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New to Prepping & specific questions re CA/fire strategy

I just joined, but the general idea has been “top of mind” since Feb/March, here in CA specifically COVID related, but also civil unrest/race relations/political instability, and now, it’s “fire season” and we are in Elk Grove (15 mi. south of state Capitol, Sacramento).

We are approx. 30 miles (as the crow flies) from the southeasternmost edge of what is known as the LNU Fires Complex, started 4 days ago and already at 220k+ acres.  [https://www.fire.ca.gov/incidents/2020/8/17/lnu-lightning-complex-includes-hennessey-gamble-15-10-spanish-markley-13-4-11-16/]  and [https://firms.modaps.eosdis.nasa.gov/map/#t:adv;d:2020-08-19..2020-08-20;l:countries,street;@-121.8,38.3,10z .]  Links provided for reference and because if you just “googlemap” it, doesn’t show the actual fire AREA covered, just a flame icon inside the area.  Edited map attached below (showing locations/landmarks/distance) for clarity.

The whole state received (yesterday or the day before) a general “EVERYone should be ready to grab & go” from OES, because of how wide-spread all the (then 367 separate) fires are, rapidly changing-conditions and already-strained resources.  Sidenote/perspective:  a close friend of mine was a Paradise resident, she and her family very narrowly escaped with their lives but lost their home, pets, all but the clothes on their back.

We have had food/supplies well-stocked since early March (still do).  I know I’m “skipping” steps (in that I’m NOT generally, financially/legally etc prepared), but the potential to have to USE the preparedness as it relates specifically to fire, now, within the next (hours? week(s)?) has kicked me into high gear, taking steps last night/throughout TODAY to work on the OTHER, more “immediate” stuff [list/organization TO create BOB & car bag, etc., + home & self defense I delayed before on (window film & fortified door jams/sliding door & window locks to supplement alarm & dog, shotgun + pistol)]… and I apologize, because I know this is both HIGHLY specific and a little all over the place… but this forum seems like possibly the best resource to get (smart/rational/helpful) feedback.

There are not currently any Evac Orders OR Warnings, for us right here, right now.  It’s hot (been 100+ all week), 35% humidity, not too windy (3-4 mph currently), but possibly more lightening forecast for Sun-Tues.  I have subscribed to and have all the push notifications (email, text & phone from CalFire, CAOES, SacOES, SacPD, EGPD) set up so I can hear if warnings/order happen/are issued.

But I’m not relying on JUST the notifications/warnings/orders, I’m not “waiting” for that.  I’m checking (regularly, but not obsessively) to see if the fire moves significantly or quickly this way.  If we need to evacuate, all of Yolo County + at least City of Sacramento (so, potentially 700k+ residents…) will have needed to do so first/as well… and they’d be headed this way (and/or onto same routes I’d be).  Does it seem reasonable to have as a “go now” trigger, the following:

  • If fire continues to spread east, and gets as far as the “Deep Water Channel”, GO soon (as in, within the hour?);
  • If it gets to/approaches the west banks of the Sacramento River, GO IMMEDIATELY;
  • If it gets as far as I-5, it’s too late to get out mainly because of the mass exodus traffic that (potential evacuation would cause) and options limited to soak what I can outside and surface streets to whatever “localized” Evac Center.

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So… what do the experienced preppers say?  Am I over-thinking it/should I wait until/if there is an official warning/order?  Are there vital things I’m not taking into consideration?  Am I not planning to GO soon enough?

THANK YOU for any input/direction/suggestion/feedback.

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  • Comments (9)

    • 5

      mseg77, I’ve been in your shoes. They are not comfortable. I found that timely information and communicaiton were hit or miss with the official channels and that community chat systems (facebook, slack, next door) were a valueable supplement.   I am by no means an expert here. Just been there a couple times now.  A few lessons from our experience:

      1) We had been watching and stayed home from work when it started towards our house. So if you can do that (or are already for the pandemic) that’s big help. When we did evacuate, the traffic on the 5 lane road out of our area was bumper to bumper and it took us an hour to go what typically takes about 10 minutes or less. So consider which way has the fewest bottlenecks. Sadly, the traffic INTO the area was even more backed up by folks who hadn’t stayed home and needed to get animals and belongings. That was slower by far because they were checking driver’s licenses for addresses. And there we no coming back in once you left.   Also determine where you are going now.  It may depend if the fire changes course or where is more accessible.  Luckily, we had several friends offer which gave us options – but one was basically blocked by the fire.

