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How To Prepare For A Wildfire Emergency

how to prepare for a wildfire emergency-morning smoke

I awoke the other night to the sound of sirens, and my heart jumped into my throat. Maybe I’m getting a bit paranoid, but my first thought was “Wildfire?” But I quickly regained control of my senses and calmed down. Then I thought about how to prepare for a wildfire emergency. So much for getting back to sleep!

This beautiful province we live in is having its worst wildfire season on record. Folks have lost their family homes, farms, and businesses. Good, brave men and women lost their lives fighting these fires. To those families I send heartfelt condolences and my eternal gratitude for your family member’s commitment, bravery, and sacrifice.

In virtually every corner of BC, and many other regions of Canada, wildfires are turning people’s lives upside down. In BC alone, there are currently more than 30,000 people waiting to go home, to see if they even have a home to return to. Another 36,000 wait on tenterhooks for the order to leave their homes. What a tragedy!

Today there is fire burning in the Okanagan, with thousands evacuated from their homes. The entire city of Yellowknife, in the Northwest Territories, is a ghost town. Twenty thousand people fled the fires threatening that small city.

How to prepare for wildfire emergency
West Kelowna/Okanagan Lake fire on August 17/18, 2023. (Andrew Levangie/submitted)

And the smoke from these fires blankets the continent. Air quality advisories affect cities thousands of miles away. A red sun rose this morning in our sky. It’s downright frightening!

Too Close For Comfort

Our own lives have not been touched directly by wildfires, but we’ve been close.

As I wrote about in this recent post, we were just 24 hours ahead of a surprise, fast-moving fire that blew through the Kettle River Recreation Area.

And just a few years ago, a fire started on a mountain just behind our town of Ladysmith. The red glow from flames was terrifying to see.

Back then, we took the advice of town officials and provincial emergency planners and packed ourselves a couple of “Go Bags”, essential personal items that we could grab and throw in the trunk.

But then the danger passed as the fire crews got a handle on the fire. We breathed multiple sighs of relief and went back to our normal lives.

And now here we are, two years later, and nothing seems normal anymore. The country is burning more than anytime in modern history. Despite what the “climate deniers” think, this is nowhere near normal.

Currently there are no fires threatening my little town. But that doesn’t mean there won’t be next week, or next month. And we are not prepared. Are you? Do you know how to prepare for a wildfire?

When, Not If – Prepare For A Wildfire Emergency

Sadly, most of us are not prepared for the possibility of a short notice emergency evacuation. Even the relatively simple step of preparing a go bag isn’t taken. So it’s time for us (and maybe you) to wake up and get prepared.

Earlier this summer, already well into this year’s wildfire season, an official from the BC Wildfire Service said this in a media interview;

“For most areas of the province it’s a matter of when, not if, you will be threatened by a wildfire.”

BC Wildfire Service fire information officer, Jean Strong

If that isn’t a jarring wake up call, I don’t know what is.

So instead of feeling stressed out about the wildfire situation in BC, I’m making an effort to be prepared. If you are feeling so motivated, here is some advice I’m following for my own family on how to prepare for a wildfire emergency.

Getting Prepared For Evacuations

Planning ahead is key. Consider what route you’ll need to take, and whether there may be obstacles to driving your vehicle. And to make sure you can get away, keep your gas tank full, or at least more than half full at all times.

Let Someone Know

Be sure to let friends or relatives know your plan. Provide a route and a backup route to them, so others know where you’re going. Those same people may also be your emergency accommodation. If you don’t have a place to stay already arranged, register with your local emergency services. They can help find accommodation if you need it. In BC, you can register online here.

Prepare That Go Bag!

Don’t wait for a wildfire to threaten your home. Prepare your go bag now, while you’re thinking about it. Go ahead, I’ll still be here when you finish…

Some items to have in your go bag include, a charging cable and power supply for your mobile phone and other portable devices, canned and ready-to-eat food, 4 litres of water per person, flashlights with extra batteries, a first aid kit and any prescription or personal medicines, adequate clothing for the season, toiletries, and some cash. For the full list, go to Emergency Preparedness BC.

How to prepare for a wildfire emergency-prepare a go bag
Prepare a go bag

Keep that bag somewhere you can access it at a moment’s notice, because that may be all you have for time. I don’t recommend tossing it in the back of a closet. Put it where you’ll see it. Like by the front door. Maybe not in your car.

If You Need To Evacuate

If evacuation is imminent, there are a couple of things to prepare your home. You want to maximize the chance you have a home to return to, so do these things before you leave.

  1. Turn off the water main to your house. Don’t know where it is? Go find it now. Again, I’ll wait…
  2. You may be instructed to turn off your main electrical panel. Check before you do. No point in losing that freezer full of this season’s moose!
  3. You will want to turn off the gas. If you’re unsure how to do this, ask someone, or call your gas provider.

Okay, I’m starting to feel a little less stressed. Although it doesn’t help that our skies are now smoky and stinky from so many fires! But I can sleep tonight knowing that I’m being proactive and looking out for my family.

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10 months ago

What preparedness do you suggest if you want your house to burn? Asking for a friend.

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