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California Wildfires Evacuation Tips and Resources

Updated on June 24, 2014

Wildfire Evacuation Tips for you and your family

Every year California Wildfires threaten both life and property. As a native Californian that has a lot of experience with our winds, and fires, I want to make sure that all Californians know what to do in case of fire, and what to take with you in case you're Evacuated.

California is a great place to live, but it can be very dangerous when we have Wildfires, especially those that occur during Santa Ana Conditions:low humidity, and high strong Winds. We used to have a "Fire Season" typically from May to October, but with the drought, all year long is now "Fire Season." September and October are the worst months for Wildfires because of the Santa Ana Winds.

Following these tips will help you be Prepared in case you receive a Mandatory Evacuation Order! An emergency, like a Wildfire, is NOT the time to prepare. Be Prepared, teach your children, because sometimes you will have less than an hour to Evacuate.

Be Prepared by having an Evacuation Kit (Disaster Preparedness), and an Evacuation Plan! Follow these tips on evacuating, it will make a big difference in both safety, and peace of mind for you, your family, and pets.

  • Image Credits: All photos on this page, with the exception of the fire triangle, are the copyright of Kathy McGraw and may not be used in whole or part without permission.

Fire Triangle: Fires Need Fuel and Oxygen

Evacuation Kits

Make sure you have a tool to shut-off the gas meter, as well as any type of grab and go bag for emergencies like fire or earthquakes. Some people have more time than others to prepare for an evacuation.

Be prepared! It's better to buy it and never need it, than to need it and never have bought it!

Fire Safety and Evacuation Items for Kids

Photo of Esperanza Fire: Mandatory Evacuations are to Protect your life - The Fire came down the Mountain around midnight

Should you call or text 9-1-1 in case of an emergency?

Using your Mobile Phone during an Emergency

A Cell Phone is a lifeline in an Emergency, but there are a few things to keep in mind. In most areas of the country you can dial 9-1-1 but the Operator may need to verify your number just in case you are disconnected. Many of the newer phones also have a GPS tracking system embedded which will help find your location.

Don't pre-program 9-1-1 into your phone! Accidental dialings can wrack havoc on the system, and it is also illegal to have your phone pre-programmed with 911 in certain areas.

Can you text 9-1-1 in case of an emergency? The answer is NO!

Tip: During an emergency the lines may get overwhelmed and your call won't go through, but texting probably will. Not to 9-1-1 though, you cannot text 9-1-1. Dial 9-1-1

What is ICE and how to program your phone for an Emergency

First Responders look at your contacts for the word ICE

ICE stands for "In Case of Emergency" It is a way to program your phone, or a child's phone to easily identify which number should be contacted in case of an emergency!

Letting other people know you are safe is always a concern during any emergency. If anything happened to you Emergency Responders would need to know who to notify. Simply put the word ICE in your contacts, with the number for whom you want contacted. If you have more than one person you can put ICE #1, and ICE #2.

Protecting Life First and Property Second Firefighters have a tough job

Learn what to do in case of a fire before the fire engines arrive
Learn what to do in case of a fire before the fire engines arrive

How to Prepare for an Evacuation and what to do if ordered to Evacuate

Evacuating during a Wildfire

Wildfires- Many people just hope it never happens to them, but sometimes it does and when it does we need to be prepared! The Fire Department recommends you get your important papers, pictures, etc. ready, back your car into the driveway and be prepared to leave if there is a wildfire near you. If you live in an area close to a Fire don't get complacent! Planes normally can't dump water at night, and you don't know what the winds will do, or which way a fire could turn.

About 20 percent of homeowners in a mandatory fire evacuation area stay put, according to a wildfire studies by the National University System Institute for Policy Research in San Diego. And of these it is mostly men who stay for various reasons. But if you wait until you see flames, it could be too late!

Please if you live in an area that is/or might be affected, Follow the directions of emergency personnel, if it is windy, the winds can shift, and firefighters have to be able to move around. The best advice is "Prepare for the worst and hope for the best!"

**Tip: Keep a few boxes available to pack personal possessions if you have to be evacuated, and have a backpack already packed with emergency supplies for you and your family, including pets.

Caution: I learned the hard way that Firefighters might not know all the new Mountain Residential areas. Why, because the county maps aren't always updated! It is up to YOU to make sure your family evacuates!

What to expect if you are asked to evacuate:

1. Evacuation orders are given when there is already a danger! Don't underestimate the danger, even if you are afraid that you might lose everything.

2. The fire could cause electrical outages, so if it's nighttime, have flashlights available for everyone.

3. What do you do if you're not at home:

Have a Pre-Determined meeting place: for family members. Make sure the family knows where to go if you are at home, or somewhere else when the order comes. Also make sure everyone knows who to call to check in. Setting up a phone tree with a friend or relative not in the area is suggested.

