Ready for Our First Bug Out
We’re in the middle of hard-hit Clackamas County in Oregon, which is entirely under wildfire evacuation alert. We’re in a Level 1 area but Levels 2 and 3 are closing in rapidly! We’ve lived in this area 47 years and never has there been such a threat in that time! So, uh, no, we didn’t truly have a plan.
But we’ve had enough warning to gather up all our cool camping gear and all the necessaries for ourselves, two horses, a dog and a neurotic cat. We’ll head to a friend’s farm. Making mental notes of what we coulda-shoulda-woulda and what we’ve done that’s repeatable. Regardless of the outcome, the truck and horse trailer will stay packed as is until the crisis is over. Fortunately, the old truck is so rarely used anyway, we have to keep it on a trickle charger!
Anyway, all the good stuff I’ve learned here and elsewhere is spinning around in my brain and this is a great shakedown, if it had to take place at all. Some folks have been awakened in the middle of the night and told to leave NOW!
G.E. - September 9, 2020
Good luck to you and your family. Hope your preparation turns out to be a good practice, and you don’t actually have to run for it.
I’d be very interested to hear your lessons learned if you’re so inclined. After the danger passes, of course.
Ef Rodriguez - September 9, 2020
Whoa. Glad you’re positioned to get out quickly. Fingers crossed that your neighbors have places to go as well. All the headlines I’m reading are heartbreaking.
Would love to know what’s on your coulda-shoulda-woulda list at a calmer time, since it’d likely be helpful for others who may be in the same boat soon.
Matt Black - September 9, 2020
I hope this finds you all (neurotic cat included) safe and sound. This kind of dynamic situations can turn on a dime, so, please look to you and yours, focus on what you need to do, but please update once things chill and you settle into a safe space.
I’m going to continue to write this response, in case you want or need a little whistling/singing in the dark.
This is going to probably sound a little hoaky:
Consider recording your coulda-shoulda-woulda notes now, for later review. If you’re anything like me, once I’m in a situation that requires my full situational awareness, I’m in a zone, so I might eventually think about the coulda-shoulda-woulda’s much later. Just a thought.
Also, consider interviewing each other. Seriously. This can help you out a lot later down the road.
Be well. Be safe. Be healthy.
Barb LeeContributor - September 9, 2020
I don’t know that the evacuation notification will hit us, but they’re skipping Level 2 in most cases and going straight to level 3. The major fires are all a bit south of us.
One consideration is risk assessment. It’s been very hard for me to design a bug out “bag” because there isn’t a “bag” large enough to evacuate a small farm. So I’ve put it off mostly because I haven’t set aside the time for the mental effort. My husband and I have agreed that the most likely reason for us to ever bug out would be fire. But we have been thinking on the local level, as in house fire. Why would we not consider wildfire, when we’re surrounded by forest? Even the disaster mangement pros say that this event is without precedent. So while I’ve been prepping to shelter in place, my first disaster is something that’s never happened in modern history in this area.
We are in a volcanic area (lived through the Mt. St. Helens eruption), but we also consider that unlikely. They usually have pretty good advance warning of an impending eruption.
We are not prone to flood as we live on high ground. Hurricane force winds have happened here but I don’t know how much advance warning we would have.
Of course we’re regularly reminded to be prepared for The Big One, the predicted magnitude 9 earthquake. That’s definitely a shelter in place event.
Our preps aren’t that far along, so I’ve mostly concentrated on shelter-in-place scenarios.
Some of the emerging coulda-shoulda-wouldas:
Oddly, the first thing that comes to mind is we shoulda had a fire resistant safe by now. We are not sentimental about anything we own, but we do not have copies of our important papers in a bug-out-binder. Two expanding folders just went into a garbage bag and were put in a refrigerator in a small separate building, the pump house. At least the fire probably wouldn’t be as hot in there, unless the huge pine tree next to it catches fire and falls on it. Not optimal.
A destination: We never had one until yesterday, when I groveled to a friend with a farm, asking to be able to camp out with the horses in her pasture. It was silly of me to grovel, and we both established mutual shelter for human and animal.
