With the calamitous wildfires taking place in British Columbia, especially in the 100 Mile House, Ashcroft, and Cache Creek areas, it is more important than ever for Canadians to be prepared for evacuation. With longer, hotter summers making huge wildfires the new normal here are some things that you and your family can do to increase your wildfire preparedness.
Talk to Your Loved Ones
Communication is key when it comes to preparing for any emergency. Not very exciting, but bear with me. Discussing emergency plans, meeting places, contacts, and back up plans will help to psychologically brace everyone for the unthinkable. Making sure everyone is on the same page can minimize confusion during a disaster and make reuniting easier if you get separated. Write down your plan and make sure everyone has a copy for their backpack, purse, or wallet.
Imagine waking up to a hazy orange sky, oppressive and heavy. Opening your front door is like stepping into Mordor or Armageddon. Further up your block an RCMP officer is knocking on doors, working her way from house to house. She’s a few doors down, but you don’t need to hear her to understand her mission. The fire – the one that was so far away yesterday – has come to town. When your turn comes to speak with the officer, you discover the evacuation has been called, and you only have one hour. One hour to wake up the kids and get them ready, one hour to decide what is worth packing, and what to leave behind, one hour to find the cat, and one hour to say goodbye to your home – possibly for the last time.
This, or something similar, was the situation for over 14,000 evacuees living in B.C this summer. For the unprepared that priceless hour can go in an instant, just gathering the very basics. In panic, some people even forget the basics in a whirlwind of anxiety and sentimentality, remembering their championship pearl-diving medal and forgetting food and water.
It’s something that you hope you’ll never need to use, but an emergency survival kit saves valuable time in an emergency and allows you a foothold in the chaos. You can build your own kit or purchase a professionally compiled one pre-made, just remember, it should have supplies to last you for 72 hours to one week in an emergency. Keeping a kit near the door, or in the car, means that it will be at your fingertips when you need to evacuate fast.
Fortify Your Home
Your home is your biggest investment, and there are steps you can take to protect it if a local fire is coming too close for comfort. Airborne sparks and forest canopies are common ways for fire to travel so it is important to clean your roof and gutters regularly of any dry/flammable debris. Similarly, maintaining an area of at least 30 feet around your home that is free of easy kindling (woodpiles, dried leaves, and newspapers) will help delay (or stop) ground fires from reaching your door.
In case a fire does reach your home, make sure that any and all areas of your house can be reached by at least one of your garden hoses. If you are aware of a fire in the area, leave your radio/TV on to receive updates. Wildfires can travel up to 10.8 km/hr (22km/hr in grassland!) so stay aware of fire alerts in neighboring communities. Keeping your vehicle fueled, maintained, and stocked with emergency supplies will allow you a faster getaway if an evacuation is called.
Finally, check your insurance. If the worst happens you may not be able to save your home, but you can save your investment. Be familiar with your home insurance policy and keep your contents insurance up to date.
Just over half of all Canadian wildfires are started by humans, usually due to negligence. You can lower the risk of a wildfire in your area by educating yourself, your family, and your community about proper fire safety.
Backyard burning is one of the common starting points for wildfires and grass fires. If you or someone you know is planning on burning their yard waste, make sure they take precautions:
- Place a firebreak around your fire to stop grass fire from spreading.
- Keep enough people and water on hand to manage the fire (do NOT leave your fire unattended!)
- Do not burn during a fire ban.
- Do not burn on windy days (flying sparks can start wildfires.)
Many fires begin from a careless campfire. Keep the following in mind when preparing to roast those weenies this summer:
- Clear away all flammable debris from the fire perimeter.
- Build your campfire at least 3 meters from trees, bush, and buildings.
- Use a proper fire pit or build a ring of rocks to contain the flames.
- Extinguish your fire thoroughly when done. The ashes should be cold to the touch.
For additional tips on preventing forest/wildfires check out the government of B.C.’s article here.
How to Help Evacuees
Our hearts at Total Prepare go out to all of the families faced with evacuation and we are cheering for the courageous men and women risking their lives to fight down the wildfires in British Columbia. If you would like to help, the Canadian Red Cross is taking donations to support the firefighters and evacuees of British Columbia. According to the BC Fires Appeal, “your donation will help provide immediate relief such as cots, blankets, family reunification and financial assistance for food, clothing and personal needs. Beyond meeting immediate needs, your donation may also help re-entry and go towards more long-term recovery, resiliency and preparedness.” You can donate here.”
Thank you for reading and taking the steps to get prepared.
Article by: Zenia Platten, writer and employee of Total Prepare