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Fire and ice – Lessons learned through a wildfire evacuation and an epic ice storm

In less than six months we’ve had both.  It clarified a lot of questions about how to prepare for what scenario.  Last summer we were involved in a wildfire evacuation.  Fortunately we had plenty of time to pack (two people, two horses, a dog and a cat) before we got the call to leave, and we packed very well, I think.  I drew up an inventory of what we need to have “staged” in the event of another wildfire evacuation, but I need to seriously tweak that list before the coming fire season. 

They attempted to funnel virtually an entire large county onto two lane roads to go…somewhere. We burned a half tank of gas in the truck, idling at ONE stoplight.  Our Cars never go lower than half tank, and the truck has two tanks.  But we should have taken another can of gas because of the insane traffic jams.  And where to go?  To the West, mountains on fire, to the east, mountains on fire, north and south, very hard to know where to go with horses.  We stayed with friends who could have been called to evacuate themselves.  Fortunately we weren’t directly affected by the fire.  Many others lost everything when they were told to evacuate when the flames were licking at their doors.

The evacuation was historic, it’s never happened here before.  I think the authorities made horrible decisions.  The cops were racing up and down the jammed road, but there wasn’t a single cruiser directing traffic at the clogged stoplight.

Looting was rampant during the evacuation. A lot of people just decided to make a stand. We came home days before the all clear. Everything pointed to some unprecedented idiocy among the authorities.

In February we had an epic ice storm (Oregon, not Texas) that had about 250,000 power customers without electricity.  We were out for 8 days, and 12 days without phone or internet. THAT emergency we handled with flying colors.  But we learned a tremendous amount about streamlining our daily existence.

We learned that we could run most essentials on a gas sipping 2000 watt Honda Generator.  We learned that refrigerators are useless, because they warm up too quickly and cool down too slowly.  I was able to fill three ice chests with ice that fell from the trees, covered them with heavy horse blankets and they long outlasted the power failure.

The freezer remained solidly frozen (it’s in an unheated building), running the generator about 4 hours am and pm.  We used less than five gallons of gas during the 8 day outage. I took enough food out for three days’ meals at a time to avoid opening it unnecessarily.  We are going to put additional rigid insulation around the outside of the freezer.

Normally, our water comes from a 320 ft deep well.  We have never had a generator large enough to operate it, but we just bought one, based on recommendations from the blog here.  Of course, everyone’s out of stock so we have to wait for it.  But the biggest message was that we can run nearly everything that’s really essential with the small generator, while the big generator guzzles gas (or propane) at a much higher rate. Score for the small generator.

During this outage we relied on the 3000 gallon rainwater tank and the 120v pump that delivers the water.  This works great for an emergency outage in our rainy winter, but would only last about 100 days without rain.  Hence the big generator. Plus our expectation is that we will soon begin to experience California style deliberate blackouts as Oregon dismantles its energy producing infrastructure and becomes more susceptible to wildfire.

In 41 years of living here, we’ve never experienced either emergency scenario before.  It was enlightening, exhausting, and educational.  It has also eroded our sense of complacency, if we are guilty of that.

In terms of food, we’re trying to draw down the freezer and have more shelf stable food, but it’s a balancing act between what takes up space (canned) versus what takes up resources (as in water for rehydrating dried food, particularly pasta/rice/beans, and fuel for long cooking time of beans).  That’s a real balancing act I need to address.  We ate like normal people in both situations, not deprived, but canned goods take up a lot of space for evacuating (heh, how about hundred pound bales of hay!)

Anyway, I’m rambling, sorry.  It’s been an eventful six or so months!

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  • Comments (29)

    • 4

      Thanks for your story.  Only thing that comes to mind is I’m sure glad I don’t live out west.  🙂

      But your story and others here help me fight complacency.  Just when I think I have everything well covered, another survival story makes me rethink.  I sure don’t expect massive fires in Mississippi but with climate changing, who knows what’s coming?

      • 0

        I’ll bet you really enjoy the occasional hurricane though!

