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As wildfires rage throughout the West Coast, many homeowners are being evacuated from their homes, while others stand by for information as the spread continues. The following tips are meant to inform your household’s wildfire evacuation protocol, whatever your evacuation timeline may be.
Evacuation orders come from local law enforcement agencies, but if you have not received an official evacuation notice and feel threatened by wildfires in your area, do not hesitate to leave. Take only essential vehicles on the road, this will minimize traffic and reduce the chance of gridlock when evacuating the area. Keep the windows rolled up to avoid inhaling smoke and tune into local radio for updates as you head toward safer ground. And remember your masks!
What to bring
The Six P’s
- People and pets
- Phones and personal computer
- Chargers, any additional computer hardware
- Papers and important documents
- Birth certificates, passports, insurance, legal documents
- Medication, eyeglasses, contacts
- Pictures and irreplaceable keepsakes
- Payment (credit & debit cards, bank cards, cash)
- Face masks or coverings
- Extra clothing
- First aid kit
- Sanitation supplies
- Copies of important documents
- Three-day supply of food and water
If you live in an area that is not being evacuated, there are steps you can take now to prepare your home and family, if and when the time comes.
- Create a “defensible space”
- Clear your home’s surroundings of brush and vegetation
- Turn off sprinklers and main gas lines
- Clean out roof and gutters
- Move furniture away from windows toward the center of the room
- Remove flammable household items
- Prepare your emergency kit
- Include useful items listed above in “Go bag”
For additional information on protecting yourself from smoke while addressing COVID-19 health concerns, Click Here. Be sure to check your local news and emergency alert radio stations and social media profiles for the most up-to-date information and helpful resources.
Wildfires are unpredictable. Knowing what to do both in preparation for and during an emergency evacuation will have your household prepared in the event that a wildfire spreads to your area, neighborhood, or home.
As the days shorten, you can mitigate many mid-winter headaches with some preemptive prep. Proper weatherizing can help protect your home from preventable damage, save money on energy costs, and, most importantly, keep you and your loved ones safe and warm throughout the winter season. Here is a useful checklist to manage your weatherization project. Setting aside some time on a couple of weekend days should be more than enough to knock this out:
Cracks & Leaks
Examine your entire house for any cracks and leaks, from your roof to your baseboards, to your basement and foundation. With unpredictable winter weather, these cracks and leaks are how the outside gets in, causing cold drafts and water damage.
Luckily, most cracks don’t require a professional to handle it. Depending on your house type and age, it’s likely you’ll be able to do it yourself with supplies from your local hardware store.
Windows & Doors:
Gaps and breaks in windows and doors is another way to let the winter in your home, and they can let heat escape, raising your heat bill throughout the season.
Make sure seals are tight and no leaks exist. If you have storm windows, make sure you put them on before the cold season begins. Additionally, add weather-strips and or a door sweep to prevent drafts and keep the heat in.
Clean your rain gutters of any debris. In colder climates, the buildup will cause gutters to freeze with ice, crack and then leak.
Once you have removed the residue from the drains, test them by running hose water to make sure cracks and leaks have not already formed. Even in warmer locales, the buildup can put undue stress on your roof and home.
Protecting your pipes from freezing should be your number one priority this winter. A burst pipe can quickly become a disaster in any home.
Remember to turn off your exterior water source and take in your hose. Internally, wrapping your pipes is a recommended precaution to take.
Annual checks are vital in avoiding dangers such as house fires. Replace filters if you use a furnace and clear out any vents and ducts that carry heat through them. If you have baseboard heat, wipe them of dust and remove any debris that might catch fire.
Fireplace & Wood Burning Stoves:
Make sure to have chimneys and air vents cleaned early in the season if you are planning on warming your home with a wood-burning source. When your fireplace is not in use make sure to close the damper, some resources estimate an open damper can increase energy consumption by as much as 30%, increasing your bill about $200.
