September is National Preparedness Month and this blog on Wildfires is part of a series corresponding with the Federal Emergency Management Association’s weekly themes for the month.
While we don’t often think of wildfires as a concern in Massachusetts, they occur more frequently than you may think. Last year, the Commonwealth saw over 1,500 wildfires and that figure was actually down from over 1,700 in 2013.
It’s estimated that most wildfires are caused by humans, but some are directly related to weather conditions such as a combination of high wind, low humidity, and high temperatures. In these conditions, lightening becomes an increased hazard. Your best defense against wildfires is to be prepared. Most of the tips below are applicable to a broad range of emergencies.
Take precautions now to make your home or church resistant to fire by clearing debris from around your structures and using fire-resistant materials for the structures, wherever possible. Additionally, clear out any flammable materials (stacks of dry papers, ancient dry old wood, and long unused choir robes).
Consider whether you have adequate insurance protection in the event of a fire. Consider buying a NOAA Weather Radio which receives broadcast alerts directly from NWS. They’re available at electronics retailers and online. Get a list of available alert/warning apps under Wildfires>alerts and warnings at www.ready.gov/prepare.
As with any emergency, make sure you have extra batteries for a radio and have your cell phone charged. Think about how you’ll get information if power is out and consider purchasing a hand crank radio. If wildfire is a threat, fuel up your car in case you have to evacuate. Keep extra clothing and supplies in your car. Plan your evacuation route and know where you’ll shelter if you must leave your home or church.
Pack a “go bag” filled with emergency supplies. You’ll want to consider the following for evacuation: people (and pets if possible), personal needs, priceless items, prescriptions, papers (important documents) and plastic (credit cards and cash). For a list of emergency supply considerations, please visit www.ready.gov/kit.
Make and practice a communication plan. Keep important numbers written down and with you, rather than just in your phone. If you can’t recharge your phone, you could lose access to the numbers stored in it. It may be easier to reach people via text than calls in emergency situations. If there is a local emergency, and family gets separated, it may be easiest to reach someone out of town. Choose your contact person and have all family members check in with that out-of-towner. Choose your meeting place far from the path of the wildfire and update this plan as necessary.
Keep important documents in a fireproof, waterproof box. If you have your info on a computer, either keep a backup in a secure cloud or keep a backup copy of your info in the fireproof, waterproof box. Identify which financial records you’ll want to keep safe.
Practice fire prevention. Make sure church and family members know how to use a fire extinguisher. Purchase a fire extinguisher and make sure to inspect it regularly.
The safest thing to do, when confronted with wildfire is to evacuate as early as possible to ensure that you don’t get trapped in the area. Drive with your lights on and bear in mind that smoke can cause decreased visibility. If you’ll need public transportation, make inquiries about how such things are handled. Your local emergency management agency should be able to provide this information.
If you need to use an emergency shelter, be aware that many will take service animals, but not other pets, so plan ahead for your pets’ safety. The Red Cross has an app that can help you find a shelter: www.redcross.org/mobile-apps/shelter-finder-app.You can also find an open shelter by texting SHELTER + your ZIP code to 43362 (4FEMA).
If you spend time in forested areas, make sure to fully extinguish any campfires or cigarettes and dispose of them properly. Campfires should be cold to the touch before you leave the area. Get more info here: www.SmokeyBear.com.
On Fire Hazard Days:
When there is a fire hazard, don’t do any welding outdoors as the sparks could ignite a fire. On these days, don’t park on dry grass as exhaust systems are extremely hot. Store your gas grill and other combustibles at least 15 feet away from the house, church, or other structure. Avoid using the grill on potentially dangerous days.
In The Event of Wildfire:
If you see a fire, call 911. If there is time before evacuating, turn on the lights in and outside of your house so it will be easier to see in heavy smoke. Close all window, doors and fireplace screens to reduce draft in the house. Disconnect electronic garage door openers so that they can be opened by hand if necessary.
If you cannot evacuate, hook up garden hoses and fill sinks, the tub and large containers with water. Call 911 and explain your situation. Turn on all of your lights in and outside of the house, move flammable items such as curtains away from windows and doors, keep windows closed, unlock your doors so that rescue personnel can get in. Stay inside and stay low.
Get additional tips and register to participate in America’s PrepareAthon grassroots campaign at www.ready.gov/prepare. For disaster planning resources and templates, please visit www.MACUCC.org/DisasterResponse.
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