• Washington Wildfire Hits Way Too Close to Home

    Wenatchee, WA. is a city of about 35,000 that’s nicknamed the Apple Capital of the World. It sits between the Columbia Rivera and the Okanongan-Wenatchee National Forest in central Washington.

    Washington Wildfire - NBC News NBC News

    On June 28, a fire started about 7 miles northwest of Wenatchee. Fed by 100-plus degree temperatures and high wind, the fire exploded through bone-dry sagebrush and grass. Within half a day the Washington wildfire grew to almost 4 ½ square miles and blasted into a development on the northwest edge of Wenatchee. Twenty-nine homes burned to the ground that night, according to an official fire report.

    “The wind changed, and the fire came so quick, that people … had five minutes to get out of the house,” said Karen LuBean, who witnessed the devastation from her home in East Wenatchee across the Columbia River. “Some people were only able to get their purse. They grabbed a few legal documents and stuff like that.”

    A Red Cross shelter at a high school reported 155 people checked in Sunday night.

    Embers from the fire jumped at least five blocks to a recycling center and buildings that contained what Karen believed was ammonia and other chemicals. They caught fire, and the resulting fumes forced people indoors for a half-mile radius with instructions to turn off air conditioners and cover doors and windows. A full four miles away, the air stung Karen’s eyes. Three businesses were destroyed.

    Washington Wildfire Firefighter - ABC News ABC News

    At the height of the fire, 336 firefighters were attacking the blaze. Five days later, the fire was 98 percent contained and almost all fire crews were home. Three people were treated for minor injuries, according to the official fire report.

    Karen’s family is well prepared for emergencies. They have 72-hour kits and important documents scanned and stored on the computer. They have an evacuation plan. Even so, she feels she could be more prepared.

    The Federal Emergency Management Agency suggests five Ps of wildfire evacuation preparation in its booklet “How to Prepare for a Wildfire.” They are People, Prescriptions, Papers, Personal Needs and Priceless Items.



    The best way to protect family members and pets is create an emergency plan. This plan should include evacuation maps and instructions for young children, carriers for pets, plans for people with special needs and utility shut-off directions, according to FEMA’s ready.gov.

    Karen said her family has an evacuation plan but wants to revisit it.

    “We’ve gone over our escape routes in the past but it’s been awhile,” she said.



    Karen must take thyroid medication, so she said prescription preparedness is “number one.”

    This includes having a supply of medication and copies of prescriptions. It also includes backup medical equipment batteries, glasses and hearing aids, according to FEMA.



    Karen says most of her legal documents are scanned.

    “If we could just grab the computer and go, we’d be fine.”

    FEMA recommends storing important documents on a cloud-based service or an external hard drive or thumb drive in a fireproof, waterproof box.

    Important documents include government-issued ID papers, prescriptions or warranties for medical equipment, insurance paperwork, rental or mortgage agreements and photos or movies of each room in the house. FEMA provides an Emergency Financial First Aid Kit to help identify records to keep safe. It is available at www.ready.gov/financialpreparedness.

    Karen has adult children living all over the country so after she scanned copies of important papers like birth and marriage certificates, she sent copies to everyone.


    Personal Needs

    FEMA says personal needs include clothes, food, water, first aid kit, cash, phones and chargers, and items for children and people with disabilities or other needs.

    Karen already has food, water, clothes, first aid supplies and two types of radios. She is adding masks.

    “I think I need to revisit my 72-hour pack,” Karen said.

    She especially wants to replace food.

    “Unless they’re MREs, they’re not that tasty after a year or two,” she joked.


    Priceless Items

    FEMA defines priceless items as pictures, irreplaceable mementos and other valuables. Karen includes photos and family history in her list.

    Washington Wildfire Destruction Reuters

    Last week, Karen got a pointed reminder of the importance of being prepared. The Washington wildfire in Wenatchee exploded from nothing to devastation in 12 hours. Karen said her dentist’s home was barely spared but the home of another acquaintance was destroyed.

    “For a whole city block on both sides, almost every house was just burned to a crisp,” she said.


    - Melissa


    How do you prepare for wildfires? Let us know in comments!

