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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

  • Mississippi Wildfires and Why We Must Be Aware of Local Disaster Threats

    Forest Fire Mississippi PostWhen I think of wildfires, I generally think of them happening in California, Washington, Alaska, or Australia. Certain states just never have to worry about such things, right? Wrong. Just before Valentine’s Day 2016, a wildfire raged in Mississippi and into Alabama, burning more than 4,000 acres.

    Mississippi is a fairly humid place, which might lead a person to believe that wildfires can’t happen there. After all, water beats fire, and if the trees and grass and other plant life aren’t being drained of their moisture in dry, desert-like heat, then what’s the worry?

    As we can see, there’s always a worry. Actually, wildfires aren’t that rare an occurrence in Mississippi, or other humid states, for that matter. The average number of wildfires in that state annually is close to 4,000, and an average of 110,000 acres are burned each year.

    But why is this important? For me, just because I don’t think something happens, doesn’t mean it doesn’t, or is even infrequent. In the case of Mississippi, for example, wildfires aren’t rare at all. So why don’t I hear much about them? Maybe it’s because they’re not as devastating as other states’ fires. Maybe it’s because I don’t live near that area, so the news just doesn’t get to me. Or maybe it’s because they are so common that it just really isn’t news anymore. Whatever the reason, the fact remains that these things do happen, whether I think about them or not.

    So what else goes on that I don’t know about that I should be aware of? More specifically, what should I be aware of here in Utah? I know wildfires can be a problem, and drought is always a lingering threat (not as bad as California, but we still get it here).

    In a traditionally dry location, we probably don’t think about flooding very often, but you know what? It happens! Actually, because it’s so dry, flash flooding is more than likely during a good downpour. Living pretty close to the mountains can also bring water down fast, and could even trigger landslides.

    Saltlaketornado - Mississippi Wildfire Post A tornado rips through downtown Salt Lake City in 1999

    Tornadoes, though, are something we just don’t get. Our elevation and climate or something just deters those whirling winds. Except…not quite two decades ago a tornado tore through Salt Lake City. But according to science, that should never have happened, right? Apparently not. This is just one more example of things happening that we really didn’t think could. I bet those people that were affected by the tornado won’t forget that anytime soon…

    Of course, there are so many things that could happen here at any given time. But I didn’t know that the Mississippi wildfires were a thing, so perhaps there’s more to my location than I’ve stopped to think about.

    Being prepared for a disaster involves knowing what to be prepared for. If you are aware that wildfires are a danger in your neck of the woods, you probably have an emergency kit or bug-out bag handy, just in case you need to get out quickly. If you live in a drought-stricken area, you probably have alternate options for water that don’t involve rain. No matter your location, there are certain disasters that are more prevalent than others, and being prepared for those can keep you and your family one step ahead of the game.

    My challenge to you is to do some research about the potential threats in your area, make a list of how you need to prepare for these threats, and then go do it.

    Get prepared.

    You can never predict when a disaster will strike, or how hard you’ll be hit.

     

    Research the threats in your area and let us know if there were any new threats you learned about!

     

    Disaster_Blog_Banner - Mississippi

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  • How to Defend Your Home From Wildfires

    When the first warning comes of an approaching wildfire, you need to take action immediately. Once evacuation is recommended, however, you should leave as soon as possible. Before that recommendation comes, you should have some time to prepare to defend your home.

    Defend your home - Getaway carFirst, get your getaway car ready. Back your car into your garage or open space pointing in the direction of your way out for an easy escape. Gather together your emergency gear and everything you will need. Then, once you’re all ready to evacuate but the recommendation for such an action has not arrived, there are some things you can do to defend your home from the fire.

    Remember: if you ever feel scared or in danger in any way, then leave! The most important thing is your safety.

    Disclaimers aside, let’s get down to business (to defeat the…fires).

    When you defend your home from invading fires, I’m not talking about being dressed as Gandalf standing between the fire and your house shouting, “You shall not pass!” at the approaching Balrog – er, brushfire.

    Defend your home like Gandalf defends Frodo "Flame of Udȗn!"

    Instead, you’re going to need to act as swift as a coursing river in order to prepare in time. Fires move fast, and can change direction just as quickly.

    Anyway, it’s a well-known fact that water beats fire. A government document entitled Talking About Disaster: Guide for Standard Messages outlines some important steps to take. All of these suggestions assume you actually have the time to take to carry these out. If you don’t have the time, then just get out of there.

    Close all your doors, windows, and vents! This will keep your home draft-free, thus preventing embers and smoke from finding open areas to infiltrate your home.

    Defend your home by following these steps Woodside Fire Protection District

    Create a defensible space around your house. Try and clear out as much dead debris as you can within 30 feet of your home. These dry, dead plants are fire fodder, so without them lying around, the fire won’t have as much fuel, thus slowing it down. Check your rain gutters, too. Clean them out and get rid of all those dead leaves, pine needles, and anything else that could feed the fire.

    Another step to take to defend your home is to place your sprinklers up to 50 feet away from your house. This will increase water levels of the nearby greenery, and as we have already mentioned, water beats fire. Of course, this won’t necessarily stop the fire altogether, but it can help slow it down and reduce its heat. If you have water hoses and sprinklers to spare, you might also consider putting a sprinkler on the roof of your house. Dousing your house with water will at least give it some sort of fire deterrent.

    Keep an eye on the things around your house, such as lawn furniture or potted plants. If they can burn, make sure they are far from your home. And definitely move any propane tanks near your home to a safer place.

    These are just a few things to keep in mind in the event of a wildfire. Knowing how to defend your home against a raging fire doesn’t have to be as mysterious as the dark side of the moon. Your work must be swift as a coursing river, otherwise the fire could catch up to you before you know it. But above all, if you ever, for any reason, feel scared or in danger, then get out. It’s not worth risking your personal safety – or that of your family – for your belongings.

     

    Have you ever had to defend your home from a fire? What did you do? Let us know in comments!

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