How To Get Your Stuff Together For A Wildfire

Wildfire Preparation Guide              Wildfire Checklist

Fire Guide                                        Fire Recovery

The chaos of that moment is overwhelming. The moment a firefighter knocks at the door or the flames of a wildfire near, resident's stress and the questions take over. What should I take, where will I go and if the worst happens, how will I go on? And no one knows that better than the 36,000 people who had to evacuate their Colorado Springs neighborhoods this summer. That's why it's SO important to have an evacuation plan before a wildfire strikes. That way you don't have to answer those questions while you're on your way out the door.


So what’s the best way to prepare for a wildfire?

Even though you might not technically live in a disaster zone or directly in the path of an approaching wildfire, it doesn’t hurt to have the things that are important to you, ready to go. As we tell our customers (and practice ourselves), you have to keep your vital information, documents and keepsakes backed up to at least three different locations and your emergency bin packed ready to go at a moment’s notice. That way if you suddenly have to evacuate, those things will already be taken care of. It’s just one more thing you won’t have to worry about doing at the last minute or doing without, later.

The hardest part about a flood is that they’re so hard to predict. Like our friends in Cranston and Minot, floods were predicted giving some residents time to gather up their belongings and evacuate. But the floodwaters became a deluge, striking unexpected areas. One important take-away from these disasters is the importance of staying aware and using evacuation warnings to get your own stuff together even if the homes on your particular street aren’t in immediate danger. Another is to heed warnings when their given. Stubbornly staying behind because they can “handle it” has gotten thousands of people killed. And another lesson is to always have flood insurance.

So how do you prepare for a wildfire? As we tell our clients, we always follow the Three Step Approach.

The First Step, is to make sure that you have your disaster survival gear and know how to secure your home and personal safety when a wildfire strikes.

The Second Step, is to make sure that you’re able to grab everything you need – necessities, keepsakes, vital information – and leave for a safer location, in less than ten minutes. It’s a lot easier than it sounds. All you need is to do is to take the necessary steps now, to ensure you have access to all the items and information that will help you get back to living your normal life, as quickly and easily as possible. You'll also want to make sure that the things that are most vital to you -- your important papers, financial and insurance information, treasured photos, videos and music and scannable keepsakes are backed up onto a portable hard drive and stored in a safe deposit box or safe, in the town where you will go during evacuation. That way it will be safe, sound and waiting for you when you arrive.

The Third Step is to make sure that you have a pre-written plan of what you’ll do and where you’ll go when a disaster strikes, including a plan for how you’ll get back to your normal life, once the disaster is over.

If you live in an area of the country prone to fires, you absolutely need an Evacuation Plan and a Get Back To Life Plan. If you don’t know the evacuation routes in your area, call your local fire department for this information way before flood season. And while you’re at it, make sure you also ask them where the emergency shelters are in your area in case you suddenly need one. You always need to know where you’re going and what you and your family would do if your area becomes uninhabitable. If necessary make a plan with other relatives or neighbors to evacuate together and share transportation and costs.

Even if the wildfire doesn’t reach your home, your neighborhood and city might still without power or basic city services for a few days. Telephone and/or cell service could also be down. That not only means you won’t have light, but you also won’t have power for computers or televisions and radios. Grocery and drug stores won’t be able to ring up purchases, ATMs won’t work, garage door openers might not function. Name any tool or convenience we rely on in this world and chances are it’s powered by electricity.

So your first defense is making sure that you always have an alternative source of power, battery powered flashlights, extra cash, a supply of canned or frozen food that doesn’t need to be cooked to be eaten, and the all-important supply of water – enough to last you and everyone in your family for three days. Since your home or neighborhood might have significant damage, keep rubber-soled shoes, a warm jacket and other emergency gear within reach of your bed or right inside your closet. Rubber soled shoes will protect your feet from the broken glass and rocks that will probably be strewn everywhere.

