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Preparing for Wildfires and Other Natural Disasters

Updated on November 29, 2016
Maggie Bonham profile image

Maggie Bonham is an award-winning author, and editor of more than 35 books and 1000s of articles.

I dread the summer. While most people think of hot weather as a time for playing in the pool, picnics and other summertime activities, I keep an eye out for wildfires. I've lived in the mountains of Montana and Colorado for more than 30 years and have been put under evacuation and evacuation standbys three times. I've been through at least seven major fires nearby.

Most people don't have that experience, which is why they get caught off guard when a real disaster strikes, whether it's floods, blizzards, fires, tornadoes, hurricanes, earthquakes or other calamities. I'll tell you what I've done to prepare.

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Know Your Enemy

Nobody wants to think about natural disasters, except perhaps at the local movie theater watching the latest blockbuster, but that's putting your head in the sand. Look at where you live. What are the possible natural disasters? Forested areas are prone to wildfires. Mountains are prone to wildfires, flash floods, and blizzards. Coasts are prone to flooding, hurricanes, tornadoes and tsunamis. Fault lines have volcanoes, earthquakes and landslides.

In my case, I have possible earthquakes, blizzards and wildfires. If the Yellowstone supervolcano goes, I'm probably out of luck too.

Know the Safe Areas

The trick to living in a disaster-prone area is planning. Know where your safer areas are, such as places you can escape the disaster. In my case, I need to know where my exit routes are and also where I'm going to stay. Depending on how big the disaster is, I have my own radii of where I need to go. Think 10 miles, 20 miles, 50 miles, 100 miles or more away. Where will you take your pets? I had 25 sled dogs and had to plan for kennels and where to stay with so many dogs.

Don't Rely on Family and Friends

No matter how carefully you plan, when things get rough, your family and friends may not be able or willing to help you. Ask beforehand, especially if you have pets, if you can bring them over in case of a natural disaster. Not all shelters allow pets, so don't plan on those being open to you either.

The disaster may be widespread too, like the tsunami in Japan or Hurricane Katrina on the Gulf Coast. In that case, your friends and family may be in the same (or worse) situation you are.

Make a Disaster Package

Have what we call a "bug-out" bag in case things go ugly fast. Clothes for several days, important documents, and irreplaceable items need to be in that bag. Have pet carriers, leashes, and enough food for a few days for both you and your animals. Have several gallons of water available (at least a gallon of water a day per person plus enough for animals), flashlight, extra batteries, food for several days that you don't have to cook and won't spoil, and appropriate utensils such as can openers that don't require electricity.

In the winter, I have extra food, wood for the woodstove, a week's worth of pet food and can stay holed up here for a while.

Get Information from Trusted Sources

During an actual emergency, everything is confusing. The media tries its best to provide timely reports, but in the case of a fast-moving wildfire, it can be near worthless. For wildfires, the best information comes out of InciWeb and your local emergency folks. One word of warning: don't rely on them to give you enough time to pack everything up and get out. Often when they come knocking on your door, it means you have maybe 5 minutes to grab your stuff and leave. Or just leave. I've learned to know when I need to leave. My husband and I agree on where the fire needs to cross in order for us to leave. Usually it's a 3 mile radius -- and even then, we know we're not entirely safe. But if the firefighters haven't said anything, we're usually packed and ready to go so when the fire starts coming our directions, we're already out of harm's way.

© 2016 Maggie Bonham

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