Surviving a Wildfire in Yuba County
Glenn Nader, University of California Cooperative Extension Farm Advisor
Art Craigmill, University of California Cooperative Extension Specialist
Greg Royat, Retired CDF Captain, Fire Academy Instructor Yuba Community College
The following guidelines are provided as informational only. It is important that you understand the risks involved with both options: evacuation and sheltering in place before making that personal choice.
The safest choice is to evacuate early. Buildings can be replaced, but lives cannot. If you live in an area of limited road access (one way in and out) and could be trapped by a fire, then you should plan ahead for the possibility of sheltering in place.
Typically, when a wildfire threatens homes, residents may be advised or ordered by Sheriff or fire personnel to evacuate when the fire is approaching. You must be prepared well in advance for a wildfire event. Making the decision to evacuate or stay during a wildfire event is a personal decision. This document is intended to help you think through and prepare for a wildfire event.
When a large wildland fire occurs near your home, your safest option is to evacuate early, perhaps even before an evacuation order is given. A safe and rapid evacuation requires that you have made plans and preparations that include such things as: items to take with you, last minute preparations to protect your home, where to take pets, where to meet family members or how to make contact with them if separated, and route information for safely leaving the area.
During past wildfires, dark smoke and delayed evacuations have caused panicked evacuees to drive off roads or become disorientated, trapping them in the fire’s path. In areas with limited road access (one way in and out) which could be blocked by a wildfire, residents should also make plans for sheltering in place.
Planning and preparing your home for sheltering in place will give you an option in the event that conditions preclude a safe evacuation. However, safe sheltering in place requires considerable preparation before a fire starts. This includes use of fire resistant building materials in construction and remodeling, providing defensible space around your home and taking other actions to prevent your home from catching fire. Preparing for sheltering in place also improves the likelihood that your home will survive even if you do evacuate. You must also discipline yourself to follow your plans and avoid panic, if you chose to shelter in place. You should also consider what happens if things do not go according to your plan.
If you invest time in preparing for evacuation now, you will be ready to leave in an effective, rational and safe manner.
BEFORE A FIRE: Plan for evacuation
- Make a list of items you want to take with you during an evacuation. Consider the 5 P’s (people, pets, pills, photos, important papers). Keep your list handy.
- Prepare an Emergency Supply Kit (Appendix 3)
- Know the emergency evacuation plans for your family members in school, assisted living and childcare facilities. If a wildfire occurs while school is in session, the School District could be evacuating your children to an alternative school. Know the location of that facility.
- Prepare what you are going to do with your pets (carriers, food, etc.)
- Designate a relative/friend as an out-of-area contact through whom family members can relay information. Make sure that everyone in your family has that person’s phone number.
- Identify and learn alternate ways out of your neighborhood, in case the usual way becomes blocked.
- Keep the car fuel tank at least half full during wildfire season.
- Create a defensible space around your home. For more information link (http://anrcatalog.ucdavis.edu/InOrder/Shop/ItemDetails.asp?ItemNo=8228)
- Talk to your neighbors about evacuations.
- Plan how you will transport your pet(s) and livestock. Do not haul hay or straw in the back of a pickup or in the open as embers may ignite it.
- You may not be home when wildfire threatens. The Sheriff may close roads for safety. Make arrangements in advance for persons and/or pets that will be home when you are not.
WHEN A FIRE THREATENS: Prepare to Evacuate
- Take a deep breath, and remember your plan. Remember that life and safety always take priority over property.
- Face your car toward the street in the driveway, so you have the best visibility when you decide to leave.
- Leave car unlocked with windows tightly closed (rolled up). Keep the keys in a convenient location.
- Remove flammable material from open bed of pickups or trucks (hay, fuel, rags etc).
- DO NOT BLOCK ACCESS for incoming fire equipment.
- Load your 5P’s and emergency supply kit into the car.
- Dress in long sleeve, long leg non-synthetic clothing (cotton) and be wearing close-toed shoes not sandals or slippers, a non-synthetic fiber hat like a baseball cap, leather gloves and bandanna to cover mouth and nose, if available (See clothing section – Appendix 2)
- Evacuate elderly, disabled, or special needs people early on.
- Preparing the house covering vents, moving wood and flammable material away from the home.
WHEN YOU Decide to Evacuate
- Do not wait to be told to evacuate. If you feel threatened, leave on your own initiative. In some cases there is not enough time for formal evacuation notification due to quickly changing conditions.
- Do not attempt to pick up children from school or daycare; staff members are trained to protect your children and will institute proper emergency procedures on site.
- Tune into a local radio station and listen for instructions. Listen to the emergency instructions regarding evacuation routes. Your normal route out of your neighborhood may not be the safest.
- Acting early is the key to a safe evacuation. Wildfire conditions change quickly. Notice of an evacuation means that Sheriff and fire officials feel you are at risk. Do not delay your decision to evacuate.
