Experts provide tips for creating an emergency kit, protecting homes against wildfire
Community members should keep a 72-hour evacuation kit stashed in their homes or garages
Wildfire season is in full swing with multiple small fires breaking out within the past few weeks.
To educate the community about wildfire management and how to best prepare for an emergency situation, Summit County is hosting a series of wildfire town halls throughout the season. The first focused on how the county and its partners navigate a wildfire emergency response and what an evacuation would look like.
At the town hall Friday, June 18, county leaders gathered to discuss how individual community members should take precautions in the event of an emergency and how best to protect homes against wildfires. They also discussed various countywide programs to mitigate possible threats.
What’s the current status of Summit County’s fire danger?
The meeting kicked off with an update about the Straight Creek Fire from Summit County Sheriff Jaime FitzSimons.
Though the fire was contained within a matter of days, FitzSimons said the event sparked conversations about moving into Stage 1 fire restrictions, which officially happened countywide Friday morning.
“The spikes we’ve seen and the fuel moistures drying out and these weather patterns are unprecedented and people should pay attention to it,” FitzSimons said.
During the meeting, FitzSimons said these conditions “have put us on the door” of moving into Stage 2 restrictions and that the only thing to prevent this from immediately happening is if the county receives a downpour of rain and the fuel moistures change.
FitzSimons said he and his team, along with other partners, are “watching this in real time” and will continue to evaluate the situation in the days to come.
“You need to be careful and watch what you’re doing for your family and be prepared to act,” FitzSimons said.
How do I prepare for a possible wildfire evacuation?
One of the best ways to prepare for wildfire evacuation is to assemble a 72-hour emergency kit, said Amanda Seidler, spokesperson for the Red, White & Blue Fire Protection District.
Seidler said the kit should contain everything you might need for three days, including clothing, food, water, medications, batteries, cash and credit cards, and phone numbers of important contacts, such as insurance agencies. For those who might be sleeping in their car, they should also bring bedding such as a sleeping bag and pillow.
In addition, the kit should include everything needed for children and pets. Seidler recommends bringing along games and activities as well as food and water for pets, a leash and collar, and possibly a kennel or litter box. She also recommended making sure any chips and tags are up to date.
Seidler said it’s important to keep an emergency kit on hand either in a car or garage. Some people also might keep a checklist of important items to take with them in the event of an emergency so nothing is left behind.
Though not directly included in the kit, Seidler said it’s also important to keep vehicles gassed up.
“In winter, we think about having fuel in the gas tank and not letting it get down to a quarter of a tank,” Seidler said. “The same applies in wildfire season. Keep it half full. You don’t know when it’s going to happen, and the gas stations are going to be a zoo.”
In the event that you’re not able to make it back home within an evacuation time frame, Seidler suggested communicating with neighbors to make sure any pets are taken care of and to work with other organizations like schools or camps beforehand to understand what reunification protocols are like.
In addition to keeping your car gassed up and creating a 72-hour evacuation kit, Seidler said individuals should have conversations with their insurance agents to make sure they have the coverage they need. It’s also helpful to follow social media accounts of the local towns, fire districts and law enforcement agencies to stay updated. Lastly, Seidler recommended community members register for the county’s SC Alert system and download the CodeRed app.
How can I protect my home against wildfire threats?
Some of the simplest ways to protect your home against a wildfire is to make sure your house has at least 30 feet clear of any debris, wood piles, clusters of trees or vegetation, said Steve Lipsher, spokesperson for Summit Fire & EMS.
Lipsher said one of the cardinal rules in proper wildfire home protection is keeping wood piles away from the siding of the house and decks. At the very least, these piles should be covered with a fire blanket, he said.
For those who have wood-burning stoves, Lipsher suggested keeping a stash of wood near the home from Nov. 1 to April 1 and moving it far away during wildfire season. He said the same for construction materials, as well.
Trees also can pose a threat to homes, especially if they are tall, mature trees in a cluster near the house and even more so if they are connected to surrounding forests. Lipsher said fires that start in the canopy of trees are much more difficult to contain than a ground fire. He also noted that standalone trees are not nearly as much of a cause for concern.
Above-ground propane tanks can also pose a risk. Lipsher said maintaining the surrounding vegetation and keeping it cut is crucial because burning vegetation could heat up the tank so much that firefighting personnel would have to be removed from the property and thus not be able to save nearby structures.
Another maintenance task homeowners should complete is clearing out gutters or decks so they’re not filled with dried pine needles or leaves.
“Don’t overlook the little things,” Lipsher said. “That could be the difference in saving your home.”
What countywide programs help mitigate wildfire risks?
Lipsher said Summit Fire & EMS and the Red, White & Blue Fire Protection District conduct free assessments and give recommendations to community members on how they can better protect their homes against wildfires. Community members should visit SummitFire.org or RWBFire.org for more information.
To help mitigate the risks of wildfires, Summit County has a few programs in place, such as its free chipping program and its wildfire mitigation grants. For more information about these programs, visit SummitCountyCo.gov/wildfire.
The next wildfire town hall is Friday, June 25.
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