      • 3

        Nope.  I’m in north Mississippi, about 350 miles from the gulf.  Our biggest weather threat would be tornadoes.

    • 5

      Thank you for this in depth report, articles like this can greatly help improve their own plans and also encourage people to think for themselves and not rely entirely on the authorities to save them.

    • 3

      Thank you very much for your indepth account of working through multiple crises.

      I noted very helpful points from your account:

      -evacuation issues, efficiency differences betwee types of generators used

      The info about how you improvised was particularly helpful: such as using the ice and horse blankets on the chest freezers. Also very helpful to think of taking three meals out at once to save on freezer openings. I am keep rigid insulation on hand and cut to fit my freezer -thank you for a great idea!

      One point on the food iems. I have been keeping food stored across a variety of methods: canned, dried, frozen. Now I am moving into freeze-dried to cover many basis.

      You didn’t ramble at all. Yours was a well written and informative post. The information you shared based on your experiences across two disasters contained invaluable lessons for the rest of us.

      It was a good reminder to beware complacency. Change of circumstances is why we prepare.

      I am glad you, your family and animals are all safe. And thank you again for sharing your story, experience and lessons learned here with us.

    • 4

      One thing that was an eye opener in our recent decision to buy a generator was from the Blog article on generators…what type of fuel do you store?  Gas goes bad, propane does not.  So we bought a dual fuel generator.  In point of fact, our little used pickup has been in the shop for some time very likely because it sits for extended periods and the gas, especially in the rear tank (because we almost never use it) is probably stale. We’ll be buying a few extra propane tanks to store once the generator gets here.

      • 3

        Dogpatch – Do you know what the process is like to switch fuel types? Can you just have your gas in the tank and a propane tank connected and run off of one, flip a switch and run off the other?

      • 3

        Carter, yes, I believe it’s a simple flip of a switch.  We bought the Westinghouse generator recommended in the blog article on generators. I believe it’s the 9500.  Amazon has the operator manual in PDF.

      • 4

        This side of the Atlantic people try to go for diesel powered generators if they live in fire risk areas as diesel is the least volatile of the main three fuels.

      • 2

        Very smart!

    • 5

      Thanks Dogpatch, we just moved from Longview WA. Glad you made it through.

      I wanted to write about the little Honda generators you mention. I’ve had several different generators, from 7.5kw up to 20kw and I really like the little Honda EU2200. I bought the “companion” version new thinking I could find the “regular” version used. I put a Hutch Mountain LP conversion on mine and could not be happier.

      For those not familiar the little generators can be hooked together to get more power or operated individually for more economy. And of course they are redundant so 2is1 and one could be scavenged for parts if need be. 

      They are pricey but I am totally sold on Honda reliability.

      • 3

        That’s really interesting about the LP conversion Pops!  You are right, we have two of the EU2200s that we can hook together.  Still not enough power to start our well pump, but boy, those little units are great.  One ran the freezer and fridge, ran the coffee pot, TV, powered a lamp, and recharged the deep cycle battery we keep for tropical fish life support, all on idle.

        And LOL!  I was chanting “2 is 1 and 1 is none!” to my husband! Really takes on meaning when you see that in action!

    • 4

      Interesting; most informative.

      Understand the 2 lane evac road, the lack of traffic control, the looting.

      If our TP new comer preppers read your “Fire and Ice” post, they’ll be on the right track for a sturdy preparedness foundation.

    • 3

      I edited the title to hopefully make the point of the post clearer for other people. You’re welcome to edit it more.

      Thank you for sharing your experiences with us! You have a pretty incredible story and I learned a lot from it.

      I’d love to see your inventory list of what you are planning on having staged if there was another wildfire evacuation once you complete that. What other lessons did you learn from that besides the evacuation aspect? How much notice did you have before you had to leave your house? 