Bring your patio furniture inside or cover it for the winter. Don’t forget other, smaller items such as your tools, including the hose and planting pots. Clear out any piles around the side of your house, checking for cracks and holes in your home and foundation as you go so to avoid providing shelter for unwelcome guests over the cold season.
If your property has large trees check for loose branches and call someone to trim back any limbs that may fall in your yard, on your roof or even damage a window.
Lastly, make sure your emergency kit is up to date with provisions, batteries, fresh water, food for animals, entertainment for kids – especially if you live in an area prone to power outages.
After last year’s wildfires, some of the largest and deadliest in recent memory, spread along the west coast, homeowners are on edge as to what this fire season will bring. The questions of whether their home will be burnt, or if they will be affected by poor air quality, hang in the air much like the smoke of a nearby fire. Accompanied by heatwaves hitting much of the U.S. these fears can turn into realities just as quick as a spark in brush. Luckily there are ways to prevent damage and to prepare for anything coming your way.
Be prepared with fire insurance
Are you currently protected in case of a fire? Make sure to talk with your insurance agent and work on a plan to insure your home.
Questions to ask them are:
- What is covered should our home be destroyed in a fire?
- What kinds of documentation do we need to do in order to get the full benefit of the insurance?
- It’s usually a great idea to keep a log of what is in your home and how much it costs. Keep receipts and invoices if possible.
- Who at the company should we contact in case of emergency?
Be prepared with an emergency kit
Cal Fire has a comprehensive guide to all things wildfire preparedness. Here they suggest putting together an emergency kit that’s always ready in case of sudden evacuations. They recommend including:
- Map marked with at least two evacuation routes
- Non-perishable foods to last three days
- Prescriptions and medications. Also, eyeglasses or contact lenses.
- Change of clothes
- Toiletries and sanitation supplies
- And extra set of car keys, as well as credit cards, cash or traveler’s checks
- First aid kit
- Flashlight and batteries
- Copies of important documents like birth certificates and passports
- Food and water for your pet
- Chargers for cell phones and other devices
Some other items you might consider having close by are easily carried valuables, sentimental items like family photos, and computers or hard drives. Keep a sturdy pair of shoes and a flashlight near your bed for any evacuations at night.
Prevent damage by fortifying the building
You don’t have to re-do the entire garden to slow the fire down. Home Advisor recommends you create a balance of aesthetically pleasing flora and slow-burning plants that are less likely to ignite.
Additionally, keep your garden and property free of dry materials that are ideal for kindling either in your bonfire or for a wildfire. Not only does creating this barrier protect your home, it also gives firefighters a safe area to work from as they work to control the fire.
To see what plants to use and other ways to fireproof your property, visit HomeAdvisor.
Build or remodel with flame-resistant materials
Materials like brick, stucco, metal, or concrete are great exteriors that can prevent the fire from taking hold of your home, at least initially. If your home is already built with one of these materials, the weak points might lie in your extremities like your deck or porch. Consider re-building these with fire-proof materials or add a coating to protect them.
Additionally, protect the most vulnerable areas of your home, like your windows and any air vents. Add retractable fireproof panels to your windows or replace the glass with wire glass or fire-proof safety glass. Don’t forget your skylights or windows on your doors.
It seems the winter is settling in early through much of the West Coast this year, with October frost and early winter warnings. Last week The Seattle Times reported, “This year will bring the most intense La Niña conditions since 1955 … Meteorologists say more rain, colder temperatures and bigger snowstorms are likely.” Whether the meteorologists are right this year or not, now is the time to do some home repair so you can enjoy the winter inside your warm house.
Weatherizing your home should be more than just packing in your patio furniture, checking your furnace and cleaning out your rain gutters, though these make a big difference in preparing your home and avoiding December disasters. Weatherizing your home–especially in light of harsh warnings–will protect your investment from preventable damage, save money on energy costs and, most importantly, keep your home safe and warm for you and your loved ones throughout the winter season. Here is a useful checklist to manage your weatherization project.
