4 Steps To Prepare Now for Wildfire Threats

After back-to-back years of record-breaking wildfires, this year it’s more critical than ever to get ready now. Like the home and apartment fires we respond to every day, wildfires are dangerous and can spread quickly, giving you only minutes to evacuate.

Getting ready is easy with four steps.

Create an evacuation plan. Include in your plan what to do in case you’re separated from your family during an emergency and for evacuation. Coordinate your plan with your child’s school, your work and your community’s emergency plans. Plan multiple routes to local shelters, register family members with special medical needs as required and make plans for pets. If you already have an emergency plan, talk about it again with family members so everyone knows what to do when an emergency occurs.

Build an emergency kit. Include a gallon of water per person, per day, non-perishable food, a flashlight, battery-powered radio, first aid kit, medications, supplies for an infant if applicable, a multi-purpose tool, personal hygiene items, copies of important papers, cell phone chargers, extra cash, blankets, maps of the area and emergency contact information. Because of the pandemic, include a mask for everyone in your household. If you already have a disaster kit, now is the time make sure the food and water is still okay to consume and that copies of important documents are up to date.

Be informed. Find out how local officials will contact you during a wildfire emergency and how you will get important information, such as evacuation orders.

Download the Red Cross Emergency App. Our free emergency app will help keep you and your loved ones safe with real-time alerts, open Red Cross shelter locations and safety advice on wildfires and other emergencies. To download the app, search for ‘American Red Cross’ in your app store or text “GETEMERGENCY” to 90999.

In addition to preparedness, take steps to prevent wildfires.

  • Don’t drive your vehicle onto dry grass or brush. Hot components under your vehicle can spark fires.
  • Use equipment responsibly. Lawn mowers, chain saws, tractors and trimmers can all spark a wildfire.
  • Use caution any time you use fire. Dispose of charcoal briquettes and fireplace ashes properly, never leave any outdoor fire unattended, and make sure that outdoor fires are fully extinguished before leaving the area.
  • If residential debris burning is allowed — use caution. After obtaining any necessary permits, ensure that burning is not currently restricted in your area.
  • Store combustible or flammable materials in approved safety containers away from the house.
  • Find an outdoor water source, such as a pond, well, even a swimming pool, and have a hose that can reach any area of your property.
  • Create a fire-resistant zone free of leaves, debris or flammable materials for at least 30 feet out from your home.
  • Regularly clean roofs and gutters.
  • Make sure driveway entrances and your house number are clearly marked so fire vehicles can get to your home.

Wildfire Survivor Had No Time to Save Anything

Wildfire survivor Marlene Snyder shares her escape story with Christina Hujanen, a Red Cross disaster relief volunteer, Menagha, MN, May 16, 2013.

Marlene Snyder and her mother-in-law, Mona, stood on their shady back deck, crying.  Marlene gazed helplessly into the shell of her home, trying to identify anything in the charred black mess that had been her living room. 

“That was a table, here was the kitchen,” says Marlene to several Red Cross disaster relief workers who responded to the Green Valley Wildfire disaster within hours after the blaze started on Wednesday, May 15.

At first Marlene and her family weren’t worried about the house. They treated fire spots with sand and water from a hose.  Then they headed with the hose down to a barn, thinking that they could save the barn and their horses when the water stopped.  That was their first clue that their home was in danger.  By the time they returned to the house, fire had gotten into the roof and there was no time to save anything before they fled.  They left with their lives and one photo album.

“I thought I’d come back and there would be things I would recognize, things I could save,” says Marlene.  “I didn’t know I would come back to see something like this.”

Red Cross disaster relief worker Lori Dehn talks with a shelter resident, Sebeka High School, May 16, 2013.
Red Cross disaster relief worker Lori Dehn talks with a wildfire evacuee at the emergency shelter in Menagha, MN, May 16, 2013.

The fast moving wildfire crossed several county lines in north-central Minnesota. Hundreds were forced to evacuate, including residents from a nursing home in Menagha, the town that suffered most of the fire damage. More than 60 people stayed in a Red Cross shelter, waiting for news about their homes. No one, thankfully, was injured. Twelve homes were destroyed. 

Along with 400 other people, the Snyder family attended a community meeting where they learned about efforts to contain the fire as well as disaster relief services for affected families.  Many, including Marlene, expressed their thanks to the firefighters, emergency responders, and Red Cross workers for their help during the Green Valley Wildfire disaster.

To date, the Red Cross has served more than 1,000 meals and snacks, handed out more than 300 disaster relief items, including comfort and clean-up kits, and mobilized more than 40 disaster relief workers, 90 percent of whom are volunteers.

“We’re so grateful for what you’ve done,” says Marlene. “You’re doing a great job.”

Story and photos by Judy Hanne-Gonzalez/American Red Cross. Click here to learn more about American Red Cross disaster relief and how you can help.

Wildfire Risk High For Much of Minnesota

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Samantha Schmidt, 9, spent the night at a Red Cross shelter for wildfire evacuees in Colorado. (Photo credit: RJ Sangosti / The Denver Post).

The American Red Cross is providing food and shelter in Colorado where a fast-moving wildfire has already forced hundreds of people from their homes with thousands more put on notice that they may also have to evacuate.

Wildfires in Minnesota are unlikely to occur in high density population areas, but state officials say that much of Minnesota is at increased risk of wildfires because of continued snow melt, warming weather, and dry vegetation. The risk will remain high, state officials say, until green vegetation emerges. (Source: Minnesota Department of Natural Resources)

The Red Cross encourages everyone who might be at risk or in a path of possible evacuation because of wildfires to prepare now.

IF A WILDFIRE THREATENS your neighborhood, back your car into the garage or park it in an open space facing the direction of escape. Wildfires can spread quickly, igniting brush, trees and homes. The Red Cross has important steps people can follow to lessen the threat of a wildfire. Confine your pets to one room so you can find them if you need to get out quickly. Listen to local radio and television stations for updated information, and be ready to leave at a moment’s notice. These steps will help limit exposure to smoke:

  • Keep indoor air clean by closing windows and doors to prevent outside smoke from getting in.
  • Use the recycle or re-­circulate mode on the air conditioner in your home or car. If you do not have air conditioning and it is too hot to stay inside with closed windows, seek shelter elsewhere.
  • When smoke levels are high, do not use anything that burns and adds to indoor air pollution, such as candles, fireplaces and gas stoves. Do not vacuum because it stirs up particles that are already inside your home.
  • If you have asthma or another lung disease, follow your health care provider’s advice and seek medical care if your symptoms worsen.

BEING PREPARED can be your best offense when it comes to wildfires. You should plan two ways out of your neighborhood in case one is blocked. Set up a place for family members to meet outside your neighborhood in case you can’t get home or need to evacuate. Arrange for temporary housing at a friend or relative’s home outside the area. Post emergency phone numbers by every phone in your home and in everyone’s cellphone.

Other steps you can take include:

  • Make sure driveway entrances and your house number or address are clearly marked.
  • Identify and maintain an adequate water source outside your home, such as a small pond, cistern, well or swimming pool.
  • Set aside household items that can be used as fire tools: a rake, ax, hand saw or chain saw, bucket and shovel. You may need to fight small fires before emergency responders arrive.
  • Select building materials and plants that resist fire.
  • Regularly clean roofs and gutters.

More wildfire steps and tips are available. Check out The Denver Post for more on the ongoing wildfire and response in Colorado. You can text REDCROSS to 90999 to give $10 and support Red Cross disaster relief.