Lessons from October wildfires: Make your evacuation list now
Kim King is known for being an organized person. For years she kept all her important documents in order and at the ready in the event that she would ever have to flee her house in an emergency.
But when the fateful day actually came last Oct. 8, she didn’t think to bring them.
King never dreamed when she fled her Coffey Park home that nothing would be there when she returned. She figured she was simply leaving for awhile to get away from the smoke that hung over her neighborhood.
Almost a year later, reflecting back on those moments of split-second decisions, she wishes she had thought to take one thing that was precious and irreplaceable — her wedding ring. King found it uncomfortable to wear at night so she would take it off and put it in a little decorative dish in her bathroom. The night of the Tubbs fire, she grabbed the cellphone by her bed but not much else.
Agencies from the Red Cross to FEMA have come out with handy checklists on what to take in case of an evacuation. These lists usually focus on essential documents such as insurance policies and passports. But ask people who survived a North Coast fire and many are apt to say that in the long run, it’s the sentimental items that they missed the most and regret leaving.
“Business things you can get somewhere. All my health care documents, my banking documents, I could replace those,” King said. “It took me a long time to get all that paperwork back in order, but even a Pink Slip you can get replaced. You can’t replace the personal things that are most important to you.”
Every emergency situation is different depending on the disaster, where you may be located and how long a notification you had.
Some people may have time to methodically pack their cars. Others may have 10 or 15 minutes or perhaps only moments to get out with their lives.
King also left her cats in the house with the cat door closed, thinking it would keep them safe from surrounding danger until she could get home. That didn’t happen and it haunts her.
Her advice to anyone facing evacuation? First, if you take off your ring at night, put it by your cellphone by your bed. And take your pets first — don’t assume you’ll return, and have their carriers close at hand.
Michelle Hickman was one of those people who had time to think about what to take. She lived in a rental virtually across the road from where the Tubbs fire broke out at Highway 128 and Bennett Lane in Calistoga. Her 12-year-old daughter alerted her after her room began glowing orange and she looked out the window.
Michelle was one of the first people to call 911 that night. She was on the phone with the dispatcher as she gathered her kids and got into the car. Her husband did grab their lock box filled with important papers.
“I grabbed my purse, my car keys and our camera. I had just taken pictures of my daughter’s birthday. I didn’t want to lose the pictures on that camera,” she said.