Getting started: Check your toolbox to make sure you have all the materials you need for home maintenance in one place. This NY Times article provides a good list of the tools you’ll really need to maintain your home. After your toolbox is put together, you can confidently begin the maintenance on your home.
Insulation: According to the Sustainable Energy Info Fact Sheet “Insulating a home can save 45-55% of heating and cooling energy”. For the best results, your home should be properly insulated from the ceilings to the basement. However, if insulating your complete home is not in your budget, the U.S. Department of Energy states, “one of the most cost-effective ways to make your home more comfortable year-round is to add insulation to your attic.” By starting in your attic and progressively adding insulation to other areas of your home over time, you will avoid spending a large sum of money up-front.
Cracks & Leaks: Do a run-through of your entire house for cracks and leaks, from your roof to your baseboards. Winter weather is unpredictable. Whether your area gets rain, wind or snow, cracks in your house can lead to cold drafts or leaks that cause water damage. Do-it-Yourself.com reports, “The average house, even when well-insulated, contains cracks and gaps between building materials that add up to a hole about 14 inches square. All year long, a leaky house not only wastes energy, but can lead to water damage and provide a path for insects”. Depending on your house type, most cracks can be easily filled with supplies from your local hardware store in a do-it-yourself fashion. Use caulk to seal any cracks in the permanent building materials.
Windows & Doors: Another common place for heat leakage is in your windows and exterior doorways. Make sure seals are tight and no leaks exist. If you have storm windows, make sure you put them on before the cold season begins. This 5 minute video, How to Caulk Windows & Doors, demonstrates how to find leaks, pick the correct tools to use, and fill in the leaks. Don’t underestimate the difference some weather strips and a door sweep can provide in preventing drafts and keeping the heat in.
Rain Gutters: Clean your rain gutters of any debris. Buildup will cause gutters to freeze with ice, crack and then leak. Once you have removed the residue from the drains, test them by running hose water to make sure cracks and leaks have not already formed.
Pipes: Pipes are a number one risk in winter climates. A burst pipe can become a winter disaster in a matter of seconds. Remember to turn off your exterior water source and take in your hose. Internally, wrapping your pipes is a recommended precaution to take. This article from Insights, Natural Hazard Mitigation advises, “Vulnerable pipes that are accessible should be fitted with insulated sleeves or wrappings, the more insulation the better”.
Heating System: What is one thing gas fireplaces, wood burning stoves, and central air heating systems all have in common? They all need to be cleaned and maintained. Check and clean your indoor heating system thoroughly. This is important to avoid dangers such as house fires. If you use an old fashioned wood stove, make sure there is no leaks and that all soot build up or nests are removed. If a furnace is what you have remember to change the filters as recommended or clean out your reusable filters.
Fireplace & Wood burning stoves: Make sure to have chimneys and air vents cleaned early in the season if you are planning on warming your home with a wood-burning source. When your fireplace is not in use make sure to close the damper, some resources estimate an open damper can increase energy consumption as much as 30%.
Outside: As we mentioned before make sure you bring your patio furniture inside (or cover) for the winter- but don’t forget other, smaller items such as your tools, including a hose and small planting pot. These items can be damaged or broken in extreme cold. Clear out any piles around the side of your house, checking for cracks as you go so to avoid providing shelter for unwelcomed guests over the cold season.
If your property has large trees check for loose branches and call someone to trim back any items that may fall in your yard, on your roof or even damage a window.
Emergency Kit: Make sure your emergency kit is up-to-date with provisions, batteries, fresh water, food for animals, entertainment for kids, etc- especially if you live in an area prone to power outages.
When it comes to protecting our investments and our families’ safety “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure” is a good philosophy. Your winter preparedness plan will fit your property, schedule and needs. What are some tips you have for preparing for winter? What are some of your favorite activities to do at home over the winter while weathering out a storm?
By Brittany Lockwood
You may know Brittany as the helpful voice behind the Marketing Solutions Help Desk. She grew up in Cheney, Washington so she knows a thing or two about harsh winters.