With the calamitous wildfires taking place in Alberta and British Columbia, especially in the Fort McMurray and Prince George areas, it is more important than ever for Canadians to be prepared for evacuation. With climate change making unstoppable wildfires the new normal there are things that you and your family can do to maximize your wildfire preparedness.
Brace Your Family
One of the most important things you can do to prepare for any emergency is to talk about it. Not very exciting, I know, but bear with me. Discussing emergency plans, meeting places, necessary contacts, and contingencies will help to emotionally and mentally brace everyone for the unthinkable. Making sure everyone is on the same page on these issues can minimize confusion during a crises and make reuniting easier in the event of separation. Write down your plan and make sure everyone has a copy for their backpack, purse, or wallet.
Imagine waking up to someone banging on your door. The alarm clock confirms that it is too early for visitors and the hair on your neck stands up. Pulling on a bathrobe you open the door, bleary eyed. A uniformed RCMP officer hurriedly explains that a wildfire (you know, the one that was so far away yesterday) is approaching. She gives you one hour (at most) to evacuate your home. One hour to wrangle the kids. One hour to find your outdoor cat, or manhandle the fish tank. One hour to decide what possessions are important or special enough to be saved from incineration.
These hard decisions had to be made by over 80,000 evacuees living in Fort McMurray this week. For the unprepared that priceless hour can be consumed in a blink, just gathering the very basics. Worse yet, some forget the basics in a whirlwind of panic and sentimentality, remembering their championship ski-dance trophy and forgetting food and water.
It’s something that you hope you’ll never need to use, but a grab-and-go emergency 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 castle, and there are steps you can take to defend it in case a local fire begins to spread. 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 about 30 feet around your home that is free of easy kindling (woodpiles, dried leaves, and newspapers) will help delay (if not stop) ground fires from reaching your door.
In case a fire does reach your home, make sure that any and all areas of your home 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.
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 both Alberta and British Columbia. If you would like to help, the Canadian Red Cross is taking donations to support the firefighters and evacuees of Fort McMurray and the surrounding area. The Canadian government will also be matching any donations to the Red Cross’ cause, so contributions are twice as important. Donate Here.
Thank you for reading and taking the steps to get prepared.
Article by: Zenia Platten, writer and employee of Total Prepare