Speaking of destination, what if we had to cross the state line with our livestock? I do not know the current requirements for traveling interstate with the animals. We may have had to evacuate to the Clark County Fairgrounds just over the river in Washington state. I’d have needed papers. Our horses don’t get routine vaccinations because they aren’t exposed to other horses. At a fairgrounds, they’d be exposed to hundreds. So a visit with the vet will happen when this is over. Unhappily, a fire just erupted right near the clinic, so I probably won’t be talking to them soon!
More portable food: My food storage is stocked with plenty of good things to help us through a shelter-in-place situation. I packed enough food for about 3 days, because we will not be far from resources, but a lot of that food is in heavy jars and takes up a lot of space. I want more dried food, and much of that in meal “kits”. I’m collecting recipes for using dehydrated foods and they are fabulous. We especially need dehydrated meat. We’re gradually trying to draw down the freezers, but any high value foods I dehydrate will be vacuum sealed and put in the freezer for extra long life.
Gear: We’re more than well equipped to camp comfortably, but we haven’t used the gear in years and it was spread all over the farm in various buildings. We had leisurely time to gather it up and pack it in the truck and horse trailer. Leisure doesn’t usually attend crises, so at the END of fire season, the truck and trailer will be unpacked and everything possible will go into designated storage. Making that varmint proof will be a challenge.
We’d talked about hooking the truck and trailer for “fire season” long before this event took place, but we never did. We could have been groping around in the dark, then going out and looking for the horses in the paddock, critical delays. Now, each fire season, we’ll have them hitched, and very possibly, packed.
We’ve got enough decent camping gear to set up housekeeping if we came back from evacuation to charred remains. We parked the car, tractor and lawnmowers out in an open paddock with very short grass, away from buildings and trees. If we had it to do over again, we would try to build defendable house and buildings.
Those are some initial thoughts. If we have to go, a whole lot more that we could never have anticipated will be revealed.
Matt Black - September 9, 2020
Sounds like you’ve got a good handle on what needs doing once you’re on the other side of this -which, I hope, is soon.
What you might consider groveling another might call being desperate AND considerate. Don’t beat yourself up.
If the worst of it is that you all come out of this safe and sound, but you have to rebuild, here’s hoping you can find the silver lining in potentially being able to rebuild better once the opportunity arises.
pnwsarahContributor - September 9, 2020
Sending best wishes to you and your family! I’m in Portland, but recently relocated there from Northern California. After what happened in Santa Rosa in 2017, I can’t really feel safe under skies and winds like these, even in the city, and the Clackamas County evacuation map is alarming. I sure hope you don’t have to leave, but it sounds like you’ve already done a lot of good thinking and mobilizing, and your “lessons learned” are going to be really useful in the future.
On the matter of BOBs, I ended up deciding to pair my literal bag with a prioritized list of things to bring depending on how much time I have to leave, so that if it’s a no-warning emergency I can just grab one thing + my dog and go, but if I have a little more time I know what to do next, and if I’m at Level 1 and can be thorough without having to do all the planning in the moment. It’s a little like the prioritized bag system advocated here, I guess, but more suitable for things that can’t just live in a duffle bag year-round (e.g., in our household: camping, outdoor sports, and dog gear we legit use all the time). Based on stories from friends who have evacuated multiple times, I feel like I would benefit from having my calmer, pre-disaster self articulate marching orders for my harried evacuating self. I totally agree with your assessment that so much of the work on the BOB is mental effort and time.
Anyway, please let us know you’re okay when the danger has passed— and let’s hope these winds die down soon. Stay safe!
Mike Hill - September 10, 2020
I like your prioritized list idea. I think most people imagine they would need to rush out immediately but it sounds like realistically many would have a little more time to gather up specific things. Especially if pets are involved.
pnwsarahContributor - September 13, 2020
Totally. I feel like I’ve heard a lot of “suddenly the fire was in our backyard” stories, but also a lot of “we knew it was coming and we were able to pack” stories. A friend of mine described being so numb when the evac order came that she brought a mix of really smart and useful stuff and totally nonsensical things (e.g., unbaked cookie dough). I could 100% see myself doing that in similar circumstances.
