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Prepping for Wildfires

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Editor’s Note: This post is another entry in the Prepper Writing Contest from Huples discussing the very real and ongoing emergency in Canada from wildfires. If you have information for Preppers that you would like to share and possibly win a $300 Amazon Gift Card to purchase your own prepping supplies, enter today.


We are mainly preppers and have most of the basics sorted out thanks to great websites such as this but I have been thinking lately about how prepared my preps really are for SHTF.

The wildfires in Fort McMurray, Alberta, Canada helped concentrate my focus and I will soon implement the next level of preparation. My risk of wildfire is small at my home and very, very real at my cottage. You might have almost no threat but even so read on because fire can visit you anyhow. Canada has an okay site to figure out regional risks and I am sure the USA has similar but use your brain and figure out your risks as relying on others is never smart.

Leaving aside the issue of if climate change is human caused (it is and it is not man-made BTW. Women are responsible as well!) or even if the Earth is experiencing severe heating (it is) I want to focus on how you can begin prepping for wildfires. This is helpful in many SHTF issues including nuclear war and civil unrest so even if you feel wildfires are unlikely in your neighborhood please read on. Of note I am planning a much more extensive article on the probable climate changes North America may experience in the next 5 to 25 years and I will debate climate change in that article not this one. This is about wildfires and fires generally.

Specific Threat of Wildfires:

Fort McMurray showed that even with a major fire burning close by people feel safe until the last possible minute. Some had bags ready and some had full gas tanks. Most did not. The take away is to store gasoline (one tank full) and keep the car’s tank half full always. I already do this and simply use the stored gas every 6 months and replace. I use high-octane only for this and do not plan on multiple gallons as 50 litres is enough (one tank). It is for evacuation not driving through the wastelands looking for trouble. Many cars ran out of gas on the highway and had to wait 24 hours before help arrived. This is not a good idea at any time and especially not if you are evacuating.

Wood stoves are common generally and hopefully so amongst preppers but where is your wood stored? Against your house is a bad idea as an arsonist might get an idea or a wildfire might come by. Another issue with storing wood against your home is mice and rodents. They thrive in these piles which is cool if you are hungry but right now merely encourages them to invade your home. Build a wood shed from shipping pallets and keep it about 25 feet at least away from your primary home structure.

CNN.com

You know your routes (multiple) out of your neighborhood and you have driven them, right? CNN.com

Hose pipes are a good idea but can yours spray water on to your roof easily? Do you have multiple hoses so everyone in the house can damp the roof and the garden if wild fires are in the area? Is your roof made of metal? Are your gutters filled with debris or empty? Do you have clearance from the tree line that is deep enough to prevent fire jumping? Even in suburban areas there are trees and many are very close to homes. Is your council going to chop them down to create a safe area to stop fire spreading or can you legally do that yourself?

Fort McMurray showed the importance of pre-planning and that is what we do, eh? A major wildfire means five minutes mandatory evacuation. You know your routes (multiple) out of your neighborhood and you have driven them. In a wildfire expect smoke, flames, and fear.

Plan for this and how you will avoid sitting in a traffic jam for two hours on a route that should take ten minutes while the flames get nearer and nearer. Of course in many SHTF scenarios a car won’t work or be a safe bet but if you know your area, if your car is gassed, and if you evacuate before the mandatory evacuation is given a car is your best bet here. Not only your transport and your source of worldly goods but it is your home for a while. At least one Fort McMurray resident used horses to escape.

woman-on-horse-fleeing-fort-mcmurray-fire

Many in their cars had the windows open which in SHTF is never a great move. There are multiple videos on-line with people literally screaming to close windows as the fire suddenly hits the road they are on. There is a resource at the end on what to do if you are trapped in a car in a wildfire.

Knowledge is power so you have great local maps and have figure where the fire might come from and go to. You generally keep a close eye on local weather systems so you see the developing threat of high temperatures, low precipitation, and high winds. Best to think of the issue before others do and take steps to avoid the issue or at least have everything ready to evacuate.

You have bug out clothing for all seasons I hope. However is it all fire resistant? Seriously have you cut off a piece and tried to set it on fire? Modern clothing is excellent but some of it is very combustible. Running around evacuating with sparks and flames near you wearing great bug out clothing that is basically tinder is not smart.

I do not have a smoke hood. It is on my list of things to get. It is being moved upwards! Awesome to get out of a burning house fire and would be excellent in a wildfire. Simply put these are a need not a want and I better get more focused on needs.beacon-hill

As a prepper I have multiple garden tools including shovels. I think five at the last count and I always get them when I can for free which is surprisingly often. Rusty shovels work just fine but people tend to throw them out! Do you have sand or soil near your home and can you cover a large area near your home with this quickly? Again removes a fuel source for an approaching wild fire and worth a try.

Do you have home insurance? Is the coverage applicable for a wildfire? Is the coverage sufficient to rebuild after a wildfire completely destroyed your home?

Call your insurer and ask those questions and get covered. Of course the policy and other documents are in a fire resistant safe and already bagged inside so you can grab and run with them. Copies are in everyone’s bug out bags I hope.

Do you have a simple compass and the knowledge of how to use it?

Another striking feature of the Fort McMurray wildfire was how easily people get separated. There were two routes out, north or south. The Government said “go north” which was fine as they said this as the south route was blocked by cars but the north had little ability to sustain the evacuees. Awesome work was done and is being done but do you really need the Government to direct your escape route? They make mistakes and did so here.

