Monday, May 11, 2009

Tips for The Wildfire Evacuee

I've been traumatized! Without belaboring you with news that you have already heard, suffice it to say I was in Santa Barbara when the Jesusita Fire broke out. I had only just arrived at my parent's house an hour or so before the first of the helicopters were heard overhead. Holy cow ~ it's just over the hillside beyond Laurel Reservoir.

We were placed almost immediately in mandatory evacuation status and I'm going to impart a few tips that I learned on my sojourn as a wildfire evacuee.

8 Tips for the Wildfire Evacuee

As an aside, in case you haven't noticed, it's hot and dry out there. These wildfires are becoming more invasive and causing more destruction than ever before. Someone you know will likely be effected in the next few years. I hope you will take these tips seriously.

1. If you have prearranged where to meet family or friends in an emergency you need to have 2 or 3 back-up meeting places. You might find, as we did, that your initial meeting place is inaccessible due to road blocks or other unforeseen factors. This is where well laid plans start to fall apart.

2. Cell phones require power to work. If you don't have a car charger for your phone, get one. Having your phone go dead in an emergency is highly undesirable.

3. Keep a small phone book in your purse/wallet at all times. Phone numbers and addresses you think you know by heart will quite possibly desert you under periods of high stress.

4. Don't rely on TV or Radio coverage if you are in or near the disaster area. Emergency personnel are stretched thin and the news (particularly on AM radio) is outdated. Go outside and look around for yourself. Talk to people and make your own assessment of the current situation on the ground. Wildfires are dynamic and you might find that you need to relocate to a safer place.

5. Wildfires are unpredictable and can circle back to areas where you don't expect them. Burned-out area are covered with smouldering embers that can flare back to life when the wind blows. These in turn set homes on fire and can ignite any unburned brush in the area. Which reminds me, close all windows before leaving your house to prevent embers from blowing inside.

6. You need a safe place to wait it out. If you are a camping family (which we are) it's nice to have a motor home at your disposal. Know that if you opt for an evacuation center you might be there for days without much in the way of amenities. Hotels are nice, if they have room and if you can afford the rate (this cost might be reimbursable by your homeowner insurance). Although it's tempting to stay near your home you are best served by removing yourself from the danger zone.

7. At a minimum always keep plenty of bottled water in your car along with some pet food.

8. Throughout it all it's important to keep your sense of fun. You will be happy to know that on Wednesday (day 2) before things went horribly awry, I managed a quick visit to Cardigans Knit Shop and I bought some gorgeous yarn (a skein each of Debbie Bliss Cashmerino dk and Classic Elite Yarns Miracle) to knit some cute fingerless mitts for next Fall!

The following are a few of the pictures that I took during the course of the fire.

This is our first view of the fire which began approximately 1.8 miles from my parent's house. We were only mildly concerned at first. After all, it seemed small and an aerial water attack was already underway.

The next morning it was quiet in the area and the fire seemed far away and well in hand. We expected to return to the house sometime that day and decided to wait for the "all clear" in Stevens Park a small local park situated in San Roque Canyon below the bridge. Merely a stone's throw from my parent's home. It seemed a very convenient place to wait. But for an odd car here or there we had the park to ourselves.

But when I went outside about 4:00 p.m. to walk Mr Puffy I looked up into the sky and saw an alarming sight. Large booming smoke clouds were quickly converging on our location.

We decided to relocate to an evacuation point. The following pictures are taken in the San Roque area as we are leaving Steven's Park on Wednesday afternoon to relocate to the First Presbyterian Church (our prearranged meeting place) which, incidental, turned out to be blocked off (see Evacuee Tip No. 1 above).

At this point things became quite stressful. I quote "Last night, all hell broke loose," Santa Barbara Fire Chief Andy Dimizio said. Today "We saw the fire spread laterally across the top of the city … to almost five square miles." I believe these pictures bear out his assessment.

This is a home near Steven's Park in the San Roque area.

These photos are looking back at lower Santa Barbara foothills (in the San Roque area) from Peabody Elementary School.

Below is a picture of La Cumbre Plaza (in the Vons parking lot) on Thursday night. The night that I was told by news crews that my parent's canyon was burning.

At one point more than 30,000 of Santa Barbara's 90,000 residents were in evacuee status.

I want everyone to know that I appreciate your concern and well wishes. My parent's home miraculously survived with the intervention of the brave and courageous firefighters who lined up 10 fire engines on their street Thursday night and held the line.

My parents are doing great and Mr Puffy was a trouper throughout. But a reminder to all how what begins as a small fire can level a city. It is time for Californians to rethink how we combats these wildfires and come up with a more innovative approach.


Willow said...

I am so glad your parents' house is fine and that you and they and Mr. Puffy enjoyed your camping trip. :) My friend was evacuated too and called last night to say that she was allowed to go back home.

Thanks for the reminder for us out here in fire country. I'll put my water in the car tonight! And I already have my car's cell phone charger.