We aren’t going to get into the details of how to turn off your gas, when to boil water or a list of items to have on hand for a wildfire, because there are literally hundreds of sources for that information, including a few of our favorite guides and manuals below:

Wildfire Preparation Guide    Wildfire Checklist    Fire Guide    Fire Recovery

We also wanted to include a link to a poignant article in the Chicago Tribune about a reporter's struggle to rebuild his own life after a fire.

You should also create or update your evacuation checklist, detailing the items that you and your family would need if you were unable to live in your home for three or more days. This includes all of your necessities, prescriptions, vital documents (or access to them on portable hard drives, online or in out of area safe deposit boxes), keepsakes, personal and professional contacts, ID and basic medical history and anything else that your family will need while evacuated.

We want you to think about something.

Think about the coverage of the last few wildfires and floods you saw on CNN. Remember the faces of the people in the midst of the disaster?

They looked shell-shocked, terrified, lost. Most of those people, were at least moderately prepared for a disaster. Those in wildfire country most likely had stockpiled some food and water, those in hurricane country might even have evacuated and done everything their local news and emergency authorities told them to do. And yet, after the disaster, they were standing there, scared and helpless, because their homes, the people they loved, and basically their entire lives have been destroyed to the point that their own existence was now unrecognizable. All of those people, rich and poor, young and old — they all had one thing in common. They had NO idea where to go and what to do from here.

And THAT – knowing what to do and where to go after the disaster, is step three. The most important step of all.

Facing a disaster without giving yourself a plan to recover from it, is like trying to build a house with no blueprint and no tools!

Having two plans can make all the difference in getting you through those first few days and weeks after a disaster strikes.

What are the plans? They are the Ready In 10 Evacuation Plan and the Get Back To Life Plan — the same plans that we’ve built into our Ready In 10 System. You’ll find all of them in our new book Get Your Stuff Together.

The evacuation plan is pretty simple. It all comes from one question… If you were at home or at work and suddenly had to evacuate your home, or your general area, where would you go?

As you think about the locations you’ll use for your evacuation, consider, the people traveling with you, how you’ll get there (car, bus, plane), any pets traveling with you and whether those locations will actually work for you – for instance are they close to stores or services your family might need, like pharmacies, clothing, banks and doctors.

We suggest that people have three different locations in mind, to give you different types of locations and choices depending on the circumstances. As you create your plan, write everything down in detail. If you have to use this plan, you and the people you love are probably going to be in panic mode and following an easy to understand plan, will help calm and focus you.

Write down the people who will be traveling with you, and any special instructions you’ll need to gather everyone together, in case a disaster or emergency occurs while you’re all away from home. Name the location that you and your family will use to meet up with each other and the location you will be evacuating to, if you cannot live in your home, but your immediate area is still safe. Include the address of the location, contact phone, email address and directions.

Next choose a location (writing down the details, address and contact information) that your family will use if you not only need to evacuate your home, but your immediate area or city. This might happen during a moderate hurricane or a tornado. Your third location is out of state, for a serious, widely destructive emergency like the Japan or Chile Earthquake, Hurricane Katrina, the Colorado Wildfires, or other disaster that will make your entire region uninhabitable.

You will also include these locations on your emergency wallet card and your family’s wallet cards. Now, no matter what the disaster, even a fire or local emergency, you and your family will now know where and how to gather, and who will be responsible for what, so you can quickly reunite and travel on to your emergency location together. If you like, you can also give a card to the person you chose to be your out-of-area contact as well.

Will you have any pets traveling with you? Be sure to fill out the pet section, so that you will have all the information you need for them, like the name and numbers for the veterinarian, their licenses, and names/numbers of kennels in the location you are evacuating to and any prescriptions or special instructions you’ll need until you return home.

Your Get Back To Life Plan

The worst part of any disaster, short of losing a loved one, is the possibility that the home you love and care for and everything in it would be damaged beyond repair. That is what your Get Back To Life Plan is all about.

Imagine that you and your family have survived the fire, but had to leave your area because it is uninhabitable.

You’re in your evacuation location two days after the fires subside. The phone rings. It’s a good friend of yours, who has just toured your neighborhood and is calling to tell you that your home is badly damaged and he doubts that you will be able to live in it for several months, if ever again.