      • 3

        Gideon, my “bug out” inventory is much too crude to share right now, but I will definitely be consolidating it.  Some of the stuff is in black garbage bags.  Some in tubs, some got put away.  There is a lot of camping gear that tends to be stored harum scarum around the assorted buildings.  That’s just not acceptable in terms of preparation. We had three days to anticipate evacuation, so we took a leisurely amount of time packing, as for a camping trip.   This is why we need to have everything staged in one location, before the fire season starts. Or we need to know exactly where to find the item at the last moment. I have containers numbered and lists of what is in each container, so we don’t have to go pawing through a whole truck full of tubs and bags to find what we need.

        One thing I DON’T have ready is a binder with copies of important papers.  Or a fireproof safe for same. 

      • 4

        Hey Dogpatch, just wanted to let you know about a comment I had made on another forum post that you might like while building your binder with copies of important documents. 

        https://theprepared.com/forum/thread/what-documents-to-carry-in-your-go-bags/

        and also noticed this forum thread on the same thing:

        https://theprepared.com/forum/thread/useful-documents-to-bug-out-with/

        Best of luck! Let me know if you have any questions

    • 7

      I bet prepping with horses brings it’s own challenges. Especially during the winter where you can’t just go out to any field and let them eat grass to stay alive, you need to find somewhere with hay and such right?

      What was the process of getting things ready to bug out with all your animals?

      • 5

        Carter, we’re good at camping with horses, so we’re well equipped.  I kept trying to find some special “drama” in packing for horses, but because we had adequate time, and we’re not so remote we can’t buy hay here and there, that drama never surfaced. Having a designated place to take them is a profound problem. The fairgrounds opened up for people with livestock, but it was a nightmare for a lot of people.  In the harder hit areas, displaced animals that couldn’t be transported are still trickling back to their owners.

        This does bring up a subject that concerns me, and that is a lot of folks think having things like chickens and goats and such are a good survival resource.  I say no, farm animals create a whole other WORLD of crisis when you’re forced to leave. At least you can walk away from a garden.

      • 3

        Dogpatch, re horses – In BC we dealt with wildfires (pretty much every year), there were people with horses and big hearts that took in displaced horses during the crisis. This included folks who jumped into their trucks and raced to evacuate horses with their trailers . 

        Perhaps it might be possible for you to organize such a group of people with horses who could work together to help each other by taking in each other’s horses if an evacuation is necessary?

      • 3

        Ubique, there are actually some amazing networks and selfless individuals that mobilized to transport livestock, and there were some AMAZING truckers that hauled load after load of hay, both in Oregon and Washington.  It was wonderful to see.  We are elderly (81 and 70) with ancient truck and trailer, so it’s difficult for us to participate in such a wonderful effort.

      • 2

        Dogpatch – Isn’t amazing how a disaster can bring out the best and the worst in people?

        What wonderful trucker who hauled all those loads of hay. Those acts of kindness reaffirm my faith in humanity. We so often hear of the bad in this world. It is wonderful to hear of the good deeds.

        Here are a couple of other heartwarming stories to lift your spirits. You and your husband need it after what you have been through and I hope you are both recovering well.

        We had flooding in the province where I live (Manitoba) Cattle had to be moved rapidly. There were ranchers and farmers who drove all the way from Alberta and took in cattle and other livestock. At the end of the flood, every animal was returned to it’s farm.

        There was a group of people who hand dug for week to rescue two stranded horses that were left behind by their owner and unable to get out. These kind-hearted people dug 26 miles and still had to walk the horses out. I believe there was also a Canadian movie made about this incredible rescue. The link is the news coverage and photo of one of the rescued horses.

        Horses of McBride BC

      • 2

        Wonderful stories Ubique!  Thank you!

    • 3

      I live in a horse community without horses, though.  When we were evacuated, I saw the same traffic jam issues – both ways.  We were alert and able to stay home, watch the fire news and prepare/pack for evacuation that was ordered in the early afternoon.  As we left, we were in a traffic jam on a 5 lane road watching a traffic jam on the other side of people trying to get home to pack and many horse trailers coming in to help with the horse evacuations as many folks don’t have trailer space for all of their animals.  It was both heartbreaking for those who were not able to stay and prepare, and heartwarming to see those bringing help for the horses.  