Anonymous said...

I've been thinking of you and am so happy that all has gone well for your parents' house. I will pass your information along to some Californian relatives who live north of LA.

Thank you, Claudia and good luck for the future.


subliminalrabbit said...

oh wow; i'm so glad that you and mr puffy are safe! your tips are fantastic and i'm going to put some water bottles in my car tomorrow!

Anonymous said...

Thank you for the pictures and the update - I was wondering about you when I saw the fires on the news. I just knew Mr. Puffy would conduct himself like a trooper in such trying times;)
I has even been dry here in western Canada, and wide swatches of bush and farmland has already burnt, with the snow barely gone. I feel for all of those, here and in California, who have lost their homes. Glad you and yours are okay.

t does wool said...

oh,I am so relieved that your parents were spared,Claudia...what a traumatic experience that must have been, and such good advice you have given us all..xx

At Home Mommy Knits said...

I'm so glad that you are all safe and your parents home survived! Your tips are very much appreciated and I will be making a small phone directory for my purse this week!

Anonymous said...

how stressful! I would have been a wreck. Glad your parents' house made it and that you made it through with a very good attitude. Stay safe!

Channon said...

I was worried about your parents! Wildfires are chilling, especially out your way where it is drier and the winds are a bigger factor.

GREAT tip list. I'm going to share it with my local forester, who happens to be a retired City firefighter I know well.

Yarn It said...

Those pictures bring back unsettling memories of when my hometown area was on fire last summer. You never really understand until you experience it.

I think it is sooo great that you put those tips out there! The first thing people do is panic and they don't think clearly. Having a well laid out plan is the perfect way to avoid that.

I am glad that your families home was spared. That is wonderful news!

Pat K said...

Wow! Glad to know that you are safe and thanks for the tips!

amanda said...

Glad you are all OK. Scary stuff. Your photos were pretty amazing, though!

tiennie said...

I am very glad that you all are safe!

Mr Puffy's Knitting Blog: said...

Hi Ursula and Michele ~ it's nice to hear from you. Mr Puffy and I appreciate your concern and well wishes!

These devastating wildfires are a growing worldwide problem (albeit affecting certain regions more than others). Improving responses to and the prevention of wildfires needs to be a priority.

Tracy said...

So very glad you and your family and sweet Mr. Puffy are ok, Claudia! I was so anxious for you...These photos bring home what happened...oh,my...My heartbreaks for everyone affected by this. Be keeping safe. And thank you for these life-saving tips! ((HUGS))

Hilary said...

That is so scary!! Thank goodness your parents' home is safe - and you, and your parents, and Mr. Puffy, too!! And thank you for letting us know. I have a very good friend in SB whose neighborhood is apparently far enough away from the fires that they were safe, but they hosted a number of their friends who were evacuated over the weekend. I always worry about my SoCal friends this time of year. :(

Monika said...

I'm glad all is well with your parents. My god, I could not stand this year after year, having to fear my home could get burned down. How do people coupe with a thread like that?

Windyridge said...

Holy cow you were so close!
Glad you are all ok with no property damage and delighted to hear that Mr. Puffy kept his wits about him!

Kristen said...

I am glad your family is safe! Fires are frightening and it's a great idea to have an exit plan when you can't think straight during stressful times.

jillian said...

Good thoughts all. Again, I am so relieved to know you are all OK!

sweetp said...

oh my goodness, just about having a little cry here. how scarey for you!!

LINDA said...

So happy to hear all of you are OK. I'm putting water,phone charger and dog food in my car.

raining sheep said...

So so glad you are all safe, that your parents' home is safe. That just sounds so traumatic. Mother nature can be so fierce. It makes you realize how so much can be beyond our control and that it is so important to be prepared so we can be effective with the things we CAN control. Hugs.

amanda said...

Omg Claudia! How utterly terrifying. So glad that you and your family are unscathed.

Anonymous said...

WOW what pictures~! I am glad your ok~!~!!!! Also glad I found your blog..

Edie Schmidt said...

Fantastic emergency list. My parents just has a major fire in their mountain community at Cobbly Knob in Gatlinburg Tn. and has to scramble to get out. Lucky that their home was not touched. Glad you guys are all fine too.

Marie said...

I'm so glad to hear that you and your family are OK. What a relief to know that your parent's house was saved.

knittingdragonflies said...

Thank goodness everyone was safe. Thanks for the tips on what to do in an emergency. That is too scary. Glad Mr. Puffy is doing well also.

kasiaiscarly said...

i haven't been keeping up with blogs well recently, so i'm late to the show, but i'm so glad you & mr puffy & your parents & their home were ok! how scary!

Renee said...

omg, Claudia! That's just dreadful. I am so relieved to hear your and yours are all ok and that your parents home and neighbours survived the rage of flames.
Thank you for the tips. They're very important for any evacuation.
Your photos are wild!