On the 1st of May 2016, a wildfire began southwest of Fort McMurray, Alberta and on May 3rd this fire swept through the town forcing the largest wildfire evacuation in the history of the province.
Today, three years after this great disaster, many people still refuse to accept the fact that everyone should have a wildfire preparedness plan.
Your plan does not have to be complicated, but it should be rehearsed and understood by everyone involved. Most importantly there has to be one. Living in any Canadian provinces without a wildfire preparedness plan after what happened in 2016, might be a sure sign of deliberate carelessness.
WHAT’S IN A WILDFIRE PREPAREDNESS PLAN?
The main concept around which your plan will be structured will be getting out of dodge. In some circles, this is called bugging out. When wildfire or any other disaster strikes, it will be fast, furious and it will cause tremendous damage in a very short period.
Your objective, will be to get out of harms way in an orderly, organized and safe fashion. Preferably, you want to be well on your way LONG BEFORE the rest of the community realizes that something is going down because by this time, people will be running around in a state of panic. Exits and escape routes will get clogged with vehicles which broke down and ran out of fuel because their owners did not plan beforehand. Often times during disasters, many injuries and deaths happen simply due to crowds of people attempting to run away in a panic.
You plan will be about one thing…saving yourself and family by evacuating.
You will most likely know that a wildfire is nearby. There are various smartphone apps available which will keep you up to date on the fire’s direction of travel, intensity and weather conditions which may speed up or slow down the fire’s travel time. Alberta Emergency Alert and Alberta Fire Bans and Alberta Wildfire are excellent resources and they are free.
In the worst case scenario, you might want to consider a hand crank short wave radio which will enable you to monitor emergency broadcasts if you lose power after evacuation. Information gathering however, should be a vital part of your complete plan.
None of the above information sources however should be relied on completely. Sometimes, information does not travel as fast as normal especially if commonly used communication systems are interrupted. Also, situation could change so fast that by the time you receive a piece of information it is already outdated, invalid and perhaps life threatening. Always try to keep at least two sources of information and compare what you receive with what is going on around you.
KNOW YOUR ESCAPE ROUTES
Clear escape route is your path to safety. This means routes out of your home and out of your community or neighborhood and town.
All members of your household must understand how to get out of the home quickly and safely. If children sleep in an upstairs bedroom, while parents sleep downstairs, a good plan might be a one long blast of a whistle or an air horn signifying everyone to get out of bed and meet at muster point number one which might the front door. Two short blasts mean use the secondary side entrance and meet in the garage. This is an example of how to quickly muster your family when danger approaches.
Rehearsing your plan at least once per month will make everyone efficient enough to go through it even half asleep. However, if you do rehears once per month, do not start in June. December of the previous year would be much better.
It goes without saying that special precautions must be taken for the elderly, very young children and certain pets. This is where information gathering comes into play. When you know a fire might be approaching and you know it will take an hour for you to get your family packed up, there is nothing wrong with leaving early. Remember that fire can change direction suddenly and move ferociously. If you sense danger, close up the shop, take a vacation and leave. Don’t wait until the police bang on your door at three in the morning telling you to be on one hour standby to move. When that happens, it means the whole neighborhood or town is getting the same notice. That’s when nervousness builds and fear begins to take over.
Escape routes from the town are also vital to explore before you actually have to use them. Preferably, have secondary roads marked out and remembered that, as mentioned before, roads can get clogged up quickly during emergencies. Most people do not make sound decisions or make accurate judgements if they are not used to extreme stress. All it will take is one terrified driver going much faster than his ability will allow. He will get into an accident and stop all traffic behind him.
HAVE A BUGOUT BAG
For those not familiar with the concept of a bugout bag/seventy-two-hour bag/get out of dodge kit/ or whatever else you want to call it, it is a few items packed in a backpack that will sustain you for about three days.
Bugout bags come in various different shapes and sizes and all are packed based on individual needs. There is lots of excellent information on this website as well as elsewhere on the internet about these kits and therefore we are not going to go into detail as to how to assemble one.
It is highly unlikely however, that you will be attempting to outrun a wildfire on foot. Therefore, remember that your vehicle is part of this kit. Keep it well maintained and ready to go. If there is news of wildfire possibly approaching your community, consider getting that oil change several hundred kilometers earlier. Change those tires even though you might be fine for another month under normal circumstances. And NEVER allow your fuel level to go below half a tank. If you are at half a tank, understand how far it will get you. This means study your vehicles fuel consumption and preferably, fill up your tank as soon as you’ve used up quarter of your tank.
During disaster and hardship, people have the tendency to ban together and help each other. Albertans have proven this one human trait beyond a shadow of a doubt in 2016. Businesses offered free services, people opened their doors to strangers and families stood on the side of highways supporting evacuees and handing out water.
It might therefore be beneficial to get together with other likeminded families or individuals to build a survival community or group. The advantages of such a group might be access to a wider range of news and information, wider range of skills among the members and more helping hands when required. This will only work however if everyone in the group understands the plan perfectly. Leadership skills will also be a great asset because everyone reacts differently in stressful situations and people have a tendency to look up to someone to “get them through”.
In an actual emergency however, Jimmy will be in the hospital sick and getting evacuated, Sarah out of the country, and Richard with Frank have volunteered to stay behind because they work at the water treatment plan and someone has figured at the last minute out how to pump the water out and save part of the community. Now, due to circumstances you cannot control, your group is reduced in size and you realize that only Richard knew where that backroad really leads… This means that even the best laid plans can come crashing down like a house of cards…
Wildfires are fierce and unpredictable. Your best bet is to be out of the danger zone long before it becomes a danger zone. If you have only one road going in and out of town and the fire is creeping towards it, don’t wait till someone prompts you to leave.
Know how to get out, approximately how long should it take you to get out and know where you’re going to go. Pack basic emergency gear consisting of some basics that will sustain you for three days. These few steps can be used as the basis for your plan. Put them on paper and there is your plan. Practice implementing this plan and as you do, you will find what works and what doesn’t. Make changes as needed and be flexible.
The last thing you want to do is to find yourself lost, without an objective to aim for in the middle of a scared crowd. Keep your plan simple and work your plan.
There are many charitable and volunteer organizations that will help you when the danger subsides but only a few select and highly trained first responders will run into a fire to save someone. But past a certain point, there is only so much these first responders can do. They are also only people and they can make mistakes and make a wrong decision. Especially when they haven’t slept for two days and haven’t eaten in just as long.
Those people who take charge of their lives and create a preparedness plan are not only helping themselves but are also doing a tremendous service to the community. By taking care of yourself, your family and your community, you are freeing up resources and manpower so that those who cannot take care of themselves can be helped.
For further information on how to prepare a Wildfire Preparedness Plan, visit getprepared.ca
and download the free literature provided by the Canadian Government.
You can also visit Alberta Emergency Management Agency to learn more.