      I’ve added “extended below freezing temps” to my threats scenarios and your experience has helped me add to the information.  Thank you.  Regarding water, you were using the rainbarrel tank.  Was that only due to the power outage?  Did you have any risk of frozen pipes?   In my Southern California home, the water supply isn’t very deeply buried and enters the house above the surface so I’m thinking I’d need to drain the house and landscaping irrigation to prevent plumbing failures.  Did you need to take any of these sort of measures?  

      • 4

        Hi Alicia, One of the things on our to-do list is better insulate the plumbing on the tank.  We are in Western Oregon at a fairly low elevation, so even though we have regular frosts, we rarely get a really hard freeze.  Even during the ice storm, the temp was hovering barely below freezing. Hubby recalls one year though, when there was ice on the top of the tank water, but I think there’s so much mass, it would take a very long time to make the tank unusable.  (As a side note, I think maybe we need to draw the tank down a few feet during the threat of freezing weather – we haven’t done that! In addition, the lower four feet of the tank is (are?) buried, so there’d be some insulation value there. 

        Of course we’re lulled by a lack of hard freezing into not really paying attention to that insulation detail!  The tank was put in in 2007 and the insulation has been ignored ever since.  This recent event drove home how critical the tank is and how we need to do some service on it!

      • 1

        How do you insulate a tank like that? 

      • 3

        We wouldn’t be able to insulate the tank, just the plumbing.  But a lot of people build a shed around the tank, you could insulate that, and protect the tank from UV as well.

      • 2

        In the UK many remote areas with either internal or extenal water tanks have had them insulated with spray on insulating foam.

    • 2

      If you have a tractor and  some sort of plow then Plow On Warning. Run a plow line around your homestead being mindful of how terrain effects fire spread. Run a second plow line several yards from the first. Then follow an old wild fire hand crew motto. “If your in doubt then fire it out.” Firing out a constructed hand or plow line is a fast way to widen your fire control line. With 2 plow lines you fire out the space in between. Start firing from the LEEWARD or DOWNWIND side of the burn out strip. A fire backing into the wind is a lot less likely to spread too rapidly to control. Were the line runs with the wind direction fire that portion of the control line in short strips again from the DOWN WIND edge of each strip.

      WARNING: Backfire is VERY different from firing out a built line even when it is done from a built line. Backfire can be described as using the in-rushing air, that the updraft of an uncontrolled fire generates, which blows toward the base of the main fire and close to the ground, to push a firing out burn in towards the main fire. That in-rushing air flow does not occur until the main body of the fire is QUITE close. The timing is CRITICAL. Too soon and you’ve just spread the main fire because your firing line will move with the prevailing wind. Too late and the fired out area will not be wide enough to be effective. I tell you that to say NEVER ATTEMPT TO BACK FIRE UNLESS YOU ARE TRAINED, PRACTICED, AND EXPERIENCED. Training occurs during fire control school. Practice occurs during controlled burns done for habitat modification or fuel reduction. Experience occurs under truly experienced supervision while working on an uncontrolled fire. There is NO substitute for having done all three of those prior to using Backfire as a fire control technique. It is also worth knowing that the use of Backfire is reserved to the State’s Forester or their designate BY LAW in many states. Attempting to use it outside the State Forester’s control makes you liable to an  unlimited degree for any harm it causes, LEAVE THE USE OF BACKFIRE TO PROFESSIONAL WILD LAND FIREFIGHTERS!

      Many preppers will not hesitate to drop hundreds of dollars into a shooting course while ignoring the danger of wildland fire. A few survival schools offer wildfire survival seminars or course units. Of course you could cheat and take the free basic wildland firefighter training from a State or Federal agency. They’re expecting you to serve as a paid on call Wildland Firefighter once you complete the course. If you are in good enough shape; meaning that you can hike 3-miles with a 45-pound pack over level terrain within 45 minutes; you may want to turn out for a couple of call outs because that is the REAL secondary training.

      Tommy