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.
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.
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.
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.
FEMA defines priceless items as pictures, irreplaceable mementos and other valuables. Karen includes photos and family history in her list.
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.
How do you prepare for wildfires? Let us know in comments!