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  • Fort McMurray Fire Forces Entire City to Evacuate

    Fort McMurray Fire Wildfire along highway 63 Fort McMurray, Alberta Canada May 3, 2016. Courtesy CBC News/Handout via REUTERS

    Fires rage through Fort McMurray, a city in northeastern Alberta, Canada. The pine trees, once green, burn like candles. The entire city – over 80,000 people – has been evacuated. What will become of their homes is left up to fate. After burning for days, the fire has destroyed at least one neighborhood and caused severe damage in others. Fortunately, there have been no reports of deaths or injuries.

    The Fort McMurray fire started on Sunday, May 1, 2016, and continues to burn today, May 4, 2016. Because of hot weather, low humidity, and strong winds, the raging fire has been difficult to contain. The only way in and out of town is the city’s lone bridge spanning the Athabasca River. Officials have marked that as a high priority to protect.

    Without that bridge, nobody is getting in or out, and that includes supplies.

    After subduing the fire on Tuesday, the winds shifted, and according to reports, “flames stormed along a ravine and roared into the city and the race was on to get out.” The scene was not far off from something in an apocalyptic movie.

    Unfortunately, once the fire picked up, there was little time to get out. That meant evacuating with basically just the clothes on one’s back. One man opened his front door of his house and was greeted by smoke and flames surrounding his neighborhood. He promptly got on his motorcycle, made his way through traffic, and out of Fort McMurray. He took nothing with him.

    Wild fires are swift and dangerous. They can escalate without warning, and much of the time – as in this case – leave no time to gather emergency supplies. Being prepared for such unexpected emergencies is crucial. You never know when you’ll need to jump in your car and leave your home and belongings to fend for themselves.

    Because you just never know what will happen – or when – it is of vital importance to put an emergency plan together and prepare with essential supplies you will need for any scenario.

     

    72 Hour Kits

    First things first. Make sure you have the necessities you need for the first three days of an emergency. Your 72 hour kit should include water, food, sanitation items, gear for warmth, and other personal items specific to your needs. Ensure this bag is in an easy to reach location so you’re not wasting precious moments searching for it. Keeping it in the front hall closet (or similar location) is a good idea.

     

    Fuel

    Always keep your vehicle at least half full of gas. If you’re running on empty and have to evacuate, you could be in for quite the ordeal if your car suddenly runs out of gas. This is what happened to many people evacuating during the Fort McMurray fire. According to one report, vehicles were scattered on the sides of the road, some broken down, but some were out of gas. Police officers had to walk up and down the bottle-necked highway with gas cans to help those stranded make their escape.

    This example fuels the importance of always being prepared – no matter what. Make it a priority to keep your car at least a half a tank full. Otherwise, if there is a sudden emergency, you might find yourself trapped on the side of the road, and in that instance, there may not be kind police officers with extra gas to hand out.

     

     

    Listen

    Pay attention to what’s going on around you. If you know there is a big fire nearby, keep tabs on it. The man who left his home with just his motorcycle received a phone call from a family member warning him to leave. That’s when he opened his door, saw the flames, and rode away. We are uninformed as to his situation, and perhaps there was a reason he didn’t know the fire had come so close, but this scenario helps hit home the need to monitor emergency situations. Because you never know when the heat will get cranked up and you need to run.

    Also, follow the council of your local officials. If they give the order to evacuate, do so immediately. They have lots of information available to them, and they know better than anyone the dangers involved. It’s just not worth the risk to wait.

     

    Emergency Plan

    Create a plan with your family of important things to remember during an emergency. Who grabs what and what actions to take in certain circumstances would be a good start. Likewise, come up with a few locations to meet up, just in case you aren’t all together at the time of an evacuation. This will help keep your family together during emergencies. Ready.gov has many more ideas for an emergency plan.

     

    Clean Up

    Keep your yard free of highly flammable objects, such as dead grass, leaves, or branches. Clean out those natural fire starters every once in a while so that if a fire does come, your yard won’t be a huge contributor in feeding the flames.

     

    Fort McMurray fire via Edmonton Journal Fort McMurray fire closing in - via Edmonton Journal

    With the massive evacuations up north, we are reminded of what we must do in order to be effectively prepared. While you can’t necessarily protect everything you own, you can at least protect yourself and your family. Things come and go, but life is precious, and by preparing in advance for emergencies (such as earthquakes, drought, or even raging wildfires), we can make sure we are properly prepared for, protected, and comfortable during these times of crisis.

     

    Take time today to go over your family emergency plan. In what areas do you need to improve?

     

    Disaster_Blog_Banner  Fort McMurray Fire

  • In Case of a House Fire...Plan Ahead

    House FireOn the night of March 30, a fire ripped through a block of apartment buildings in Brooklyn, N.Y. Though no one lost their lives, at least 35 families were displaced. Three buildings burned and two others were damaged.

    The New York Times described the struggles of the next few days for several families.

    “How the days, even weeks, after a fire play out for someone it has displaced are largely determined by what that person can grab in the seconds before escaping,” wrote Times reporter Michael Wilson.