      2) Prepare your home to be more easily sealed against fires. I ended up spending about 30 mintues of that at-home time screwing in pieces of plywood over our attic vents. That is the likely place that embers blow in and then smolder and start the flames. Between fires, I got hinges and a hasp to make that plywood into doors that take about 5 mintues to close and secure now. Clear flammables from near your house – like firewood and other burnable debris – this includes a gas grill.. Consider additional light blocking window coverings (less flammable the better).

      3) When you are evacuated try to keep the heat out and enable the firefighters access to the rear and sides of your home and eep any fire that does start from spreading: Seal the Attic vents, Close all windows and blinds/curtains, Close all interior doors,Turn off the main electrical breaker, shut off the gas, run the sprinklers and water down the roof if possible.  Clear/create access around house for fire fighters: Put garbage bins in garage, Move Exterior Furniture out of paths, Clear street – move remaining cars into garage. Basically the easier it is for the fire departent to pull up the truck and get to where the fire is, the better chance your house will be chosen to defend and also better odds of success in that defense. 

      5) Stage your belongings to be ready to leave. And know how your’e doing it (which vehicles).  Since you’re ahead of the game, you could possibly enlist a friend to help.  It is far better to have emptied your house of your life then need to put it back than lose it.  We already had a portable filing method for our paperwork – bins on shelves instead of file cabinets. These we could just transfer to a truck in the garage.  We also packed the computer, backup disk, mouse, etc as you may need to do this sort of thing with insurance company.   You may need to leave it by the door inside instead of in the vehicle but you get the idea here. Pack for at least a week away – clothes, toiletries, shoes, cell phone chargers, etc.   We still needed to go to work while we were evacuated.   Don’t miss any pet needs/carriers/food/etc.  Then as we had time we added jewelry, photographs – albums and boxes went into wheeled luggage.  And then original artwork.  Basically our question was – can I replace this?  Most things were ‘yes’ so they didn’t go and helped this fit into our two vehicles.  

      6) The other thing I did between fires was get an insurance checkup.  If we had lost our home, what would be covered?  They recommended a home inventory that includes brands and models.  The insurance company will replace a blender with any blender but will replace a Vitamix 7200 with a Vitamix blender – and there’s quite a difference in price. What I also did to help this just before we zipped out the door was to video the entire house contents – opening cabinets and drawers along the way.  It would help me recall everything if needed  for a list since I’ve still not fully completed this task.  It can also provide evidence that it really was a Vitamix sittling on the counter if I don’t have a receipt in the paperwork.

      7) My husband added a soft shell to our truck to protect our belongings from the weather and prying eyes (not necessarily lockable) for next time as the truck sat in a driveway outside.  So also consider where your stuff is going to be located.  

      That’s all I can think of right now.  My hope is that it’s all in vain and you can safely stay put.  Good luck!  

    • 3

      The one question I still have, as a Bay Area resident surrounded by fires on three sides and water on the fourth is: where to go? The highways will be too clogged! I dread creaking slowly along  the road with brushfires burning. Where is safety in all of this?

    • 2

      We just published this article that includes advice from a man in in California who just had to evacuate for the first time due to wildfires. 

      https://theprepared.com/blog/lessons-from-the-california-wildfires/

    • 2

      First, How are you today, September 4, 2020?  This doesn’t show any update from your 2 weeks ago original post.

      To answer the most important question:  “Am I over-thinking it/should I wait until/if there is an official warning/order?  … Am I not planning to GO soon enough?”

      NEVER WAIT TO BE “TOLD” TO EVACUATE!   Your “Go Now Trigger” is based on your willingness to invest from $200 to $500 in getting out early enough to snag a hotel room in a safe area.  (Call to confirm WHILE you are driving away from your home.)    Your willingness to look foolish to others, including spouse/children/grandchildren/neighbors.  Your willingness to pre-pack your vehicle(s) with $200-$500 CASH in $20 dollar bills, your important papers, an extra set of clothes, underwear, socks, shoes, prescription and over-the-counter medication, important family photos/memorabilia, cat/dog cage(s) with leashes/food/water bowls, 5 gallons of water, snack foods, and comfort/personal hygiene items for you, family, kids.

