10 essential items needed in case of fire evacuation

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This story is part of a monthly series chronicling the rebuilding efforts in Sonoma County. Read all of the Rebuild North Bay coverage


Despite the rise of catastrophic wildfires across California, many people still are unprepared when it comes to necessities for a fire evacuation.

“We have to move past awareness and into action,” said Chris Godley, director of Sonoma County Emergency Management. “We know we probably won't get the majority of people to become prepared. But if we can increase that minority to a sufficient number then ... we'll have enough people in the community that kind of know what to do and how to do it; that it will allow the rest of us to get carried along, hopefully.”

As a basic rule, Godley recommends taping a list of the six “Ps” inside the coat closet near the front door of your home. These include: people and pets; papers, phone numbers and important documents; prescriptions, vitamins, eyeglasses; pictures, irreplaceable memorabilia; personal computer, hard drive, disks; and plastic (credit cards, bank cards) and cash.

While that's a good start, here's a checklist of 10 fire evacuation essentials to gather and keep in a safe place:

Extra pair of slip-on tennis shoes because there's no time for tying laces. Ideally, tuck them underneath your bed, with a flashlight and an extra pair of glassses if you wear them.

Select reliable emergency alert systems. First, sign up for Nixle alerts by texting your ZIP code to “888777” to opt in if you haven't already. If you have an older cellphone, get a newer model that can receive wireless emergency alerts. If you live where there's poor cellphone coverage, buy a battery-operated National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration weather radio and set it for Sonoma County frequency 162.475. A well-rated, popular model is the Midland Er310 emergency radio that can be plugged in, battery operated or hand cranked. If you cut the landline years ago, think about reconnecting a new one. As Mark West Estates block captain Michael Holdner said, his landline is how his family received a reverse 911 call alerting them to impending danger of the 2017 inferno that burned through sections of Santa Rosa-area neighborhoods.

Secure N95 respirator masks for all adults. Unfortunately they don't fit children well, but the strategy should be for adults wearing the masks to help evacuate children away from smoke and poor air quality as soon as possible. You can buy the masks online, a 10-pack sells for about $20 on Amazon, or at local hardware stores. Make sure each mask has a smoke or charcoal filter.

Set up either a free or paid cloud storage plan. Then you can scan important photos and documents such as birth certificates, driver licenses, passports, insurance information related to cars, renters, homeowners and health, medical records plus pet microchip and pet license information and upload them to the cloud for digital safekeeping.

Popular cloud services are offered by Apple, Microsoft, Google and Dropbox. It's worth shopping around to see how much space, typically 5G to 15G, is offered in basic free cloud storage plans. And if you simply can't bring yourself to trust the cloud, buy an external computer hard drive, back up your data and store it at work so you don't have to worry about unplugging a computer in a rush at home should you have to evacuate.

Upgrade your home insurance. As many victims of the 2017 North Bay wildfires learned the hard way, a bare-minimum homeowner insurance policy simply won't cover your house and everything inside it. The first step is setting up a meeting with your insurance agent and going through coverage options, point by point.

After the 2017 fires, fierce competition boosted the cost of building supplies and strong demand prompted a spike in housing prices. Godley recommends looking specifically at home insurance policy riders that account for inflation in the cost to replace your home.

Print out or buy a detailed map of your block and neighborhood and mark each with at least two different evacuation routes. Think about factors such as terrain, traffic bottlenecks, proximity of large trees and wind patterns when devising escape routes. Do a walk-through and drive-through of your evacuation routes with family and neighbors.

Brad Sherwood, who is rebuilding a house in Larkfield where he's a block captain in Larkfield Estates, also recommends buying an air horn to alert the entire neighborhood of encroaching danger.

Package three days worth of nonperishable food, water and prescriptions in a bag to go with you and your family. For larger families, it could be helpful to pack food and water in a 40- or 50-gallon storage bin on wheels.

Costco and Amazon offer countless options when it comes to emergency preparedness packs.

Handheld flashlights for everyone in the family. Even better, a battery-operated headlamp allows you to see at night and use your hands at the same time, an advantage if you have to pack in a hurry in the dark and then evacuate. In recent reviews, REI and Wirecutter both recommend the Black Diamond Spot 325 headlamp.

Pet carriers for all animals and keep them assembled, with leashes nearby. Make sure to acclimate pets to their carriers before an emergency evacuation. Have a prepacked bag with three to seven days of wet or dry food and water. A clip-on LED collar light is useful for keeping track of your pet in the dark. Make sure your name, cellphone and work numbers and veterinarian's name are listed on pet carriers. If bulky, hard-shell carriers are too cumbersome for a quick escape, a soft bag like the Evacsak might be better for smaller pets.

The extras. Make sure you have an extra set of car keys, prescription medicines and first-aid kits full of fresh medical supplies.

Special Coverage

This story is part of a monthly series chronicling the rebuilding efforts in Sonoma County. Read all of the Rebuild North Bay coverage


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