Ready for wildfire? Red flag warnings and wildfire plans
Red Flag WarningsThis year, local fire officials would like to remind residents that September and October are the months when the critical weather patterns and dry conditions that could lead to wildfire activity are most commonly present in Sonoma Valley. During these months, it is likely the National Weather Service will issue local Red Flag Warnings, meaning those hazardous conditions are expected to be present within 24 hours.
During a Red Flag Warning, the Kenwood and Glen Ellen Fire Departments (and other Sonoma Valley Fire and Rescue Authority stations) will fly a red flag above the fire stations.
Additionally, during heightened fire danger, Cal Fire will place additional firefighters on duty, staff more fire engines and keep more equipment on call 24 hours a day to respond to new fires. Sonoma Valley Fire (including Glen Ellen) and Kenwood Fire District will be actively participating in upstaffing engines.
Residents also have a role to play in preparing their homes and families in case an evacuation is needed. Kenwood Fire Chief Daren Bellach asks residents to have situational awareness during Red Flag Warnings. He suggests parking cars facing out of your driveway in case you need to leave in a hurry and keeping an hourly fire watch at night. “Early detection is key,” he said, and if you see a glow, call 9-1-1.
What’s the plan?A neighborhood emergency alert does not necessarily mean evacuation, so it’s good to have a Wildfire Action Plan in place that includes a plan for both evacuation and sheltering in place.
Before an emergency alert comes, make sure to prep an emergency go-bag for you and each member of your household (including pets) and store it in an easy-to-reach location.
Your go-bag should include:
• Three-day supply of non-perishable food and three gallons of water per person
• Map marked with at least two evacuation routes
• Prescriptions or special medications
• Change of clothing
• Extra eyeglasses or contact lenses, batteries for hearing aids
• Extra set of car keys, credit cards, cash or traveler’s checks
• First aid kit
• Battery-powered radio and extra batteries
• Sanitation supplies
• Pet food and water (more on what to bring for your pets at HALTERproject.org)
• Copies of important documents (birth certificates, passports, personal ID records, medical records, insurance policy info, personal address book, list of usernames and passwords for online accounts, key to safe deposit box, insurance inventory of your home, etc.)
You can always simply make paper copies and store them in your emergency go-bag, but consider scanning your documents and storing them on a tiny USB flash drive (4GB costs around $10). You can password protect some documents for safety (like those created in Microsoft Excel). Keep one USB drive in your go-bag and one offsite.
An alternative to USB drives is cloud storage, offered by companies like Dropbox, Amazon Cloud Drive and Google Drive. Cloud storage means your data is stored on remote servers that can then be accessed with your password from anywhere you can get an internet connection. Of course, cloud services have their own vulnerabilities, which is why not everyone is entirely comfortable storing their most important papers there. However, for things in mass quantity that contain little personal data, like family photos, cloud storage could be a good solution.
Items to take if time allows:
• Easily carried valuables
• Family photos and other irreplaceable items
• Personal computer information on hard drives and disks
• Chargers for cell phones, laptops, etc.
Always keep a sturdy pair of shoes and a flashlight near your bed and handy in case of a sudden evacuation at night.
A more detailed list can be found at www.ready.gov.
Where will you go?• Designate an emergency meeting location outside the local area and plan at least two different escape routes from your home and community. Practice these routes with everyone in your household.
• Ensure that your family knows where your gas, electric, and water main shut-off controls are located and how to safely shut them down in an emergency. Make sure your family knows how to open the garage door or gate and install a battery backup so these will open if the power is off.
• Choose an out-of-area friend or relative as a point of contact to act as a single source of communication among family members. (It’s easier to call or message one person and let them contact others than to try and call everyone when phone, cell, and internet systems can be overloaded or limited during a disaster.)
The Kenwood Fire Department is hoping to establish a “Temporary Refuge Area” for the community in case of emergency. Do not go to the fire station. Most likely no one will be there (they will be out on call) and it’s better to just get out of the area if you can.
• Have an evacuation plan for pets and large livestock. Glen Ellen-based HALTER project (www.halterproject.org or see page 11) has resources to help with this.
Among its tips, HALTER recommends:
• Knowing the best potential shelter locations for horses and livestock, and for cats, dogs, birds, exotics, and other companion animals. Shelter restrictions vary. It’s best to call ahead.
• Having a document binder ready, including: proof of ownership, vet records and contacts, photos, brand registration, microchip info, insurance contacts and proof of insurance, out of area emergency contacts.
• If you have to leave some animals behind, leave duplicate documentation and info about all animals left for first responders.
• Just like your own emergency kit, the ones you create for your animals should include three to five days of food, water and medications.
If you have time, when you do leave, there are a few steps you can take to make a first responder’s job a little easier:
• Leave your doors unlocked and your windows shut.
• Remove any flammable window shades and close metal shutters if you have them.
• Shut off your gas. Turn off pilot lights.
• Turn on all your lights – this allows firefighters to see your house better in smoky conditions, and also to easily detect if the power has gone out or not.
• Turn off your air conditioning, as that will suck smoke into your house.
• If you have a ladder, place it at the corner of your house for easy access to your roof.
• Turn off propane tanks and move any BBQ propane tanks away from the house.
If you don’t go
If the emergency alert does not call for an evacuation, you should prepare to shelter in place.
• Stay calm, and keep your family together.
• Look for a small room in your home that is close to the ground, far inside the building, and away from outside doors, windows and walls.
• Keep all doors and windows closed, but unlocked.
• Fill sinks and tubs with water.
• Have fire extinguishers on hand and train your family how to use them (check expiration dates regularly).
• Have a portable radio available so you can stay updated on the situation. Local TV or radio can be good sources of information. In the 2017 fires KSVY 91.3 FM and KSRO 1350 AM were invaluable sources of information. NOAA Weather Radios should be tuned to 162.475 MHz.
“Don’t wait for an evacuation alert,” said Bellach. “If you feel threatened, leave the area.”
Explore this information in more detail at www.readyforwildfire.org/Ready-Set-Go-Campaign or download the Cal Fire Ready for Wildfire App for iPhone or Android.