After you and your family hold each other for a while and talk, you finally feel strong enough to open your Ready In 10 Notebook. There you find your Get Back To Life Plan and begin making calls to your insurance agent, your contractor and your boss. You call the local real estate agent in your evacuation city and ask her to begin looking for temporary housing, register your children in the local school, and begin calling the contacts you need (that you jotted down just in case), to help you settle in. Getting settled is easier than you thought, since you have copies of all of the vital documents you need, like your birth certificates and property deeds in a safe deposit box at the local bank. It takes some time, but with hard work and a lot of courage, you and your family are back to living in a matter of weeks.

Now imagine the same scenario, the same phone call, holding your family, talking and then realizing that you have no plan and no clue how to get back to living your life. It’s CNN coverage all over again. The best part of this little scenario is that it hasn’t happened to you and that you have time right now, to make sure no matter what ever occurs in your area, you and your family will be prepared.

If you don’t have a copy of our actual Get Back To Life Plan from our book Get Your Stuff Together, grab a piece of paper.

Take a few minutes to think about the following questions:

  • How will we handle our bank accounts, paying our monthly bills and receiving our paychecks? How much emergency cash do we need to have, while traveling?
  • What are our credit card limits and toll free numbers for emergency increases?
  • How will we work? Will we work remotely or have to look for new positions? What people or contacts can we call about temporary or permanent jobs?
  • How will we handle our medical, dental and prescription needs while in the new location? What doctors and dentists can we use while there?
  • How long can we stay in our evacuation location? If we need to remain evacuated longer, where will we go/stay? Who will our real estate contacts be, if we need to find new permanent or temporary housing?
  • How are we going to secure the property or vehicles we had to leave behind?
  • How will we take care of our pets, during the evacuation and until we find new permanent housing?
  • How will we handle our transportation needs? What contacts will we need to purchase or lease vehicles?
  • How will we handle our daycare needs? How will we handle getting our children into school if necessary? What schools or contacts will we need, to enroll them in a new school in a temporary or new location?
  • How will we handle any special needs in our family?

Once you’ve answered the questions, get your family together to work out any potential problems you have uncovered and then draft your plan. And don’t forget to compile a list of real estate agents, financial contacts and jobs, schools, doctors and other professionals or information that you might need to establish yourself in the new city temporarily or permanently.

Starting over is never easy, especially when it happens because of a disaster or other life changing emergency. But taking a few hours now to think through and draft a plan, will give you and your family the direction, information and support that you need, to get through not only the first hours and days after a disaster, but the first steps back to living the life you’ve worked so hard to build.

Are you ready to TAKE ACTION?

"Ready In 10" and our latest book "Get Your Stuff Together" come with all of the Grab It and Go Forms, Action Plans and Checklists we mentioned, plus a lot more. They’re not only inside the book so you can fill them in by hand, but you can also download a copy of all the forms, so you can fill them in on your computer. That way you can change them, save them, print them, reprint them and store them on a portable flash drive or in the cloud for easy retrieval whenever you want, wherever you are.

Ten steps, ten minutes.   So what are you waiting for? Do yourself a favor.   Get one for yourself, get one for your best friend and get one for the people you love. 

Have Fun Getting Your Stuff Together! We'll talk later -- Laura and Jan


"How To Get Your Stuff Together For A Wildfire" is just one of the tools and resources you'll find in our latest book “Get Your Stuff Together,” now available on for $24.99. Over 200 pages packed with the info you and your family need to keep everything that's important to you -- photos, music, videos, data and keepsakes -- safe from life's little and not so little emergencies. Pick up your copy today.





Laura and Janet Greenwald, are the founders of The Next of Kin Education Project and Stuf Productions.  The mother & daughter team were not only instrumental in enacting three Next of Kin Laws in California and Illinois, but created the Seven Steps to Successful Notification System, which teaches quick, easy, next of kin notification skills for trauma patients to hospitals like Dallas’ Methodist Medical Center. 



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