Wildfire Evacuation Tips

 Posted by on 26 June 2012 at 10:30 pm  Colorado, Emergencies, Wildfires
Jun 262012

Waldo Canyon FireBack in April, my neighborhood riding club hosted an excellent presentation by Fran Santagata of the Douglas County Sheriff’s Office on emergency preparedness, particularly for wildfires. I’ve been through two major fires before, so I thought that I was pretty well-informed. To my surprise, I learned far more than expected.

Given the numerous wildfires currently burning along Colorado’s Front Range, I thought I’d post my notes from the presentation. I didn’t take notes on everything, just on points that I found particularly important or that I didn’t already know. Those notes are below.

We’re living in a damned tinderbox here in Colorado right now. It’s dry as a bone, terribly hot, and often terribly windy. The conditions are the worst possible.

At present, none of the fires threaten Paul and me. They’ve all been an hour north or south, but something could blow up in our neighborhood in very short order. (Our neighborhood isn’t forested, but we have lots of scrub oak.) Paul and I are busy making evacuation preparations, now that we’ve returned from Los Angeles. The risk is so high, and we might have just a few moments to pack up ourselves and our beasts.

Make a Plan

  • Create a 72-hour kit
  • Identify valuables to take
  • Develop a communication plan for your family
  • Select a default meeting place for your family
  • Figure out where to stay if you’re evacuated
  • Find hotels that accept pets

Prepare Your House

  • Create breaks in the vegetation, so that the home can be defended
  • Identify and address potential combustibles, including firewood, decks, and gutters
  • Ask your local fire department to inspect your property
  • Beware of the “ladder fuels” from small bushes to trees to the house
  • Add a flag to identify the location of the septic tank

When a Fire Hits

  • 1pm to 5 pm is the prime fire danger time
  • Close your windows and doors
  • Remove your drapes
  • Leave the water hoses hooked up
  • Open your driveway gates: give emergency vehicles access
  • Leave a note on the door (and gate) with contact information


  • Sign up to your county sheriff’s alert notification system
  • Follow your local news and sheriff on Facebook and Twitter
  • Be sure to have a phone that doesn’t require power, preferably in the bedroom
  • Call 911 if you see or smell smoke
  • Use a NOAA radio

Route Selection

  • Listen to the directions in the notification carefully
  • Know the alternate routes out of your neighborhood, including emergency access roads
  • Know where the shelters will be for humans and animals (e.g. fairgrounds)

What To Take

  • Humans and animals first — everything else can be replaced
  • Heirlooms, mementos, photos, computers, important papers
  • Clothes, toiletries, medications
  • Food and medications for your animals

Be Safe

  • Drive slowly! Think clearly! Be observant!
  • Don’t stop to take pictures
  • Beware of firefighters, wildlife, pets, falling trees, and more


  • Evacuations might be done in stages — or not
  • Follow the instructions of law enforcement on the ground
  • The shelter will be a good source of up-to-date information
  • Do not lock the house, if you’re comfortable with that: firefighters and law enforcement might need access, including to save their own lives

Returning Home

  • Expect some psychological trauma

Other Tasks

  • Take pictures of the house and stuff for insurance
  • Find ways to identify your animals (e.g brand or microchip)
  • If you have special needs, get registered on the special needs registry
  • Do no rely on the county to transport your animals (e.g. horses)
  • Identify multiple backup plans
  • Check insurance for wildfire protection

If you have any additional tips, please post them in the comments!

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Victor-Panzica/1426281712 Victor Panzica

    Make sure you have all of your cell phones, cell phone chargers and 12volt cables for the car. Ditto your laptop, tablets etc. This is a handy product, a 12volt car jumper battery which also can power any 12volt device that has the car cigarette lighter adapter. I used it during a power blackout to keep the cell phone charged. http://www.walmart.com/ip/Schumacher-Instant-Power-Jump-Starter/13005739

  • Pingback: Colorado Fire Threatens Air Force Academy()

  • Kirsten

    Much appreciated and helpful post – I am one of the lucky and unlucky ones that happen to live in a charming little cabin surrounded by the accumulation of 100 years of pine cones. I have been scratching my head for the past few weeks wondering if I should make any precautionary plans or move a few irreplaceable items.

  • William H Stoddard

    I hope you and Paul remain safe through this. We’ve been through two large fires here in San Diego in the past decade, in one of which friends of ours lost their house. We weren’t personally endangered, but we did need to stay indoors nearly constantly, as the level of smoke in the air made breathing hazardous outdoors. And of course fire is hard to predict, so we were under continuing tension. I sympathize with the people in your state who are going through the same thing now, or worse.

  • Elisheva Hannah Levin

    2013: From our own experience with the Wallow Fire–evacuate your horses well before the evacuation comes. Make some plans identifying specific triggers based on predicted fire behavior. For example, we evacuated our horses the day before US Highway 60 was closed, based on the fact that the fire made a run up Escudillo Mt. We knew that Round Valley would be evacuated the next day unless a miracle happened, and one did not. So we had our horses safely to the Rio Grande and were able to help others on their evacuation day.

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