Some families were separated as they split up, one to get the children and one to get the pets. Good idea but then the one party heads south and one north. Simply put identifying where you will go and meet up is essential in SHTF before you split up. Have several back up locations to meet up. People today are overly reliant on cell phones but I do not know if this failed here but system overload coupled with cell towers burning could easily make this idea to communicate a big fail. Have a plan that does not rely on cell phones or radios. If you have these and they work check in frequently on each other but if they go silent know where to go and how to get there to meet up again. Does everyone have a small and decent compass? Can everyone use it in a basic fashion? Everyone should have one each and a working flashlight. It can be very dark at noon in a wildfire.

Bug out bags are an essential even if you live already at your bug out retreat as I do. We have one for each person at home and one for each person in the car. The home version is very heavy and I do not plan to travel far on foot with it. The car version is for fast travel and each of us can easily convert the other’s car pack into one pack if we are on our own. We can debate style, weight, contents forever but each bag has $200 in five and ten-dollar bills. So $400 is always available. Taxi or accommodation or buying food/water in SHTF (initial phase of course) is the purpose and so far my partner has not been tempted to ‘borrow’ it for essentials like dog bones! I also carry a fair amount of cash on me. Recently at Costco the debit and MasterCard system failed for an extended time. Our full cart merely proceeded through the lines of agitated people and we paid the bill in cash and left. Cash is King in most localized SHTF situations and have it before the banks shut the ATMS or the power fails.

Image – CNN.com

Beyond Wildfires:

I have a fair amount of stored food in my basement, my cottage, and my garage. Fort McMurray really hammered it home to me that I really need to get most of this buried into the ground. A nuclear blast, wildfire, or a roving gang of hungry ex-military types cannot see, eat, or destroy what is buried in the ground. My home might be gone but my stores should not be burned out as well!

Think about storing small amounts of gear, food, and water along your evacuation (bug out routes) and around the local area. Think about how to find them if a big fire has gone through or a big old nuclear bomb has gone off. It is always good to split your stores and always great to be able to dig up a few days supplies as you move away from danger. This gets complex but cheap plastic food containers with double zip lock bags works just fine.

Resources:

Here is a good one on staying and fighting or running away. I think running away before your neighbors think about it seems the way to go.

Good one for your kids and has some usable information

This better never, happen to me but is it does I have at least read this!

You have a survival blanket? Have it handy if on foot in the forest.

If you liked this article, please rate it.

  • Joe Blow

    I worked on the aerial side of wild land fire fighting for 5 years and have seen first hand how quickly things can go from “should be OK” to “get the hell out of there.” When fire gets pushed the wrong way by winds and catches hold in some dried fuel, there is little if anything anyone can do about it. Tankers, helicopters, etc are useless once things are cranking.

    With due respect to the author, wetting down your garden or throwing sand and dirt around your property is futile and a waste of time. Have defensible space around your home. Clear loose brush. Trim back trees. In my experience this has been the only difference between one house burning to the ground and another getting slightly toasted. Do this regularly, not just when the flames top the ridge next door.

    Excellent point about having cash and gas on hand. When the word comes to evacuate, everyone is going to head to the ATM and gas station.

    • Huples

      Thanks Joe,

      Respect to you as I’d never do that job. Death by burning is my greatest fear.
      You are right about damping not stopping the wild fire but, with respect, hosing down and soil covering is useful to stop tinders blowing in and would give people a job to help take their minds off it.
      The ability to self fight a house fire is a useful one in general but….
      I should have been more specific. If the wild fire is heading for you get out, get out early, and know where to go.

  • LawyersGunsorMoney

    If the CNN photo of the shelter doesn’t get you to think about making some preps, you never will. How much imagination does it require, to see yourself in an emergency shelter? Picture this, an emergency shelter, filled to capacity. Some food, some water. Maybe the toilet paper will last and the toilets won’t fail. Crying babies. Coughing adults. Sweaty people every where. Hey, look over there. It’s not me.

    • Huples

      Absolutely. Canada is rich, the area affected is very rich (well the white population is), and yet Government help was about 72 to 96 hours away. Most help came from locals and local firms literally opening their doors and driving bought supplies in.
      I’d rather be in a nice hotel while I file my insurance claims. There’s no vacant accommodation with hundreds of miles.

      The other thing that struck me is if evacuation involves two or more local cities there’s going to be absolute chaos for at least a week. Having Edmonton sitting to the south unaffected was absolutely key to the response. Labatts brewery canned 100000 tins of water which was nice but their beer would have been preferred. Fire fighters are eating at the one fast food restaurant open up there. Facilities to bring in mobile cooking for tens of thousands of people simply does not exist.

      Of note the provinces of BC and Saskatchawan are having major wild fire problems as well. The West is very dry and seems to be staying that way.

  • Bolofia

    Huples,
    Joe brings up a point that is hammered home a lot in my state. That is, to create defensible space. As the population increases, it inevitably means that more homes are built in or near areas that are ripe for natural or man-caused fires. Untended and run down properties can become flashpoints for wildfires. The Forest Service, Park Service and Bureau of Land Management always seem to be at odds with state forestry officials. They are more interested in peeing in each other’s cuff, it seems. The results can be catastrophic, as in the case where 19 members of a Hot Shot crew died near my home three years ago. The fire itself was the result of poor management of wild lands.

    • Huples

      Yes. Excellent point. I wrote the article thinking of suburbs rather than a single dwelling. For sure in Canada all those type of houses have suddenly become less desirable but in a few months people will forget.