    The American Red Cross helps at about 70,000 house fires every year in the United States, an average of one every eight minutes, said Rich Woodruff Red Cross Communications Director for the Utah Region of the American Red Cross.

    When they’re thinking about preparing for a fire, many people remember 72-hour kits or go bags. Some even remember to gather extras like diapers and prescription medication. Here are a few things Woodruff said people tend to forget when they’re planning for rapid evacuation.

    First, have an evacuation plan and rehearse it. Map two exit routes and arrange meeting places in case household members get separated from each other. Also arrange meeting places and phone contacts out of town in case of a widespread emergency. Ready.gov has templates to make planning easier.

    “Let’s say at 3 a.m., the smoke alarm goes off, and you can’t see well. Instead of panicking, you have a predetermined route,” Woodruff said.

    Second, plan for pets. Pets are often overlooked in peoples’ emergency plans, Woodruff said.

    When packing a grab-and-go kit for household members, pack one for pets. Pack things like food and a water bowl. Make sure each pet has identification, like a collar or microchip. The Red Cross has a pet first aid app and other pet preparedness information.

    For a few days after the Brooklyn apartment fire, according to the New York Times story, one resident, Luke Moffitt, worried about his cats. He’d opened a window on the way out so they could escape, but he hadn’t seen them. He was lucky. When firefighters allowed him to enter his apartment, he found them inside. A building superintendent who raised pigeons on the roof of another building lost all of them.

    hard drive connected to the computer with vital documents House Fire

    Third, keep digital copies of important papers either in the cloud or in a place like a safe-deposit box. These include papers like wills, vital records, financial and legal information and ownership records. One of the greatest struggles for people displaced in the Brooklyn fire was finding and recreating vital records, the New York Times story reported.

    For example, the Red Cross gave out preloaded debit cards to fire victims, but adult family members had to have identification to receive them. The Rondon family had five adults and an infant living in their apartment. Only one adult, away during the fire, escaped with his ID. Two others found ID copies by calling an employer.

    The Quinones family needed their son’s birth certificate and proof of residence to get into temporary housing. They got a letter from their son’s pediatrician since they didn’t have a birth certificate. They had to get a form signed by their landlord and notarized since they had no lease on hand. A few days later, demolition workers recovered their battered file cabinet that contained birth certificates and other important papers.

    On average, people have two minutes to escape from a burning house, Woodruff said. When the Brooklyn blaze began, one man was on his way to the shower. He escaped shirtless and shoeless, no phone, no wallet. Emergencies aren’t convenient. But preparing for them can make the aftermath a little more bearable.

    The Red Cross has emergency preparedness apps like first aid, emergency alerts and preparedness for kids.

     

    Disaster_Blog_Banner house fire

  • Tornado Warning vs. Watch: Knowing the Difference Could Save Your Life

    When the sky goes dark and the winds pick up, should you be worried about a tornado? Depending on where you live, maybe you should be. But not every thunderstorm produces tornadoes. So how are you supposed to know when it’s time to find shelter as opposed to sitting down with a blanket and hot coco?

    One of the best ways is to follow your local weather forecast for alerts. There are two in particular that are important to know regarding tornadoes: Watch and Warning.

     

    Tornado Watch

    Tornado warning and WatchWhen your local weather team issues a tornado watch, it means that conditions for a tornado are favorable. Much like bird watching, people are searching the skies for a glimpse of a tornado. So far, however, nobody has spotted one.

    But just because it hasn’t been spotted yet doesn’t mean it won’t ever form. When a tornado watch is issued for your area, use that time to inspect your emergency supplies, review your emergency plans, and make sure you have a safe room you can get to in a moment’s notice.

    Tornado watches can cover a large area, so don’t be surprised if a tornado does come, just not to your neighborhood (or, on the other hand, it does come for a visit).

     

    Tornado Warning

    Beautifully structured supercell thunderstorm in American Plains Tornado warning

    Danger! If you receive a tornado warning, it means a storm is quickly on approach. But it’s not just any storm. This one indicates there is a strong rotation as picked up by Doppler Radar. That, or there has been a confirmed sighting of a tornado.

    This is the time to take shelter immediately. Get to your safe room or otherwise shelter in a safe place. Life and property are considered at imminent risk during a tornado warning, so there is no time to delay in retreating to safety. Steer clear of windows and outside walls. Move inward and to the lowest level of the building as possible. Do not use an elevator – use stairs.

    Unlike tornado watches, warnings cover a much smaller locale, so if you are within the area specified, you definitely need to take action.

     

    Being aware of the weather around you is one of the many ways of staying safe. Since you may not always have power during these storms, it’s smart to have an emergency weather radio on hand so you can keep tabs on what’s going on outside, and if there are any tornado watches or warnings in effect.

    When storms pick up, stay alert and aware of the weather going on outside – especially if you live in a tornado-prone area. Knowing what the difference is between a tornado watch and a tornado warning can make all the difference when it comes to weathering the storms around you.

     

    Disaster_Blog_Banner Tornado warning

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