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How to prepare for a wildfire

Lori Wilson is a SheKnows.com Home & Living columnist, as well as a freelance writer in Los Angeles, who after a lifetime of enduring harsh Michigan winters, relishes the warmth year round.

Fire! Be ready to get out fast

With the intense heat and dryness during the summer months, the news is filled with stories of wildfire devastation, especially in the western states. Since more homes are being built in natural areas, and we're experiencing longer periods of dry weather, this type of disaster is become more and more common. In California alone, the year 2007 saw thousands of homes damaged, causing more than $1 billion in insured losses.

Wildfire

Wildfires can happen anytime with no warning, and they spread incredibly fast. However, according to FEMA and the American Red Cross, there are several things you can do to prepare yourself should a wildfire break out in your area.

teach your children well

Summer often means fireworks, barbecues and campfires, but these activities can actually lead to wildfires. Before taking part in any of these summer traditions with your family, make sure your kids know the basics of fire safety, which can be found at FireSafety.gov. You should also post emergency numbers near the phone, plan an escape route and make sure everyone in your family is familiar with these summer safety tips.

create a fire resistant home

When making home improvements, choose materials that will help stave off fires by incorporating:

  • Non-combustible roofing and siding (definitely no shakes or wooden shingles)
  • Well-trimmed hardwood treesand cutting back any dry/dead plants
  • Shrubs that are more fire-resistant (such as iceplant and other succulents)
  • Use gravel, rock and stepping stones to break up the plant life -- therefore potentially slowing the spread of a fire.
  • Remove vines from exterior walls and clear tree branches that overhang or come close to your house.
  • Keep a 30-100 foot zone around your house where there is very little flammable landscaping
  • A nearby garden hose that can reach any part of your home (or if you have a pool or well, consider getting a real fire hose with a portable generator).

good reception

If a wildfire has started in your area, keep a radio or television on for updates on instructions, evacuations and updates. You should always keep a battery-powered radio, and of course, extra batteries on hand.

in case of evacuation

If you are told to evacuate the area, go quickly -- but first remember to take these important steps:

  • Put on protective clothing such as sturdy shoes, cotton or wool items, long pants, a long sleeved shirt, gloves and a handkerchief to protect your face.

     

  • Grab your emergency supplies kit consisting of a three-day supply of water (one gallon per person per day) and food that won't spoil; one change of clothing and footwear per person and one blanket or sleeping bag per person; a first aid kit that includes your family's prescription medications; an extra set of car keys and a credit card, cash, or traveler's checks; sanitation supplies; special items for infant, elderly or disabled family members; an extra pair of eyeglasses; and important family documents in a waterproof container.

     

  • Assemble a smaller version of your emergency kit to keep in the trunk of your car.

     

  • Other things to remember when evacuating include locking your house and informing a friend or family member where you are going. If you have time, shut off gas lines and propane tanks, close windows and vents, open fireplace dampers, wet down shrubs and your roof with a garden hose, and move flammable outdoor furniture inside.

Do not make the mistake of thinking you can hide from the fire -- even if you have a basement, a pool, a concrete house. You still have to breathe, and smoke and super-heated air -- which you can't avoid in a fire zone -- kill more people than do actual flames.

Something you can do right now

Think some precious family photos will slow you down in an emergency, because you just can't bear to see those memories lost? Get smart: Buy or borrow a scanner and scan all of your photos and other important documents into your computer. Save them to CDs or DVDs and store those at the bank or with another family member, and/or upload the data to any one of a number of online storage services, such as Flickr.com, PhotoBucket.com or SmugMug.com. (Scanning and uploading also offers a great way to share these irreplaceable images with family members around the world.)

 

But most important of all: Remember that nothing -- nothing -- is more important to save than lives. We come into the world without any stuff, and go out of the world without any stuff... so don't let the worry of losing that "stuff" put you in the position of losing your life.

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