      The biggest reason people don’t evacuate early is they don’t want to look foolish!   Please, please, please do NOT let a family member or friend dissuade you from packing and evacuating!  When we were evacuating in 2003 in So California, my niece and I LITERALLY had to push past her husband who tried to stand in our way.  Later….he apologized.  Fortunately, their home was spared, my home, however, was not, nor was my father’s home nearby.

      Second reason is they don’t have any extra money.    (Funny, they could afford cigarettes, hair cuts, cable, Starbucks, etc., but ‘just can’t put away $200 for emergencies’.)

      Third reason, animals.   Sorry to be harsh, but let the pets live or die on their own if you can’t get them corraled into a pet carrier.  If you are leaving livestock, spray paint your name on their hide, and let them loose.  

      Since 2003 I have become an expert in wildfire in So Cal.  I have written new articles, been interviewed, studied, enrolled in CERT programs.   Although I wish to share information with many, most will not listen.   Please check in and let me know you are ok.   

    • 2

      mseg77, First, I hope you and your family are okay. Feels like wildfire season in CA get’s worse every year. Just yesterday, the Creek Fire near Fresno was hard to digest. I’ve never considered myself a prepper but for the past couple of years have been paying more attention to such things. We now maintain a bug out bag for the family, have stored food and water to last us at least 3 days, have planned our evacuation routes, purchased GMRS radios for communication. We’ve teamed up with friends in the neihborhood and we all have these radios. 

      We also maintain a record of our home inventory. If things were to burn down, et lost, etc indusrance companies want this information to pay out a claim.

      Since I am generally forgetful, I use an application to track expiry dates of food and water in our survival kit, store our home inventory information, share our evacuation meet up locations with family friends, etc. So I built one with the hope it could help people. Here is a link to some guidelines for emergency preparedeness.

    • 2

      I have a friend in Medford, Oregon. I wrote this morning and asked for updates on his situation. He said yesterday he could see the fire from his house. That they’re under a level 2 evacuation. He said the winds are now in the north, which he thinks will avert the danger. I told him winds can change quickly and the fires move very fast. We’ve been discussing this for at least a month, but now it’s urgent. I read that most people in Medford have already evacuated. I told him to get important docs, food, and water, and get out now. Sleep in their car at a public park if necessary, as far away from the fires as possible. I’m sure facilities will be provided.

      Does anyone have additional advice I could give him? I’ve never been to that area.

      • 2

        Do you know if he has planned his evacuation?  Since you’ve been discussing it for a month, I hope it should have come up.  I’m mentioning this because if he’s staying, work with him on it and possibly help him identify weaknesses that will prompt him to decide to act.   What is preventing him from leaving? Why does he feel safe when you don’t feel he is?  Having been evacuated from a neighborhood where houses burnt (luckily only a few), there are lessons and surprises (and we’re fairly prepared overall and evacuated at first request).  Streets/roads can be closed for more than direct fire needs.  Some streets were blocked off to enable medical and other emergency vehicle traffic or made one way (against our desired exit direction).  So having a plan that is flexible and multi directional is key.  Traffic was slow even on a 5 lane road and we were ahead of the crowd (some of which were trying to get in to get animals/children/belongings).  So he may also be assuming a particular ease of departure after everyone’s already evacuated that won’t be true. Since he mentioned wind, the heat can cause a fire to spontaneously start away from the fireline and not necessarily in a predictable direction (wind drives ember direction while the heat still extends outward).  That is what caught some folks off-guard in Santa Monica several years back who literally ended up driving throught flames to get out.   Good luck with this.  I know it’s difficult not being able to help a friend. 

        Another thread  has some help about what to take and some other lessons:

        https://theprepared.com/forum/thread/new-to-prepping-specific-questions-re-ca-fire-strategy/

        https://theprepared.com/blog/lessons-from-the-california-wildfires/

      • 2

        Thank you for this information. I’ll read it again more carefully.  He and his wife never evacuated, they were in a yellow zone very close to a red zone. I told him several times on Wednesday that they needed to get out, and said I wouldn’t spend the night there. Tuesday night fire fighters went door to door in the level 3 areas telling people to get out. But they didn’t, even when the winds changed to south winds. But they’re all right. He sent this video showing the damage from a helicopter.

        https://jacksoncountyor.org/sheriff/News/almeda-fire-fly-over-9-8-2020-1