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Fire survivors share evacuation tips: What to take, what to leave behind

This summer, Northern California residents in places like Shasta County and Yuba County have already had close brushes with wildfires, forcing evacuations.

While no Sonoma County spots are currently threatened by fires, it’s best to know what to do in the case of an emergency that requires evacuations.

But, what’s the best way to prepare for and successfully evacuate when flames are approaching? Here are some tips and tricks to keep in mind, straight from those who’ve experienced wildfire evacuations firsthand.

Sacramento resident Jessamy Cartwright, a survivor of the Camp Fire that destroyed the town of Paradise in Butte County in 2018, recently took to Facebook to share several evacuation tips with the Northern California Fire Update group.

First, don’t wait for evacuation orders. Cartwright claims she never received orders to flee Paradise and wrote that if “you see smoke nearby...leave!” She also emphasized not to stay to save your house.

Cartwright also advised buying a police scanner to get real-time updates on fires. While that may not be practical for all residents, there are several real-time news options online, including scanner update accounts on Facebook and Twitter, and apps like Scanner Radio & Fire and Sonoma County-based Watch Duty.

One of the best ways to prepare for evacuations is to pack bags ahead of time. When packing, Cartwright reminded people to pack sweaters. “Smoke will block the sun for a few days after a fire (and) even though today its 100° out tomorrow could be 60°,” she wrote. Any other clothes packed in the bag should be comfortable enough to potentially live in for a few days.

Cartwright added that evacuees don’t need to worry about packing hygiene products, as those products are given out from donations within hours of evacuation. Do pack a bag for your pets, especially a leash for dogs. Cartwright added that at evacuations sites, “there will be animals that are not socialized with other animals and the potential for animal fights will be high.”

Once you have fled from your house, Cartwright said to make sure you have proof of residence on hand, such as a cable bill, for use when the Federal Emergency Management Agency steps in.

Other tips include having a predetermined meeting spot for family and loved ones who may be separated during evacuations.

Finally, Cartwright said, do not panic. “Know you have a mission to accomplish and that's getting out alive,” she wrote.

In response to Cartwright’s Facebook post, several other evacuees shared similar tips and information.

Oroville resident Beverly Hackett wrote that she has been evacuated a few times, and now keeps her family photos in a container with insurance documents and medications that can be easily accessed in case of evacuation.

Rosalind Hussong, who said she evacuated during the Poe Fire that burned in Butte County in 2001 and other fires, wrote that she keeps an encrypted thumb drive of her online passwords and other important information for evacuations.

Rick Dozier added that residents should know all the escape routes available to them in an evacuation. “That was a big problem in the Camp fire. People only knew two routes out of town, and they were both overwhelmed. Back roads count too. People don't think of that,” he wrote.

Many of these firsthand accounts and personal tips are echoed by organizations like Cal Fire, which lays out an evacuation guide that encourages residents to create a plan, stay informed on wildfire activity and act when the time comes.

Specifically, Cal Fire advises that residents create an evacuation checklist and organize items like medication, personal papers and photos, valuables, clothing, cellphone and charger and an evacuation route map with at least two routes.

If evacuation is a possibility, Cal Fire encourages residents to place items in their vehicle, keep pets nearby, place a connected water hose and buckets of water around the house, move propane appliances away from structures, wear long-sleeved clothes, heavy shoes or boots and bandannas and glasses or googles for your face.

Cal Fire evacuation tips.pdf

When evacuation orders are given, Cal Fire asks that residents follow those orders promptly.

If you become trapped in your house: call 911, fill sinks and tub with water, keep doors and windows closed, and stay away from outside walls and windows.

If you become trapped in a vehicle: call 911, park in an area clear of vegetation, close windows and vents, cover yourself with a blanket or jacket, lie on the vehicle floor.

If you become trapped by flames while on foot: call 911, go to an area clear of vegetation, lie face down, cover up.

In all circumstances, Cal Fire stresses that residents should stay calm.

For more evacuation tips from Cal Fire, and to create a personalized wildfire preparedness plan, go to readyforwildfire.org.

Do you have any evacuation tips? Share them in the comments.

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