When in Doubt Get Out: Prepare for a wildfire emergency

It’s a hot, dry July afternoon. You are enjoying peace and quiet at your rural home, when you notice a large plume of smoke coming from a nearby ridge.  You’re concerned, but you don’t see flames and haven’t received notice of a fire. What should you do?

“If you see smoke, if you see flame, if you feel unsafe, get out of there,” said Jim Johnsen, emergency preparedness and response coordinator at the Northwest Colorado Visiting Nurse Association.  Persistent drought and the beetle kill epidemic in the West continue to underscore the imminent threat of wildfire in Northwest Colorado. Local, state and federal government agencies are constantly monitoring wildfire risk and bolstering emergency response and notification plans, but it’s foolish to rely solely on these defenses for our personal safety.

“(personal responsibility) seems to be lacking in the last couple of years, and that’s the primary reason we are seeing deaths,” said Johnsen, adding that most civilian deaths occur at the initial onset of a wildfire.  “When in doubt, get out,” he said.
Here are some key preparation measures you can take to help ensure you and your family will be safe in a wildfire emergency:

•    Enroll in CodeRED, the emergency notification system. In Moffat County go to www.moffatcountysheriff.com and in Routt County go to www.co.routt.co.us and type “CodeRED” in the search box. You can receive alerts via land line, cell phone and/or email. The system works well and is tested often, but overloaded phone lines and other problems could prevent a person from receiving an evacuation notice. Monitor wind and weather and listen to the radio for updates. Use good judgment – if you see smoke or fire, don’t wait for an evacuation order to leave. If you do receive an evacuation order, follow it. Otherwise, you will be putting yourself, as well as emergency personnel, in more danger.
•    Put together a basic “go-kit” in an old duffel bag. It should include: 3-day supply of medication and copies of prescriptions; cash (credit/debit services may not be operational); disposable cell phone and coin/prepaid phone card for pay phones; list of contact information for doctors, family, neighbors and law enforcement; names and contact information for rendezvous locations where family members can meet if they are separated; bottled water and nonperishable food; sleeping gear (pillows, old sleeping bags, padding), extra clothing and footwear; important papers (insurance documents, legal papers, etc.), identification with photo and address; games, cards, books, paper and pens; radio and flashlight with extra batteries and photos of family members in case someone is missing. For a more comprehensive list, go to www.whatifcolorado.com.
•    Make an evacuation plan and share it with your family. Your plan should include a meeting place outside your neighborhood where family members can reunite if they are separated. Designate emergency contacts outside the region that family members can call to keep track of each other if they are not together.
•    Have a plan for horses, livestock and pets. Routt County’s Emergency Management page has very good evacuation planning tips, including how to evacuate animals. Pet owners should have a go-kit for their pet, including carriers, leashes, medication, litter and litter boxes, vaccination records and food and water. Emergency shelters may not accept pets, so have a plan for where to take or stay with your animals during evacuation, including pet-friendly motels, boarding facilities, friends and possible emergency animal shelters such as veterinarian offices and fairgrounds.
•    Do a home inventory for insurance reporting purposes in case your home or belongings are destroyed. Go from room to room and write down, photograph or video items including furniture, appliances, clothing, jewelry and contents on bookshelves and in drawers, closets, garages, basements, attics and patios. Make a note of computer programs and other intangible valuables. Gather warranties, receipts and insurance policies and write down the make, model and serial number of electronics. Check your policy limits to be sure certain valuables are covered. Keep video/photos and paperwork in a fireproof or safe deposit box. Update your list regularly.

By Tamera Manzanares, community outreach specialist for the Northwest Colorado Visiting Nurse Association.

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