Autumn brings Santa Ana winds and peak fire season, making disaster preparation critically important for everyone who lives in the WUI—the wildland urban interface, but it is also the time to prepare for cooler nights, winter rains, shorter days. 

Here’s TNT’s checklist for the season.

Fire Safety and House Hardening

Now is the time to trim trees—before raptors begin selecting nest sites in winter, and after the last batch of late summer squirrels have grown up and left their nests. Cutting back vegetation from around buildings and removing dead branches and leaf litter can help harden the property against fire.

Clean chimneys, change heater filters, check vents—don’t forget the clothes dryer vent—lint build-up can cause house fires. Make sure roof vents are secure and screened to prevent embers from entering during a wildfire. 

A fire extinguisher probably won’t help with a wildfire but it is essential for home fires. It’s a good idea to keep several on hand and to check annually to make sure they still work. This is also a great time to check fire and carbon monoxide detectors.

Autumn often brings mice and rats into the house. Sealing holes and openings helps prevent unwelcome visitors as well as keeping out wildfire embers. For advice on rodent exclusion, check out the resources at www.poisonfreemalibu.org.

Store patio furniture in a shed or garage. Anything flammable—umbrellas, shade awnings, pillows, wooden furniture—should be stored well away from house walls. For advice on fire safety home hardening visit: https://www.rcdsmm.org/what-we-do/home-ignition-zone-evaluations/

Emergency Planning

  • Check insurance policies and make sure coverage is up- to-date and adequate—many victims of the Woolsey Fire found they were underinsured. 
  • Pick an out-of-area phone contact, or check with an existing contact to remind them and make sure they are still able to be your contact.
  • Make or update evacuation plans—this is especially important for families with large animals as well as those with elderly or special needs family members, or elderly neighbors. Residents with horses or other large animals should check the brakes and floorboards of their horse trailer, and make sure every animal is comfortable entering and exiting the trailer. Connecting with other horse or livestock owners can be a lifesaver. Set up a mutual aid agreement, where animals can be safely stabled in another area during an emergency, or can come to you if that area is threatened by fire. Check out the Equestrian Trails Inc. Corral 36 website for more emergency tips for horse owners, and for information on the next Corral 36-sponsored trailer safety inspection event with the CHP on October 17. http://eticorral36.com/about-us 
  • It’s a good idea to have crates or boxes on hand for smaller animals like goats, chickens and rabbits, as well as for cats and dogs. Store emergency supply kits for each animal in their crate or carrier. Make sure to put the name and contact information inside, along with a supply of food, water, dishes, medicines, toys and anything else that is essential.
  • Organize items like family heirlooms and photos so they can be easily packed (while it’s important to organize valuables, leaving them in a go bag by the door is not a great idea).
  • Get in the habit of parking the car(s) facing out towards the road. 
  • Take photos and video of each room in the house, and store them on a cloud server or with an out-of-area friend or relative. 
  • Make sure backup batteries are charged, flashlights and battery-powered radios have a supply of good batteries, and restock the emergency supply cupboard. Many of us dipped into those supplies during the first months of the COVID crisis.
  • Check with neighbors and make sure you have each other’s contact information.
  • Wildfires aren’t the only hazard. This is a good time to make sure furniture is earthquake safe, and that all family members know how and where to turn off the gas and the water main, and where the emergency supplies are kept.

Packing a “Go Bag”

  • The FEMA disaster preparedness website recommendations include:
  • Cloth face coverings (for everyone ages 2 and above), soap, hand sanitizer, disinfecting wipes to disinfect surfaces
  • Prescription and non-prescription medications
  • Prescription eyeglasses and contact lens solution
  • Personal hygiene items
  • Pet food and water
  • Cash 
  • Important family documents, including insurance policies, identification and bank account records saved electronically or in a waterproof, portable container.
  • Sleeping bag or warm blanket for each person.
  • Complete change of clothing and sturdy shoes.
  • Paper and pencil.
  • Books, games, puzzles or other activities for children.
  • Baby supplies

Evacuation Planning

Evacuation orders can come in the middle of the night or with very little time to get out. Trying to find the essentials under the stress of a crisis is extremely stressful, especially when the air is full of smoke and the power is out. 

It’s important to prioritize. If there are pets, round them up first and put them in their carriers. No one wants to be fishing felines out from under the bed, or having to do the unthinkable—leave them behind because there wasn’t time to catch them. 

Evacuating early can be a good option, especially for anyone with pets, livestock, elderly relatives, or small children. 

Make sure important papers get packed first, or better yet, keep copies offsite, with a friend, in a safe deposit box, or in cloud storage. A favorite stuffed toy can make all the difference in the world for a child, while the loss of photos and family papers are among the things most regretted by those who lose their homes in a fire.

During a fire, the focus is on evacuation. After a fire, or during a disaster like an earthquake, the focus shifts to coping with potential extended power, communications and water outages. 

Here’s FEMA’s list of basic disaster supplies:

Basic Disaster Supplies Kit

  • Water (one gallon per person per day for at least three days, for drinking and sanitation)
  • Food (at least a three-day supply of non-perishable food)
  • Battery-powered or hand crank radio and a NOAA Weather Radio with tone alert
  • Flashlight
  • First aid kit
  • Extra batteries
  • Whistle (to signal for help)
  • Dust mask (to help filter contaminated air)
  • Plastic sheeting and duct tape (to shelter in place)
  • Moist towelettes, garbage bags and plastic ties (for personal sanitation)
  • Wrench or pliers (to turn off utilities)
  • Manual can opener (for food)
  • Local maps
  • Cell phone with chargers and a backup battery
  • Fire extinguisher.
  • Matches in a waterproof container.

Three days of food and water isn’t much. It’s a good idea to plan for at least a week. The power remained off in many parts of the Woolsey Fire burn zone for days, weeks, and in several areas months after the evacuation orders were lifted. 

A Coleman stove, ice chest, and battery-powered lanterns were essential. Generators were in demand and hard to come by. 

Store items in airtight plastic bags and put your entire disaster supplies kit in one or two easy-to-carry containers such as plastic bins or a duffel bag. It’s a good idea to have emergency supplies at home, at work, and in the car. 

After assembling your kit remember to maintain it so it’s ready when needed. Keep canned food in a cool, dry place. Store boxed food in tightly closed plastic or metal containers. Replace expired items as needed. Re-think your needs every year and update your kit as your family’s needs change.

Choosing foods one’s family actually likes and eats is a plus when planning emergency supplies. A disaster is stressful enough without having to subsist on a hated foodstuff. The blocks of “food” sold as part of many emergency kits are barely edible. Better choices include freeze-dried camping meals, canned goods, and dried staples like pasta, rice and beans. 

After the Fires Come the Floods

  • Check to make sure gutters and garden drainage is clear. 
  • Sandbags will be available at fire stations throughout Los Angeles County once the rainy season begins. 
  • Fixing known roof leaks before the rainy season starts can save aggravation and prevent unwanted indoor water features. 
  • Sometimes just clearing leaf litter from roof valleys or flat roofs can help prevent ponding and leaks. Hiring a professional to do this is recommended. Roof and gutter related falls are a major cause of serious injuries.

This continues to be a challenging time. The prospect of coping with a natural disaster in the middle of a pandemic adds a whole new layer of anxiety during a time when many of us feel paralyzed by stress and anxiety, but that is what communities all over the West are already facing during this extreme fire season. Developing a plan can help to alleviate some of that anxiety, and preparing for the worst by having an evacuation plan and making sure every family member knows what to do in a crisis can help to avert a worse outcome. It’s important for everyone to also look out for their neighbors. We are all in this together!