4. Smoke can make breathing and visibility difficult, as well as affect your eyes and throat-wear a mask, or cover your nose and mouth if smoke is that bad.

5. Firetrucks have to be able to maneuver those trucks, and get to fire hydrants, so if you live on a narrow street move your vehicles onto your property.

6. Everyone is scared, anxious for their family and property. Follow directions of all Emergency responders until you are safely out of the area..

7. An Evacuation Center is usually set up close by for those that need it.If you have no where else to go, the Evacuation Center will take your information, help you find the place for large animals, and provide a safe place for you to wait until it is safe to return to your home.

8. What do you do if you have children in school when you're told to evacuate? Schools will evacuate as a Group, and the local media will give information as to the who, what, where's of location. Don't panic! and other local stations provide information online, usually on the front page under Fires, or something similar, to get an idea of what is happening, with more detailed information that might be of value to you.

9. If you are concerned about Looters during an evacuation- Emergency Personnel secure the area, and no one that can't prove they live there is allowed in once the order is given. Some sort of pass will be given to residents (typically a colored card) that identifies you as a Resident Evacuee.

10. Animals, or pets in confined places can panic- Your pet will most likely be panicked, but there are tips to help you. Planning ahead you can ask a neighbor to evacuate your pets if you are not at home when the order comes. Also, have a bag prepared and "Keep it Current" with suggested items!

11. What can you do to ensure someone knows who to contact in case of an emergency?

ICE stands for In Case of Emergency. Good idea to put ICE in your phone as the Person to Contact's name. I put ICE#1 and ICE #2 in order of priority.

12. Close all windows and doors in the house.

13. Leave exterior lights on to help firefighters find your house through the smoke.

14. Do not leave garden sprinklers on, unless told to do so- it wastes critical water pressure.

No one wants to Evacuate and experience the anxiety of the losses that might occur while they are gone. However, possibly rummaging through the aftermath of a lost home is still a better alternative to losing a life! Be prepared! Evacuate!

Wildfires are Unpredictable-Be Prepared - Don't wait till you see flames to evacuate!

Recommended Evacuation List

Make A Checklist of IMPORTANT items you don't want to forget and put it in, or by the backpack that you should always have ready, pre-packed with essentials. Use this list, during an Evacuation for the things that haven't been packed already. Remember to have boxes stored, ready to pack with pictures, and other things you'll want to take with you.

We are not always at home when an emergency happens, so a small bag of essentials in the car is also a good idea. Depending on the type of transportation you have, will depend on how much you can take. People using Public Transportation obviously cannot take the same amount of personal items as someone that uses their own.

If your home is even near a Wildfire park your vehicle facing the street when at home. That way you can easily load it, and have the best visibility of the Street if the order comes for a Mandatory Evacuation. Also don't forget to drive with your headlights on so you will be seen though any smoke.

Designate one emergency meeting place outside the home and one outside the neighborhood where family members can all meet. And if you do have to Evacuate, here are a list of things that your Evacuation Kit or Backpack should contain.

Your Evacuation Bag should include:

1. Prescriptions, and over the counter medications you might take on a daily basis, for everyone including your pets.

2. Extra pair of Prescription or Reading Glasses

3. Copies of Important documents: tax records, bank accounts, school records,Veterinary records, insurance policies, household inventory list (with photos if you have them) shot records, passports, Green Card or Permanent Alien Card, drivers license, social security card, etc

4. ATM cards and CASH the electricity may be out, or Banks closed. Checkbooks, and CC's (at minimum a copy of a statement with your account number on it)

5. Combination flashlight, radio and cell phone charger, batteries

6. Extra chargers for phones and laptops.

7. Water-either enough to last you until you get to a Shelter, or a 3 day supply.

8. 3 day supply of Baby Food and/or Pet Food (keep current as Baby grows)

9. Can opener- manual one

10. Change of clothing and shoes for each member of the family.

11. First Aid Kit

12. Baby or Pets favorite toy and Blankie

13. Extra Collar and leash for pets with ID tag

14. Portable Feeding dishes and water dishes for pets

15. Photograph of your pet

16. Copy of phone numbers in case cell phone service dies and you can't get to your contact list. Include your Insurance Agent's number, your vet, and another for a 24 hr. Vet.

Note: These items should be packed in a Backpack ready to go at a moments notice. If you have time, grab your jewelry, photos, and other items you can safely in the time allocated.

Designate one emergency meeting place outside the home and one outside the neighborhood where family members can all meet.

What to do if the Air is full of Smoke and Debris - Middle of the Day shot of my Office during the Esperanza Fire

Fires affect us at work as well as at home. The Esperanza Fire was in the hills above my office, and it destroyed many homes as well as killed 5 Firefighters. You can tell by this photo that the air quality wasn't good. Smoke affects our breathing, and can also cause watery eyes and sore throats. If you have breathing problems, or for babies and the elderly stay inside with the Air Conditioning running. Air Quality is never good during a Wildfire.

