More Prep for Fire

A colleague sent this advice to a private list. I post it here because I don't want to forget it. But please don't think of it as his publication.

I also have some experience in this subject are--rural firefighter for 27 years, Fire Chief for about five, house survived Fourmile Fire, but immediate neighbors' houses did not--so here are some suggestions.

# Before the evacuation order

Ensure you have enough insurance. Insurance companies compete primarily on price so they have an incentive to underestimate the amount of insurance you need. The majority of homeowners in our fire found that they were significantly underinsured.

Using camera or video, tour your house and document everything you own. Open all the drawers and closets. This takes only an hour or so. To make a claim, you will have to list all the belongings you lost. Many of my neighbors who lost their homes were asking visitors for photos of their house so that they could identify and prove their losses.

Prep the area immediately around your house: The places leaves and pine needles collect are the places embers collect. Both of those in contact with your house is bad. Pay particular attention to areas under stairs and decks. Cut tall grasses. Remove 'ladder fuels' that provide ways for the fire to climb from the ground into the trees. The news shows walls of fire, and we had that, but we also lost houses to ground fires. Wind driven fires can propagate as fingers, and then 'fill in' the unburned area between the fingers with less extreme fire spread Don't take out trees unless you can remove the fuel you just added to a ground fire -- and you probably can't, since it takes many man-hours per tree to do that. Remove flammable items such as plastic lawn furniture and wood piles from immediate are of the house.

Make lists of what to do and what to take if you have to evacuate. Money--credit cards, checks, cash--can solve lots of problems. Important documents--ID (birth certificates, driver's licenses, passports). Spare prescription eyeglasses. Family photos and data storage (file server).

Prepare a 'go' bag with a week's worth of meds, toiletries, clothes, and chargers.

Make sure your data is backed up off-site.

You may not be home when it is time to evacuate, so swap keys with your neighbor(s), and train them on your evacuation list--where to find the it, where to find the stuff on the list, how to prep.

Ensure that you have home and cell phone numbers and email addresses for your neighbors.

They probably already know your pets and where to find their food (from pet sitting when you travel), but they probably do not know where to find the pet carriers. Pillowcases actually do quite well as emergency cat carriers. Do not trust dog collars or leashes--use rope or webbing and girth hitch the dog's neck. Train your pets to come when your neighbors call them (dog treats are animal control officers' secret weapon). We trained our terrified-of-strangers cat to come to our neighbor using cat treats just so he would not have to play hide and seek, because the cat always wins those games.

My wife evacuated the neighbor's cat, but did not know what else to take, and their house did not survive. She regrets not having saved their photos or data.

# If you have to evacuate:

Reports are that this fire has spread at 8 mph. You will need a head start. Leave early. Your stuff is just stuff. Our friend is still with us. His story has its 'gotta go NOW!' moment and he had to abandon the vehicle he was loading.

Wear natural fiber clothing--including underwear. You don't even want to see pictures of what happens when synthetics, fire, and skin get together, much less pose for such a pic.

Stay hydrated. It will make you more functional, and it may help protect you if you do get burned.

Prepare you house: leave doors unlocked so firefighters can check inside the house. Close windows. Remove light window coverings; close heavy ones. Close interior doors. Leave lights on (although you will almost certainly lose power). Cover outside vents with wood (or duct tape). Leave ladder next to roof. Leave garden hose connected. Leave fire extinguishers in visible location. Move cars you need to abandon into garage (like any of us have room for vehicles in our garages) or away from house.

Remove all produce from your refrigerator. When it goes feral in the confined space because the power is out for days, you will have to dispose of the refrigerator. You will think you can clean it with enough bleach, until you realize you can't scrub the heat exchanger fins and fan.