.
Level 2 – Be set. This means there’s significant danger in your area. Relocate to a shelter or location outside the affected area. Or, if you choose to stay put, be prepared to evacuate at a moment’s notice.
Level 3 – Leave immediately. Danger is current or imminent in your area. Do not delay leaving to gather your belongings.
Prepare a Go Bag
Google defines a “Go Bag” as a bag packed with survival supplies and kept ready for use in case of an emergency that requires rapid evacuation. Basically, it is a bag that is ready to go on a moment’s notice with everything you may need to survive for three days in an emergency situation.
How to assemble your Go Bag
To assemble your Go Bag, store items in airtight plastic bags and put everything in one or two easy-to-carry containers such as plastic bins or a duffel bag.
A basic emergency supply kit recommended items:
- Water (one gallon per person per day for several days – for drinking and sanitation)
- Food (at least a three-day supply of non-perishable food)
- Battery-powered or hand crank radio and a NOAA Weather Radio with tone alert
- Flashlight with extra batteries
- First aid kit
- Whistle (to signal for help)
- Dust mask (to help filter contaminated air)
- Plastic sheeting and duct tape (to shelter in place). See Ready.gov/shelter
- Moist towelettes, garbage bags and plastic ties (for personal sanitation)
- Wrench or pliers (to turn off utilities). See Ready.gov/safety-skills
- Manual can opener (for food)
- Local maps
- Cell phone with chargers and a backup battery
Additional items to consider:
- Masks (for everyone ages two and above), soap, hand sanitizer, and disinfecting wipes to disinfect surfaces
- Prescription medications
- Non-prescription medications such as pain relievers, anti-diarrhea medication, antacids or laxatives
- Prescription eyeglasses and contact lens solution
- Infant formula, bottles, diapers, wipes and diaper rash cream
- Pet food and extra water for your pet
- Cash or traveler’s checks
- Important family documents such as copies of insurance policies, identification and bank account records saved electronically or in a waterproof, portable container
- Sleeping bag or warm blanket for each person
- Complete change of clothing appropriate for your climate and sturdy shoes
- Fire extinguisher
- Matches in a waterproof container
- Feminine supplies and personal hygiene items
- Mess kits, paper cups, plates, paper towels and plastic utensils
- Paper and pencil
- Books, games, puzzles or other activities for children
Go Bag Maintenance
- Keep canned food in a cool, dry place
- Store boxed food in tightly closed plastic or metal containers.
- Replace expired items as needed.
- Re-think your needs every year and update your kits as your family’s needs change.
Prepare a plan for various locations:
Since you don’t know where you will be when an emergency occurs, it is good to prepare Go Bags for home, work and cars.
Home: Keep this kit in a designated place and have it ready in case you have to leave your home quickly. Make sure all family members know where the kit is kept.
Work: Be prepared to shelter at work for at least 24 hours. Your work kit should include food, water, and other necessities like medicines, as well as comfortable walking shoes, stored in a “grab and go” case.
Car: In case you are stranded, keep a Go Bag of emergency supplies in your car.
Protect your home from wildfires
Every year, wildfires occur, but there are things you can do to protect your home.
According to NFPA.org, embers and small flames are the cause of the majority of homes igniting during wildfires. Embers are burning pieces of airborne wood and/or vegetation that can be carried more than a mile through the wind. Embers landing on debris can quickly start a fire that devastates your home. https://www.nfpa.org//-/media/Files/Firewise/Fact-sheets/FirewiseHowToPrepareYourHomeForWildfires.pdf
There are three home ignition zones to be aware of.
Home Ignition Zones
To increase your home’s chance of surviving a wildfire, choose fire-resistant building materials and limit the amount of flammable vegetation in the three home ignition zones. The zones include the Immediate Zone: (0-5 feet around the house), the Intermediate Zone (5-30 feet), and the Extended Zone (30-100 feet).
Landscape and Maintenance
To reduce ember ignitions and fire spread, trim branches that overhang the home, porch, and deck and prune branches of large trees up to 6-10 feet (depending on their height) from the ground. Remove plants containing resins, oils, and waxes. Use crushed stone or gravel instead of flammable mulches in the Immediate Zone (0-5 feet around the house). Keep your landscape in good condition.
Roofing and Vents
Class A fire-rated roofing products, such as composite shingles, metal, concrete, and clay tiles, offer the best protection. Inspect shingles or roof tiles and replace or repair those that are loose or missing to prevent ember penetration. Box in eaves but provide ventilation to prevent condensation and mildew. Roof and attic vents should be screened to prevent ember entry.
Decks and Porches
Never store flammable materials underneath decks or porches. Remove dead vegetation and debris from under decks and porches and between deck board joints.
Siding and Windows
Embers can collect in small nooks and crannies and ignite combustible materials; radiant heat from flames can crack windows. Use fire-resistant siding such as brick, fiber, cement, plaster, or stucco, and use dual-pane tempered glass windows.
Emergency Responder Access
- Ensure your home and neighborhood have legible and clearly marked street names and numbers. Driveways should be at least 12 feet wide with a vertical clearance of 15 feet for emergency vehicle access.
- Develop, discuss, and practice an emergency action plan with everyone in your home. Include details for handling pets, large animals, and livestock.
- Know two ways out of your neighborhood and have a predesignated meeting place.
- Always evacuate if you feel it’s unsafe to stay—don’t wait to receive an emergency notification if you feel threatened by a fire.
- Conduct an annual insurance policy checkup to adjust for local building costs, codes, and new renovations.
- Create or update a home inventory to help settle claims faster.
- Follow Stevens County Emergency Management and Stevens County Fire District No. 1 on Facebook
- WSU Extension Stevens County: extension.wsu.edu/stevens/
- Disaster Preparedness Information: ready.gov/
- Disaster Preparedness for Your Business: ready.gov/business
- International Association of Fire Chiefs: wildlandfireRSG.org
- Federal Emergency Management Agency: FEMA.org