Learning from an Evacuation Zone

Recently I was able to experience the “thrill” of being in a wildfire evacuation zone. For those in the western US, wildfire is likely something you are at least somewhat familiar with. Most times its someone else who is impacted directly by it, perhaps a friend or family. Hopefully they didn’t lose anything to the fire and were only evacuated or warned of potential evacuation. That was my recent experience, suddenly I was in a level 1 “Get ready” evacuation zone.

A local wildfire called the Nakia Creek Fire, started about 9 miles from my home north of Camas, WA. It was surprising being in October when we were usually being inundated with rain to hear about a fire burning in steep terrain in nearby hills. Being close enough I got to see many of the low flying aircraft and hear the equipment rolling out to meet it. Then, after seeming like it was not going to be a big deal, the wind changed and we had a red flag fire warning from weather forecasters. On that Sunday afternoon, the winds started up, and the smoke started getting very dense. When my phone popped up with a CRESA alert that I was in an evacuation zone, all of my attention shifted from my capstone project work to “where is the fire and which way is it going”.

First getting “good” information is challenging if you have not looked before. Luckily I already have many bookmarks and know where to look for information like that. I was able to get past all the unhelpful posts on the reactionary posts and replies that don’t really help get useful info and able to find other leads to information. Eventually I was able to find the source that some of the local agencies and newscasts were occasionally sharing. I was able to combine information from different locations and get a reasonably timely picture of what had happened. Using satellite images and wind direction maps from previous day/hours I could see the fire progression amount and direction. I coupled in forecasted changes and started rolling up info to share with family and neighbors printing out maps and images. Yes, there was a possibility we might need to leave. So we made a basic plan about what direction we would head and what vehicles we would use. Given we might be out for a while, my RV made great sense. Now go get it ready and make sure if has fuel in it.

Now what to take and how would I be able to continue working on my class work while I was not at home. When you have to start thinking about what is important to you and also what is an absolute priority for surviving, there are lot of things that go through your head. If you have not ever thought about this. I highly recommend you at the very least go through the mental exercise. Think about any medications you might need, how will you communicate, how will you keep your devices charged so you can actually use them (hint not everything will plug into your car or use the same charger).

Your reason for doing this may have nothing to do with a wildfire. But there are many reasons that should be considered.

  • Flood
  • Tornado
  • Earthquake
  • Fire
  • Hurricane
  • Transport accident (rail cars move oil and hazardous chemicals all the time)
  • Utility outage (like power or water)

Once you figure out the motivation is there, go out and find one of the many resources for helping you prepare. Most of them make recommendations for what to put in your Go-Bag. I would recommend just keeping a bag or container with a checklist in it (that you customize) that is used for no other purpose and always lives in the same place. Put a label on it so others know what it is and that it should not be moved. Try to keep at least some bare essentials in it like a spare cell phone charger and cable and a few freeze dried packages of snack food. Make sure the bag expands easily but is not so big it can not be easily transported. Then go through the list of everything you need and want (in that order) and put those details on the checklist.

I am not going to go in detail on how you personally should prepare. But I just want you to think about it should the worst actually happen.

In my case we nervously watched things for several hours and into the next day and decided we had enough info to believe our chances of evacuation were dropping and we could relax a little while still keeping an eye on things. So back to the capstone project. Our lesson was that the unfathomable is possible. You don’t have to live in constant fear of it, just try to be a little more aware of what things you need to pay attention to.

I wish everyone never has to experience any form of life wrenching event in their future. And my thoughts go out to everyone who has. And be sure to get to know your neighbors well because likely they will be your partners in getting through these things.

Stay Safe

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