Don't let Animals loose during a Fire

Don't let Animals loose during a Fire
Don't let Animals loose during a Fire

Evacuation Centers for Animals and Pets

The Pet Evacuation and Transportation Standards Act (PETS)

Hurricane Katerina taught us a lot about what happened to Animals and Pets during an emergency and when evacuating. It was horrible, but one good thing came out of this, a new Federal Law mandating states to include certain animals in their evacuation plans in order to receive federal funding.The Pet Evacuation and Transportation Standards Act (PETS) was passed by Congress after Hurricane Katerina, and each state must now include certain animals in their evacuation plans in order to receive federal funding.

DO NOT WAIT to prepare for evacuating your animals, as time is of the essence in a mandatory evacuation and you may have very little warning time before you must evacuate. Include these items in your Evacuation Kit.

* ID Collar

* Rabies Tag

* Pet Carrier or Cage

* Leash

* Food

* Water/Food Bowls

* Medicine

* Number for Vet, and one for a 24 hr. Vet

* Newspaper and Plastic trash bags

* Favorite toy

Remember your Pet's needs during an emergency

Remember your Pet's needs during an emergency
Remember your Pet's needs during an emergency

Evacuation Items for Pets

Reasons you should follow Mandatory Evacuations - To save lives is the number 1 reason for evacuations

When given the order for Mandatory Evacuation, you need to GET OUT! People that will not evacuate "waste valuable resources and put themselves and Fire Fighters, or other Emergency Responders at risk." Fires can change direction quickly, and losses can be devastating, we've all seen this. Structural damage is just one of the horrors of the California Wildfires. Loss of life is worse, and the reason for Evacuations.

My Google Maps

Anywhere there is brush, or trees, a Wildfire can occur. These are just a few of the more recent California Wildfires. Some had both loss of life and structures, and some were put out without any losses. But the fact is no one knows when a fire breaks out if it will be contained quickly or not. Nor do we know if the winds will kick up shifting it to another area, possibly your area. So Be Prepared!

Santa Barbara

get directions


get directions

Big Bear

get directions


get directions

Oak Glen

get directions


get directions

Los Angeles National Forest

get directions

Canyon Country

get directions

Rancho Bernardo

get directions


get directions

Shasta Lake

get directions


get directions

This information was compiled as California is once again on fire, and once again there is a large Wildfire in the hills above my own home. I hope the tips and resources were useful to you, if not to someone you know.

Wildfires can stike anywhere at anytime, being prepared is your best defense! - Comments or Questions are welcomed on this information

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    • profile image


      9 years ago

      OMG, I have to tell you, that those wildfires are surely frightening! Yesterday, we were on an all-day motor scooter ride through Florida and into Georgia and couldn't help but notice the ravages of where the wildfires had ripped through the forests. Mother Nature can surely be cruel you know?

    • luvmyludwig lm profile image

      luvmyludwig lm 

      10 years ago

      great job Kathy, Squidoo won't let me give you stars right now, but I'll be back to give them to you :)

    • drifter0658 lm profile image

      drifter0658 lm 

      10 years ago

      Gotta love this community. Wonderful resource and learning tool. Now, if we can just make a refrigerator magnet out of it.......

    • profile image


      10 years ago

      I downloaded the Photo of Esperanza Fire to take a closer look at it on my computer, and I zoomed in on this lens as much as I could to look at the circles. They distort real close up but I do believe you have captured some orbs in the photo Kathy. There are a lot of people photographing and capturing orbs on video in the CA area, even UFOs that you can see on YouTube. Thanks for the tweets on the picture.

      Have a great day! :)

    • profile image


      10 years ago

      Wow, Kathy! Develop this lens as much as you can, this is hot. I have been praying for the people in CA because of the fire. Bless your heart and I'll be thinking of you everyday.

      I'm so glad you have created a lens about this topic.


      P.S. Please, asking for prayers for Kevin Skinner's dad, Joe. He has not been well. Thanks!

    • Holley Web profile image

      Holley Web 

      10 years ago

      This is amazing! I have a friend I am very worried about there too. One of our RocketMoms. This was such a wonderfully informative lens. Thank you, Kathy!

    • profile image


      10 years ago

      What a great resource! You have obviously put a lot of work and thought into this lens. I hope your home stays safe.

    • Laniann profile image


      10 years ago

      These are very good tips and advise that everyone should follow, even if you aren't in a Wildfire zone. This information can be used for any emergency that may happen. I find just listening to the news report about the Wildfires in California very frightening. I wish something could be done to prevent them. 5*s

    • Mihaela Vrban profile image

      Mihaela Vrban 

      10 years ago from Croatia

      Excellent lens Kathy! You provide so many great tips inside! Well deserving a blessing for your work!


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