- Consider leaving your house unlocked to allow fire fighters quick access during the fire
- Drive with your headlights on for visibility and safety.
- Drive calmly and with special attention to fire trucks. They are not as maneuverable as your vehicle.
- Do not block access to roadways for emergency vehicles or other evacuees. Do not abandon vehicles on the roadway.
- Avoid canyons that can concentrate and channel fire.
If Trapped by Fire in a Vehicle During Evacuation
If you see the flames of a wildfire in the distance, pull over to the side of the road and assess the situation. Proceed with the evacuation unless you see that the route is blocked by fire. If you are trapped by fire while evacuating in your car, do not try to outrun the fire; you are much safer in the car.
If you cannot proceed with the evacuation and are trapped by the fire:
Park The Car
- Park the car in an area clear of vegetation and cover yourself and lie on the floor to shelter yourself from the intense radiant heat.
- Stay inside of your car, it will protect from radiant heat better than being outside
- Find a clearing away from dense brush, timber or tall grass.
- Position vehicle facing fire if possible.
- Do not block road so fire engines have access to fight fire.
- Do not park close to other vehicles.
- Turn on headlights and emergency flashers to make your car more visible during heavy smoke.
- Close all windows and doors, Shut off all air vents, Turn off air conditioner
- Leave engine running (idle faster when heavy smoke is present) and apply emergency brake when parked.
WHEN FIRE COMES CLOSE TO YOUR VEHICLE
- As fire approaches intensity of heat will increase along with smoke and embers. Get below the windows under wool blankets and lie on the floor to shelter yourself from the intense radiant heat.
- Drink water to reduce heat exhaustion. (Do not put water on clothing or skin as it could cause a steam burn.)
- Stay in vehicle until fire front passes and temperature has dropped outside.
- Smoke will get inside of vehicle, wear a bandanna, scarf, or mask.
- When the fire front has passed and temperature has dropped cautiously exit the vehicle. Parts of vehicle may be extremely hot. If the tires and external parts of the vehicle catch fire, exit on side with less flame and go to area that has already burned and cover your self w/ blankets.
- Stay covered w/ wool blankets, continue to drink water and wait for assistance.
- Check-in at an emergency shelter. Whether you stay there or not, your checking in will help others know that you are safe. Pets will not be accommodated at the shelter, but emergency pet provisions will be established by the Emergency Operations Center. It’s best to bring your own provisions for your pets.
- Proceed to the location your children have been evacuated to by the School District.
- DO NOT call 9-1-1 for non-emergencies.
- Do not attempt to re-enter the fire area until the area is declared safe.
SHELTERING IN PLACE
BEFORE A FIRE: PREPARATION TO SHELTER IN PLACE
The ability to safely shelter in place requires much preparation months before a fire starts.
To be able to shelter in place safely your home must have fire-resistive design qualities, including a well-maintained, vegetation management plan.
- Do you have enough defensible space surrounding your home?
- Does your home have adequate fuels reduction for 100 feet or more?
- Have you done the annual fuel maintenance around your home?
- Do you have a plan for your animals?
- Do you have any family members with special needs?
- Do you have the proper clothing?
- Are you psychologically prepared to remain in your home during the fire?
- Are you prepared to defend your home after the flame front passes?
- Do you have a house made of fire safe construction and materials?
Your home could be used to shelter-in-place if it has the following features:
- A “Class-A,” non-combustible roof
- Non-combustible siding or 30 feet or more clearing of flammable vegetation from the siding
- Eave areas and areas under decks boxed in or totally enclosed or cleaned of flammable debris.
- ¼ inch screened attic, foundation, and eave vents.
- Dual pane or tempered glass windows.
For more information on construction design and material go to: http://groups.ucanr.org/HWMG/
Annual Fuel Maintenance includes: A well-maintained, fire-resistive landscape with a minimum 100 to 200 foot defensible space (depending on the slope of the property) surrounding all structures, and the removal of flammable debris at least 3 times a year from roof valleys, rain gutters, and under and on the deck.
Things to Consider
Once you have made the decision to shelter in place you may not be able to get any help from the outside agencies (fire, rescue, or law enforcement).
- You could be without power, water and phone.
- Pets may panic while the fire front passing.
- You may panic while the fire front passing.
Have a plan for your animals for either early evacuation to a friend or relatives or a safe area that they can also shelter during the fire. Large animals should be placed in areas (size of a football field) where the fuel has been removed or in an irrigated pasture. Pets should be placed in carrier cages for control during the fire.
Emergency Supply Kit Items
The emergency kit is the most important item for personal safety during a wildfire for each member of the family. (Appendix 3) Clothing you wear is also important for your protection (See Clothing section – Appendix 2).