    Posted In: Uncategorized Tagged With: Washington, Wenatchee, wildfire, Prepare

  • How to Not Burn Down America With Fireworks

    “It's going to be pretty tender fire conditions out there.”

    This fireworks season, that’s the fear not just for this Bozeman, MT fire chief, but for many more officials throughout the country. In many states, extended periods of heat and drought have made conditions very unfavorable for Fourth of July fireworks. With fireworks, there’s always a risk of starting a fire. Because of the heat and lack of moisture, that threat is even worse.

    Family FireworksAlthough you may have a tradition of having your own firework show, that may not be the best idea this year. According to one fire prevention specialist, “the best way to avoid the risk of starting a wildfire this holiday weekend is to attend public fireworks displays and leave the lighting to the professionals.”

    I know, I know. Where’s the fun in that, right? Well, part of the fun could come in not burning down your entire state (or at least your neighborhood). Even fireworks that you might think are safe can be a huge danger to the dry grass and trees. For example, did you know that sparklers can burn at 2,000°F? That’s hot enough to melt gold! So uh…try and keep those away from dry tinder, OK? Thanks.

    Fireworks BanIn order to prevent wide-spread devastation, many counties – and even a few states – have imposed a ban on fireworks. Some Oregon towns have decided to do away with their municipality firework shows altogether. If that thought saddens you (which it very well could), you can take solace in the fact that by foregoing such activities, you are saying “Thanks, America” by not burning it up. And America thanks you, too. If you don’t think that’s a very good reason, then let’s go back to Oregon for a moment.

    The spokesman for Portland Fire & Rescue gives a very compelling reason for these bans. In the case of Oregon, “on the weekend before the Fourth of July last year, Portland firefighters battled three fires. This past weekend, the count was 80.”

    Yeah…that’s quite a jump in number there. So instead of adding to that number, be prepared to cut back on your firework usage this Fourth of July. Even though it may seem like this Independence Day restricts your independence in the use of explosives, it’s for a good cause. However, if you are able to still use fireworks (hooray!), please take precautions to avoid setting fire to your city.

    Some good rules to follow are:

    • Always soak your fireworks before tossing them in the trash
    • Store exhausted fireworks in a bucket of water
    • Keep a source of water nearby (see above)
    • Don’t point or aim fireworks at homes
    • Keep fireworks away from grass, brush, leaves, and anything else that could potentially catch fire (such as your home – see above)

    Another good rule of thumb is to always use common sense. Before you start lighting off fireworks, ask yourself, “Is there anything within close proximity that could potentially start a fire if this firework goes off in an unexpected direction?”.

    Because that happens, too.

    Fireworks SafetyAnd while you’re at it, practice firework safety for yourself, too. It’s easy to get caught up in the excitement of things blowing up and making loud noises and spewing out pretty colors and stuff, but that doesn’t mean you can’t do that and still be safe.

    I say this because my sister had the unfortunate experience of having a firework fly into her face. Fortunately, it was a small one and it didn’t explode on impact. Unfortunately, it still exploded just after it ricocheted off, damaging her teeth and burning her face somewhat. That was about seven years ago, and after getting braces (for the second time in her life), she’s back to normal.

    Do you think she expected that to ever happen? I doubt it. And yet it did. So while you’re keeping the grass and trees safe, keep yourselves safe as well.

    And on that fun note, I hope you all have a wonderfully exciting Fourth of July and enjoy the festivities wherever you are! Go out and have a blast (literally)!


    'Murica & Fireworks


    How do you celebrate the Fourth of July? Let us know in comments!

    Posted In: Disaster Scenarios Tagged With: wildfires, fireworks, 4th of July, Independance Day, America

  • 6 Ways to Prepare People with Special Needs and Disabilities

    Special Needs - CannonLast week, my family went to a minor league baseball game. We love these games because we can sit so close to the action. We were right above the bullpen.

    One thing was strange. My 10-year-old special needs daughter kept asking, “Where’s the cannon?”

    Finally, we identified the “cannon.” It was the sound of the baseball hitting the catcher’s glove.

    We’re adding earplugs to her emergency preparedness bag.

