Red Cross says now is the time to prepare for wildfire season and evacuations

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The Red Cross is urging everyone who may be impacted by a wildfire to be prepared. (Source: 3TV/CBS 5) The Red Cross is urging everyone who may be impacted by a wildfire to be prepared. (Source: 3TV/CBS 5)
The Red Cross is expecting another busy wildfire season this year. (Source: 3TV/CBS 5) The Red Cross is expecting another busy wildfire season this year. (Source: 3TV/CBS 5)
The Red Cross says homeowners should assemble an emergency preparedness kit and create a household evacuation plan that includes your pets. (Source: 3TV/CBS 5) The Red Cross says homeowners should assemble an emergency preparedness kit and create a household evacuation plan that includes your pets. (Source: 3TV/CBS 5)

It is a story that plays out every summer in Arizona. Families are forced from their homes by a wildfire. And the Red Cross is already bracing for a busy wildfire season.

“It is wildfire season. We have had a big fire already up in Coconino County,” says Colin Williams with the American Red Cross. “We know the conditions are very dry out there. And we know there are red flag conditions, which means high winds, low humidity across a big, big part of Arizona. So we are expecting a wildfire and we are expecting a wildfire season that is going to be pretty much like last year, which is going to be busy, busy, busy.”

[READ MORE: AZ wildfires have burned more than twice as many acres compared to last year]

That is why volunteers right now are gathering supplies and preparing response plans, says Williams.

“And throughout the state, we have prepositioned trailers, that are full of these cots. We can unload a hundred cots out of there. We can unload all the comfort kits, all the paperwork, everything necessary within one hour to get that shelter stood up and ready to receive people.”

[SPECIAL SECTION: Arizona wildfires]

But if you live in a high-risk area, you can also prepare in advance. The Red Cross says homeowners should assemble an emergency preparedness kit and create a household evacuation plan that includes your pets.

“Also prepare by getting some water, getting together your medications, think about your chargers, think about your important documents,” Williams adds.

[RELATED: State conducting marketing campaign to push fire prevention]

And if a fire is burning in your area, the Red Cross says mentally prepare yourself to evacuate at a moment's notice, listen to local radio and television stations for updated emergency information and arrange for temporary housing with a friend, relative or nearby shelter and know your route to get there.

[RELATED: Gov. Ducey: Warm winter means challenging wildfire season ahead]

"Because while you can't know if fire will hit your community, you can know what it will take to stay safe," William says. “We want people to be prepared and we are prepared.”

Before A Wildfire

The Red Cross has prepared a list of things families can do to prepare.

Before a wildfire, prepare your household in advance and make sure you're Red Cross ready. That means:

  • Assembling an emergency preparedness kit.
  • Creating a household evacuation plan that includes your pets.
  • Staying informed about your community's risk and response plans.
  • Educating your family on how to use the Safe and Well website.
  • Download the Emergency App for iPhone or for Android.

Additional steps to protect your family:

  • Talk with your family about wildfire facts like how to keep them from starting and what to do if one occurs. Discussing ahead of time helps reduce fear, particularly for younger children.
  • Post emergency phone numbers by every phone in your house.
  • Ensure that every member of your family carries a Safe and Well wallet card.
  • Make sure you have access to NOAA radio broadcasts.
  • Find an online NOAA radio station.
  • Search for an NOAA radio app in the Apple Store or Google Play.
  • Purchase a battery-powered or hand-crank NOAA radio in the Red Cross Store.
  • Keep insurance policies, documents and other valuables in a safe deposit box. You may need quick, easy access to these documents.
  • Keep them in a safe place less likely to be damaged. Take pictures on a phone and keep copies of important documents and files on a flash drive that you can carry with you on your house or car keys.

Additional steps to protect your pets and animals:

  • Prepare a pet emergency kit for your companion animals.

Additional steps to protect your home:

  • Identify and maintain an adequate water source outside your home, such as a small pond, cistern, well or swimming pool.
  • Set aside household items that you can use as fire tools before emergency responders arrive like a rake, ax, hand saw or chain saw, bucket and shovel.  
  • Regularly clean roofs and gutters.
  • Keep a garden hose that is long enough to reach all areas of your home and other structures on the property.
  • Install freeze-proof exterior water outlets on at least 2 sides of your home and near other structures on the property.
  • Make sure driveway entrances and your house number or address are clearly marked so fire vehicles can get to your home.
  • Install additional outlets at least 50 feet from your home. Firefighters may be able to use them.