@Dogpatch, hope you’re safe and that the fire has kept its distance from your place.
pnwsarahContributor - September 13, 2020
@Matt, that post you’ve linked to is absolutely what got me thinking about the “prioritized list” approach! It’s a totally genius fix for people experiencing BOB-assembly-overwhelm, but the way I read it is that one should have X number of bags ranked by priority and— crucially!— already packed. I live in a stupid-small space with no basement, attic, or garage, so space is a huge limitation; we literally can’t store anything in packed-and-ready-to-go state except our BOBs. As such, the idea of a prioritized list of things to pack if there is time to do a little packing before getting out was a useful modification of the concept for my household.
Matt Black - September 14, 2020
Whoops! Did I responsd to the wrong person? Sorry about that, if I did.
Yeah, the prioritized post really helped get me unstuck. Hell, I didn’t realize I need to be unstuck before I read it.
I’ve made minor tweeks here and there. Namely that my bags (beyond BOB) aren’t always bags, but the prioritizing has helped my planned response considerably. Now those extras are dependant on ‘lead time’ and ‘door time’ allowances.
pnwsarahContributor - September 14, 2020
@Matt, I’m not sure if there is another post in this discussion to which yours more aptly responds, but I saw your comment as a valid and useful contribution to the discussion, especially (but not only!) because I mentioned the post but did not actually provide a link to it. 🙂
brekke - September 9, 2020
My uncle’s location in Clackamas Co. went to level 3 this morning. They actually had to evacuate twice as their first location went from 0 to 3 shortly after they arrived. I hope you and your family aren’t forced to evac.
We’re south of Salem, but no danger from the big fires (yet), but the smoke and ash are horrendous. People that still remember are comparing it to the air quality an ashfall levels that occurred in this area when Mt. St. Helens blew in 1980.
A lot of people in local social media groups are asking if they need to prepare a bag or supplies and my advice hs been “YES!” Not because I think the big fires will reach us, but because everyone should always be prepared and because resources are stretched so thin right now that local spot fires may not be knocked down as quickly as they normally would. With the low humidity, high temps, and winds we’re having, the smallest spark could ignite something.
Stay safe out there!!
River - September 10, 2020
I’m sorry to read this, but glad you feel as ready as you can. Sending positive thoughts your direction!
Barb LeeContributor - September 15, 2020
I truly thank everyone who wished us well during these fires! We did evacuate well equipped and with no difficulty and are now safely back home. I know I need to organize my experiences and share them. But nothing I write seems useful. Our experience was much more leisurely than that of people getting out while fire was raining down on their heads.
But I did want to say that I am truly grateful for the kind comments.
NCalhippie - September 15, 2020
Glad to hear everything worked out well for you and that you were well prepared.
We have been through a few ourselves, 2015 we had a garage fire which leveled the garage and damaged the house severly. We decided to rebuild and add an extra bathroom (one bath isn’t enough when all the kids and grandkids come for dinner which makes 17 of us).
We were renting a nice house overlooking the lake (Oroville) while the new house was being built but lost that place in the 2016 “Saddle Fire” a couple of months before the new house was finished.
We moved into the new house a week before the one year anniverssary of the original fire. Then, almost two years later came the Camp Fire and took everything we had again.
Long story short, We rebuilt again and moved back in the first of February. Last week we managed to get lucky as the Bear Fire skirted by us but we were packed and ready to go.
Where I am going with this is to remind people to be prepared for whatever might happen and keep your insurance paid up, it sure saved us and we are once again debt-free in our new house.
Mike Hill - September 16, 2020
That’s a lot of loss. Glad the Bear Fire didn’t bring more damage. And a big yes to insurance. I don’t know if policies and coverage are changing with the bigger and bigger threat of fires but if you’re all paid up, it’s clearly a huge advantage.
NCalhippie - September 16, 2020
Our premium did go up, but not enough to be a problem.
pnwsarahContributor - September 16, 2020
@Mike Hill — See Christopher Flavelle’s reporting in the NYT (esp. this article) for more on the insurance issue. Looks like there is a big reckoning coming for somebody, it’s just not clear whether it’s going to be homeowners, insurance companies, or the states that try to step in where insurance companies back out. It’s enough to make one wonder if property is really that good of an investment in the west, after all (at least, we had that conversation in my household).
pnwsarahContributor - September 16, 2020
So happy you’re safely back at home! Thanks for the update!
Alicia - September 24, 2020
Thanks for the good news that you’re safely back home.
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