This is part four of six articles discussing California’s wildfire risks and how to best handle them.
As I mentioned before, my family and I were evacuated from our house in Carlsbad due to an oncoming wildfire. After learning where the fire was, I drove a couple of miles over to La Costa Meadows Elementary School for a vantage point to see the blaze. After making a quick assessment, I drove home and called a couple of the families on the soccer team which I was coaching to invite them to our house to get out of harm’s way. Both families declined but thanked us for the offer.
In the blink of an eye, the fire shifted and was now heading towards our neighborhood. We were told to get out and get out fast. As I wrote about before, we were the perfect models of what not to do. We didn’t have a go-bag ready, made quick decisions out of panic, and were totally unprepared. Our neighbor was panicking because her husband was at the San Diego Chargers football game.
Fortunately, friends of ours who used to live across the street called us and invited us to stay at their place which was thankfully out of the path of the fire (the young girl who lived at this house was Kim who is now the office manager at Ken May Insurance Services). A couple of days later, the police allowed me into the neighborhood after checking my driver’s license and our house was intact. The whole neighborhood reeked of smoke and my eyes burned but my house was thankfully okay. A couple of my other soccer girls weren’t so lucky, and their homes were burned to the ground.
So what should I have done as the wildfire approached?
First, I needed to monitor the conditions which I did fairly well. Stay tuned to local news about wildfires in the area and listen (don’t fight them) to evacuations instructions given by local officials. Other than your local news, check in with the Department of Agriculture Forest Service or the weather channel online to see if they have a map of the fires (we didn’t have that option at the time).
Practice your plan – Review emergency plans with your family (I talked about this in article one). Be sure to designate a meeting place if you are separated before or during the evacuation. Make sure that everyone has emergency numbers stored in their cell phones. Designate a family member or friend who lives a good distance away as a contact point in case you cannot reach each other. We didn’t even have a plan so saying that we failed with this point is an understatement.
Prepare, if possible – If you have time, close all of the windows in your home as well as doors and blinds. Shut off the utilities. If you have a fireplace, open the damper and close the fireplace screen. Most importantly is not to panic, use common sense, and think rationally. Your lives are more important than your home. Insurance can help you restore one but not necessarily the other.
Have your vehicles ready – Be ready to leave quickly by having your car keys handy, enough gas in the car to drive a while, make sure that the cars aren’t blocked from exiting, and roll up the windows to keep the smoke out. While we were running around in a panic getting ready to leave, my wife suggested that we stay together in our family van. I told her that there was no way I was leaving my Corvette behind.