    The American Red Cross booklet, “Preparing for Disaster for People with Disabilities and other Special Needs,” offers six steps to be prepared.


    Create a personal support network

    A personal support network is a group of at least three people from every place a disabled person spends time. Their job is to help prepare and assist that person if disaster occurs.

    They need to know the capabilities and special needs of the disabled person, like how to use a wheelchair or give medication, according to a FEMA pamphlet, “Preparing Makes Sense for People with Disabilities and Special Needs.”

    They also need to know the person’s evacuation plan. At least one other person should have a key to the disabled person’s home.


    Complete a personal assessment

    A personal assessment is a list of daily needs and resources. It includes questions like these from the National Organization on Disability. The questions help with planning.

    • Do you use communication devices?
    • Do you depend on accessible transportation?
    • Do you receive medical treatments (e.g. dialysis) on a regular basis?
    • Do you need assistance with personal care?
    • Do you rely on electrical equipment or other durable equipment?
    • Do you use mobility aids such as a walker, cane, or a wheelchair?
    • Do you have a service animal?


    Get informed about resources in your area

    Disaster assistance resources include warning systems like reverse 911 and special needs registries.

    The area where my family lives has a reverse 911 system. It’s easy to sign up for it; I enrolled using my smartphone while my husband and I were out running errands.

    Many communities ask people with special needs to register with the fire or police department. Those who need electrical equipment also should register with the local utility company.


    Make a plan

    Actually, make two plans.

    Plan for those with special needsA communication plan includes contact information for family members and friends, work and school, and emergency organizations. Ready.gov and The Red Cross have forms for this information. Everyone should have an out-of-town contact because it’s often easier to make long distance calls after a disaster, according to the Red Cross booklet.

    Families should also determine escape routes and emergency meeting places outside their home and neighborhood.

    A woman from the U.S. who had trouble walking described her escape plan to a United Nations disaster preparedness survey of people with disabilities. It started with having supplies loaded in her car.

    “I would then put my cat in her carrier, go out to the car and drive up to my brother’s house, 10 miles north, where I will be helped by family members and be safe,” she wrote.


    Assemble a kit

    Brad and Robyn Mann, who write a column called Sleeping with MS, described how they learned the importance of a disaster kit. Their town, more than 20 miles inland, flooded during Hurricane Irene in 2011.

    First responders began evacuating the town. The Manns had 20 minutes to prepare.

    “I panicked. We needed to assemble and pack essential clothing for four children, two adults, along with prescription medications and vital documents. All this needed to be ready in less time than it takes me to get dressed!” they wrote.

    June Isaacson Kailes, a disability policy consultant, suggested packing two weeks’ worth of medical equipment.

    “Make sure to pack enough medical supplies like syringes, ostomy bags, catheters and padding to last that long. Know what you are able to carry in a fanny pack, backpack or drawstring bag hung from a wheelchair, scooter or other assistive device. Do what is realistic for you,” she wrote.


    Maintain the plan and the kit

    Minor problems can become major events with my special needs daughter. Several months ago, a nearby transformer blew out. It was evening and rapidly getting dark. My daughter panicked. I had my cell phone and its flashlight, but only about 10 percent of charge remained.

    Phones can be critical when preparing for special needsFortunately, I had a flashlight handy. Unfortunately its batteries were dead. By the rapidly diminishing power from my phone’s light, I found batteries and got it working. My daughter calmed down.

    I learned three lessons. First, keep my phone charged (maybe I haven’t learned that one yet). Second, know where emergency equipment is and keep it in easy access. Third, make sure my emergency kit isn’t out of date.

    Day-to-day life when dealing with special needs is exhausting. Yet it’s especially important for individuals with disabilities and their families to somehow find time and energy to prepare for emergencies.

    The American woman with walking difficulty who was interviewed by the UN said being prepared helped her develop confidence.

    “I must say that being this way … has been quite a learning experience as well as one for teaching myself how to be resourceful,” she wrote. “I may be slow, but I’ll always get there”



    - Melissa


    What are some other effective ways you've found in preparing for those who are disabled or have special needs? Let us know in comments!

    Posted In: Additional Reading, Emergency Kits Tagged With: disability, Disaster prep, special needs

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