Cambrian: Slice of Life

What if you're out of town when a catastrophic fire hits?

You say you’re prepared to be evacuated in an emergency, such as a wildfire? Maybe not, my friend. I know I wasn’t, until after my recent “aha” moment. Yes, you’re stocked up with proper supplies. Your “go bag” is packed if officials evacuate your neighborhood. And you know where you’re headed if that happens. 

Your go bag has all the essentials: extra meds, eyeglasses, cellphone charger and car keys; computer backups; medical history and prescription list; clothes; insurance cards; a credit card and cash; videos/photos of your home’s contents; irreplaceable pictures, mementoes and treasures, plus copies of important papers, etc., etc., and so forth.

If your neighborhood is being evacuated, you’ll be notified by Reverse 911, even on your cellphone, because you’ve preregistered that number (your landline is automatically registered). By the way, you can sign up more than one cellphone on 

Reverse 911, which means family members also could be informed about the evacuation.

Gold star!

But … what if you’re not at home when evacuation orders are announced?

What if you’re not even in town, the state or the country? 

Yes, your backup supplies are safely stashed in a convenient grab-it spot at home. But you can’t get there in time from where you are. First responders will be keeping people out of your neighborhood — including you — to keep everybody safe, even if that means separating you from your prepacked essentials.

I understand. 

My light bulb moment? A while back, Cambria Fire Focus Group and Community Emergency Response Team held an impromptu evacuation drill for some group participants. I got the drill-alert call, all right. But I was in San Luis Obispo, and my go bag was at home in Cambria.

Since then, I’ve quizzed various friends and first responders about how to solve that problem. 

Some said, “Leave the go bag in your car,” which, on the surface, sounds like a sensible solution. But, in these times of snatch-and-grab auto burglaries and identity theft, I’m not real comfy with that suggestion. My whole life is in that bag, sort of, and someone with nefarious intent could have a good old time with the contents.

Besides, at evacuation time, I might not even be in my own car.

Next, I turned to Focus Group experts, and sure enough, they had some 

answers, as did several firefighters.

Some of their suggestions:

  1. If you plan to evacuate to the home of friends or relatives, and they have space for your go bag, take it there ahead of time. 
  2. Store important documents in a safety deposit box, or copy them to the Cloud. Some people seem comfortable with clouding, but others say that, while they might keep some document copies there, they’re uneasy about having crucial financial paperwork out in cyberspace, no matter how secure everybody says it is. Cloud shy? You can also scan documents onto several computer thumb drives (or make sets of photocopies). Keep one, put another in a safety deposit box and send the other to a family member for safekeeping.
  3. Focus Group Chairwoman Shirley Bianchi keeps important documents in a fire-resistant safe. However, if you buy a safe, be sure it’s rated to the highest possible temperature, and (this is vital) confirm that the lock is a separate unit from the box. In our 1994 fire, we lost crucial documents stored in a fire-resistant safe because the bronze lock was mounted into the box, not attached to it. The lock melted (bronze melts at 1,215 to 1,675 degrees Fahrenheit), and the fire went through the hole and destroyed our paperwork. Other people warn that a metal safe can act like an oven, amplifying heat and holding it inside. In effect, your documents can bake into oblivion.
  4. Roberta Vitols of the Small Animal Rescue Team suggested leaving house keys and instructions with trusted neighbors whom you could call if you’re away from home when an evacuation notice goes out. They’ll know where your go bag is, and can take it with them if there’s time … assuming they are at home then. 
  5. Have duplicate go bags, if you can.

As one firefighter said, if worse comes to worst, we need to cover the really important bases — having medicines and cash for a day or two, a credit card, that crucial paperwork, those unique treasures. 

In a pinch, we can do without everything else.

His reasoning? 

“You can replace the rest.”