As a wildfire nears home, you are advised to do the following:
HOME PREPARATION: Outside:
- Plan for the loss of power and have water stored to put out burning embers or small fires after the fire front has passed your house. Place large trash cans or buckets around the outside of the house and fill them with water to extinguish spot fires and embers. Soak burlap sacks, small rugs, and large rags; these can be helpful in beating out embers or small fires.
- Close all exterior doors and windows and leave them unlocked.
- Close or cover outside attic, eave, and basement vents to prevent ember from entering your house.
- Move wheeled vehicles or equipment away from structures to make sure that fire engines can access the house.
- Shut off natural gas and propane unless needed for running a generator.
- Connect water hoses and lay them out for best use where they will not get burned during the fire front passing.
- See home firefighting techniques – (Appendix 1)
- If you have a wooden fence that connects to the exterior of your home, prevent flames from spreading from the fence to your house by propping open the gate, or removing the portion of your fence that touches your home.
- Block the gutter outlets with a sock in a plastic bag or duct tape and hose the roof and allowing water to drain into and fill the gutter. If time allows remove flammable material from the gutters.
- Place metal (not wooden) ladder against side of house away from approaching fire front.
- Move anything that can easily ignite away from the exterior of your home, including: combustible lawn furniture, cloth awnings, barbecues, portable propane tanks, trash, and fire wood. Re-locate these items to the furthest point in your yard, at least 30 feet away from your home and neighboring structures.
- Strategically place garden sprinklers on your home where it is vulnerable to ignition (ie. wooden stairs & decking).
HOME PREPARATION: Inside:
- Plan for the loss of power and have water stored by filling the sinks and tub along with buckets inside your house to put out burning embers or small fires after the fire front has passed your house.
- Have your fire extinguishers out and in convenient locations.
- Close your garage door(s). If your garage door operates on electricity, disconnect the unit and operate the door manually.
- Remove light curtains and other easily combustible materials from windows or draw draperies and window coverings wide open, well past the perimeter of the window. This will prevent radiant heat from catching the window coverings on fire. Close metal Venetian blinds.
- Leave exterior and interior lights on. If electricity remains on it will make your home visible in the smoke for fire fighters to find during the fire.
- Move interior furniture away from windows and sliding glass doors to prevent radiant heat from catching the furniture on fire.
- Shut off all attic fans, whole house fans, swamp coolers and interior fans to keep smoke and ash from being drawn into house.
- Wet swamp cooler or remove pads; if possible, to keep embers from catching them on fire.
- Bring pets inside and consider placing in pet carriers to control their movement in the house as the roar of the fire comes. Put livestock and horses in an area where fuel is removed.
When to Shelter in the House
When you no longer feel safe outside, it is time to go inside the house or car, and take cover until the fire front has passed. Shelter in a room at the opposite end of your home from where the fire is approaching, that has 2 possible exit routes. Remain calm and keep everyone together. The roar of the fire can be loud and the house will get hot and smoky as the fire front passes, so emotionally you must be prepared to deal with the horrific sound and natural urge to flee the house. At that point, you have made the decision and to survive, you must stay inside the house until the fire front passes. Although it is very hot in the house, it can be 4 to 5 times hotter outside.
Picture and approximate timeline of the different stages of a Fire
With less fuel around your house, the fire intensity and duration will decrease.
After the Fire Passes
- Check the roof immediately. Extinguish any sparks or embers. If you must climb onto the roof, use caution, especially if it is wet.
- Check inside the attic for hidden burning embers. Extinguish any fires with remaining water from your pool, sinks, toilet tanks, garbage cans or fire extinguisher.
- Keep doors and windows closed.
- Check the yard for burning woodpiles, trees, fences posts, and other material.
- After your initial checks, continue monitoring your home for signs of smoke or embers for 24 to 48 hours.
Appendix 1 – Fire Fighting for Homeowners (Safety & Techniques)
Appendix 2 – Clothing for Evacuation and Sheltering in Place
Appendix 3 – Emergency Kit
This publication is adapted from the following:
Sheltering in Place During Wildfires. Rancho Santa Fe Fire Protection District. http://www.rsf-fire.org/assets/documents/education/preparedness/SIP_for_web.pdf
Wildfire: Making the Decision Guidelines for Safe Evacuation & for Sheltering in Place. Anchorage Fire Department, Wildfire Mitigation Office.
Australian Fire Brigades Ring site. Port Elliot Country Fire Service. http://users.chariot.net.au/~allan/wildfire.html
Wildfire Information. Colorado Governor’s Office of Energy Management and Conservation. http://www.state.co.us/eomc/links/fire/duringevent.htm.
Planning for Fire. Boulder Colorado. http://www.fremontcounty.org/wildfire_information.html
California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, Fire Protection Training, Procedures Handbook 4300.o:p>
Fire Weather (1970) PMS 425-1, AG HANDBOOK 360