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Dangerous wildfires burning around Los Angeles have forced nearly 200,000 people to flee their homes, some with little time to prepare.
It is never too early to plan for a potential evacuation, even if you’re not in an area immediately affected by the flames. Wildfires can quickly travel great distances and move erratically — especially when driven by the wind, a Los Angeles Fire Department spokeswoman, Amy Bastman, said.
“I know it can be a scary time, but when it’s time to go, we want to make sure people have all the things they need, all the essentials,” she said. “You don’t know how long you might be away, or whether there will be a home for you to come back to.”
Here’s are some suggestions to prepare for such an emergency.
Before the fire
Make a plan. Families should set a meeting point in case they are not all together at the time of evacuation. Someone should be responsible for grabbing the emergency kit from home. Designate an out-of-area friend or contact, and let that person know that the family is evacuating, and to where. If family members are separated, or phone systems are overloaded, sending a text message to the contact might be the only way to let others know you are safe. Map at least two evacuation routes.
Prepare an emergency supply kit. Think beyond a flashlight, batteries, and food and water, Ms. Bastman said.
“It’s like imagining you’re going on a camping trip for a week,” she said. “What things would you have to take with you?”
The California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection recommends gathering a three-day supply of nonperishable food and three gallons of water per person. Also pack a change of clothes, prescription medications, and extra eyeglasses or contact lenses. If you have pets, do not forget about pet food and medication.
“In the Northern California fires, a lot of people didn’t have a pack all ready,” said Brandi Richard, public affairs officer for the Federal Emergency Management Agency. “Having those basic things that we discussed in a bag that you can just take with you really quickly is important.”
Identify irreplaceable family photos, jewelry or heirlooms, and make room for them in the evacuation kit as well.
Keep important documents together. Gather birth certificates, property titles, insurance records and other crucial paperwork. In addition to being difficult to replace, some of the documents could be needed to file claims with insurers or FEMA after the fire. Keeping a digital copy of the files, either on a hard drive in the emergency kit or available online, is also wise.
When the fire approaches
Prepare your home. If you have time, remove flammable items like wood piles, brush and propane tanks at least 30 feet away from your house. Patio furniture and umbrellas should also be placed at the same distance. Attach garden hoses to spigots to give firefighters a water source if they need it, but don’t turn the water on. Shut all windows and doors, but leave them unlocked once you evacuate, so firefighters can get in. Turn on outdoor lights so firefighters can see the house through the smoke.
Fuel up. Keep the family car topped off with gas to avoid any delays.
Go to the ATM. Cash is key after emergencies. Keep your credit cards handy, too.
Tune in to local media. There is no better source for information on evacuation orders, routes and shelters, Ms. Richard said.
“Monitoring their websites is really important, because as things come in, they’re sharing them on social media,” she said. She recommended following the emergency management agencies for Ventura and Los Angeles counties.
Once you decide to evacuate
You don’t need to wait for an order. If your home is threatened by fire and you’re able to leave, “there’s no need to wait for warnings,” Ms. Bastman said.
“History shows us that those who leave the earliest often fare the best,” she said.
That is especially true in densely populated Los Angeles, she added, where roads are jammed and firefighters have little space to move. When you decide to leave, dress in pants, long sleeves and sturdy shoes.
Grab your electronics. Cellphones, personal computers, backup hard drives and chargers should all go into the car, along with the emergency kit, personal documents, family keepsakes, cash and credit cards.
Don’t forget the pets. They will be scared.
Be smart in the car. Close your windows and use recirculated air-conditioning. Tune in to local radio to hear about safe routes, or follow those identified by the California Department of Transportation or Los Angeles Department of Transportation. (Here is the latest information on road closures.)