Emergency Preparedness

Since September 6, 2010, more than 6,100 acres in Fourmile Canyon, outside Boulder, have been charred in a wildfire. At least 166 homes have been destroyed, and several other non-residential structures have burned to the ground. A second wildfire started near Loveland on September 12, and approximately 710 acres have already been lost in that one. Events like this remind us of the awesome power of nature, and our inability to control it, try as we might. No matter what precautions we take or how careful we are, there is still only so much we can do to avoid disaster like these tragic fires. In fact, the Fourmile Canyon fire illustrates that point perfectly — because it was started by a 20-year veteran of the Fourmile Fire Department.

The man, whose name has not been released, made a controlled fire in a fire pit on his property sometime before September 6. Afterward, he doused the pit with water, and stirred the ashes to put out the fire, which is exactly the procedure to follow. He did everything right. But then it got windy. The wind gusts reignited the remaining embers, and blew them out of the pit, starting the wildfire that is now being called one of the worst in Colorado history. Add to this that there has been little rain in the area since the end of July. The dry grass easily caught fire, and the fire quickly got out of control. Sadly, the firefighter also lost his home in the resulting fire.

Wildfires are one of the most common natural disasters that can occur in Colorado. The wide open spaces full of tall grasses, combined with long periods of warm, dry weather and wind make the area prime for burning. You may not be able to stop a Colorado wildfire, or any other natural disaster that may put you and your loved ones in danger. But there are some things you can do now to protect your family, your pets, and your home.

Follow instructions

First and foremost, if a wildfire begins to encroach upon your neighborhood and you are ordered to evacuate, don’t hesitate. Get out. Don’t try to pack suitcases, water down your lawn or your house, or make calls to family and friends to let them know what’s happening. By the time an evacuation order is given, the danger is immediate, and there is little time to do anything but clear the area. Once out of your home, follow the instructions of police and other authorities to get to safety.

Protect important documents

That said, you can have a plan in place in case you ever do need to evacuate. Keep important documents such as birth certificates, passports, marriage licenses, car titles, and other similar papers in a small, easily portable, fireproof safe. Then keep the safe easily accessible, in a hall closet, for example. This way, if you are ordered to evacuate, you can grab the safe on your way out the door, and not have to worry about replacing all your important papers later on.

In addition, if you don’t have time to grab the safe, or you forget to take it with you, your papers may still be salvageable, even if your house does get caught in the path of the blaze. Just remember to keep the safe locked at all times, not only for security reasons, but if your house does catch fire and the safe falls or is hit by falling objects and it’s not locked, the lid can easily come open, thereby destroying all your papers anyway.

Be ready to evacuate your pets too

No one wants to leave a beloved family pet behind in a disaster. It was well documented during Hurricane Katrina that people who were not allowed to bring their pets with them on evacuation buses suffered higher rates of depression and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). While some pets were later rescued and either reunited with their owners or adopted by other people, many more succumbed to the ensuing floods, or died of starvation. You can take steps to ensure your pet isn’t left behind to perish in a disaster.

Keep your pets’ crates or travel carriers in a place where you can get to them quickly, like the garage. If they’re in the attic, or stored under a bunch of boxes in the basement, you won’t have time to get to them. If they’re not accessible, or they won’t fit in the car with your family, make sure you have leashes on hand, even for cats. It’s not a bad idea to keep one extra leash per pet in the car in case of emergencies. Keep collars on your pets, and make sure they have ID tags in addition to any licenses or current rabies certificates. Keep the ID tag updated if you move or change your phone number.

There’s a chance an evacuation order can come when you’re away from your home, and you may not be able to get back to your house to get your pets out. The ASPCA provides a free pet safety pack that includes a window decal that informs firefighters and police that there are pets inside the home so they can be retrieved. There’s no guarantee rescue personnel will be able to do this if their hands are full getting people out of harm’s way, or if a fire or other disaster makes it impossible to enter the home, but it will increase the chances of your pet being rescued if you’re not home to evacuate them with you.

Get the right insurance

It may surprise you to learn that not all homeowner’s insurance includes fire coverage. If your homeowner’s policy doesn’t include coverage for fire, ask your insurance agent whether it can be added. If your insurance provider won’t cover your home for fire at all, shop around and find one that will. You may have to pay a higher premium, or even an additional premium for a separate fire policy, but it will be worth it should your home ever end up in the path of an out-of-control wildfire.

It may be difficult to imagine ever being affected by a tragedy like the Fourmile Canyon and Loveland wildfires, but a little planning and foresight now can go a long way toward mitigating the effects of such a disaster.