How Coloradans can prepare for a wildfire emergency

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Late last year when the Marshall Fire ravaged parts of Boulder County and over 1,000 homes across the City of Louisville and the Town of Superior, Colorado residents were left worried about the future of the state if fires like this continue.

Climate experts have weighed in and said that as the climate continues to change and water dries up, more fires can be expected. In addition, traditional notions of “fire season” could be a thing of the past as fires become a year-round problem. After the NCAR Fire in March of 2022 in Boulder, chief of the Boulder Fire Rescue Wildland Division Brian Oliver said, “the concern is that any time there’s not snow, it’s fire.”

While a warming and drying climate is a significant part of the picture, there are myriad other factors to consider including a century of state and federal forestry policy and the building of homes in disaster-prone areas. Still the most important thing you can do now as fire season becomes longer is keep yourself and your family safe in case of an emergency.

We’ve compiled a list of tips, resources and advice to make sure you and your family are prepared.

Before a fire

Before there is any threat of a fire, everyone should have some basics prepared in case of emergency.

Build an emergency kit - take an afternoon to have everyone in the family gather some important items that can all be kept in a safe and secure location in case the need for evacuation arises. These items should be kept in easy-to-carry containers like backpacks and kept close to an exit so they can be retrieved upon evacuation.

• Water - The Red Cross suggests one gallon of water per person per day for three days in case of evacuation.

• Food - non-perishable and easy to prepare.

• A first aid kit with enough supplies for each person in the household.

• Flashlight and extra batteries.

• Hand crank or battery-powered radio.

• A multitool.

• A seven-day supply of necessary medications.

• Some personal hygiene items like soap, deodorant, diapers etc.

• Family and emergency contact information.

• A map of the area.

• Copies of important personal documents such as land deeds, birth certificates, etc. (Original copies of these documents should be kept in a fireproof safe in the home.)

Make an emergency plan - before disaster strikes, take the time to have a plan of action for yourself and your family. Your plan will vary based on many factors, but here are some things to consider while getting started.

Consider your unique needs - take into account special accommodations for any family members who are senior citizens, disabled, young children or babies. Make sure to include pets as well.

• Plan a place to go - in case of wildfire evacuation, make sure you have a safe place to go such as a family member or friend’s house or hotels along your evacuation route, as well as a plan for how to get there.

• Have a plan of communication with your family. This should include an outside emergency contact everyone can stay connected with and a plan for how to receive important information, such as a radio.

• Make arrangements for large livestock and farm animals in case of evacuation.

• Make sure everyone knows the emergency plan, especially young children.

Stay informed

Sign up for emergency alerts and familiarize yourself with emergency services in your county through this list.

• Check for any existing emergency plans from your place of work, school or anywhere else you may find yourself in an emergency.

• Read through Colorado’s Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Management wildfire safety page.

In case of a fire emergency

In an emergency, the first thing to do is to remain calm and follow your previously made preparedness plans. Here is a list of important things to keep in mind if the need to evacuate arises.

Follow instructions - If an evacuation notice is issued or if you feel evacuation is necessary, always evacuate.

Stay informed - As the emergency will be ongoing, make sure you have a reliable way to receive information such as where you should be evacuating to and how quickly.

Pack emergency kits - With your emergency kit already packed, it should be easy and fast to grab what you need and leave as soon as possible. Make sure to grab any last-minute items not packed in the bag such as wallet, keys, phone and chargers.

Prepare all pets and animals - Make sure all pets are packed and ready to go in a safe and secure way such as a crate or small carrier tank. For large livestock or farm animals, make sure to prepare them for transport.

Prepare your home for evacuation - Assuming there is enough time, try and prepare your home as much as possible for fire. Close all windows and doors but leave them unlocked. Leave lights on so your house can be seen in smoky conditions. Remove all lightweight and flammable curtains. Turn off your gas at the meter if possible. Shut off the air conditioning/heat.

If you cannot evacuate - CAL FIRE recommends the following:

Call 911 and inform authorities of your location.

• Fill sinks and tubs with cold water.

• Keep doors and windows closed but unlocked.

• Stay inside your house.

• Stay away from outside walls and windows.

This story is from Rocky Mountain PBS, a nonprofit public broadcaster providing community stories across Colorado over the air and online. Used by permission. For more, and to support Rocky Mountain PBS, visit rmpbs.org.

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