Right Before a Wildfire

As the Fire Approaches Your Home, if you do nothing else, make to do the following:

  1. Be ready to evacuate at a moment's notice.
  2. Listen to local radio and television stations for updated emergency information including your safest escape route.
  3. Check your emergency kit and replenish any items missing or in short supply, especially medications and medical supplies. Keep it in the car.
  4. Arrange for temporary housing at a friend or relative's home outside the threatened area. Identify nearby shelter sites and know your routes to get there.

Then, if you can, do this:

  • Back your car into the garage or park it outside in the direction of your evacuation route.
  • Confine pets to one room so you can find them if you need to evacuate quickly.
  • Limit exposure to smoke and dust.
  • Keep indoor air clean by closing windows and doors to prevent outside smoke from getting in.
  • Do not use anything that burns and adds to indoor pollution such as candles, fireplaces and gas stoves.
  • If you have asthma or another lung disease, follow your health care provider's advice. Seek medical care if your symptoms worsen.
  • Dress to protect yourself so wear cotton/woolen clothing including long sleeve shirts, long pants and gloves.

If you still have time:

  • Shut off gas meter only if advised to do so by local officials.
  • If you have a propane tank system, turn off the valves and leave them closed until the propane supplier inspects your system.
  • Open fireplace dampers and close fireplace screens. Burning embers will not be "sucked down" into a home from the outside.
  • Wet down your roof (if combustible).
  • Close windows, vents, doors, blinds, or noncombustible window coverings and heavy drapes. Remove lightweight drapes and curtains.
  • Move combustible furniture into the center of your home away from windows and sliding glass doors.
  • Close all doors and windows inside your home to prevent draft.
  • Place valuables that will not be damaged by water in a pool or pond.
  • Place sprinklers up to 50 feet away from the structures to raise the moisture level of nearby vegetation.
  • Seal attic and ground vents with pre-cut plywood or commercial seals.
  • Remove combustible items from around the home, lawn and poolside, such as furniture, umbrellas, tarp coverings and firewood.
  • Connect the garden hose to outside taps.
  • Gather fire tools (shovels, hoes and hoses) and make sure they're easy to access.
  • Be aware that water pressure will probably decrease due to heavy demand for firefighting. Water may not be available at all because electric pumps have failed or water reservoirs are drained.

During a Wildfire

How to stay safe outdoors:

  • If you are trapped, crouch in a pond, river or pool.
  • Do not put wet clothing or bandanas over your mouth or nose. Moist air causes more damage to airways than dry air at the same temperature.

If there is no body of water:

  • Look for shelter in a cleared area or among a bed of rocks.
  • Lie flat, face down, and cover your body with soil.
  • Breathe the air close to the ground to avoid scorching your lungs or inhaling smoke.

After a Wildfire

Returning home and recovering from a wildfire:

  • Do not enter your home until fire officials say it is safe.
  • Use caution when entering burned areas as hazards may still exist, including hot spots, which can flare up without warning.
  • Avoid damaged or fallen power lines, poles and downed wires.
  • Watch for ash pits and mark them for safety warn family and neighbors to keep clear of the pits also.
  • Watch animals closely and keep them under your direct control. Hidden embers and hot spots could burn your pets' paws or hooves.
  • Follow public health guidance on safe cleanup of fire ash and safe use of masks.
  • Wet debris down to minimize breathing dust particles.
  • Wear leather gloves and heavy soled shoes to protect hands and feet.
  • Cleaning products, paint, batteries and damaged fuel containers need to be disposed of properly to avoid risk.

Ensure your food and water are safe:

  • Discard any food that has been exposed to heat, smoke or soot.
  • Do NOT ever use water that you think may be contaminated to wash dishes, brush teeth, prepare food, wash hands, make ice or make baby formula.

Inspecting your home:

  • If there is no power, check to make sure the main breaker is on. Fires may cause breakers to trip. If the breakers are on and power is still not present, contact the utility company.
  • Inspect the roof immediately and extinguish any sparks or embers. Wildfires may have left burning embers that could reignite.
  • For several hours afterward, recheck for smoke and sparks throughout the home, including the attic. The winds of wildfires can blow burning embers. Keep checking your home for embers that could cause fires.
  • Take precautions while cleaning your property. You may be exposed to potential health risks from hazardous materials.
  • Debris should be wetted down to minimize health impacts from breathing dust particles.
  • Use a two-strap dust particulate mask with nose clip and coveralls for the best minimal protection.
  • Wear leather gloves to protect hands from sharp objects while removing debris.
  • Wear rubber gloves when working with outhouse remnants, plumbing fixtures and sewer piping. They can contain high levels of bacteria.
  • Hazardous materials such as kitchen and bathroom cleaning products, paint, batteries, contaminated fuel and damaged fuel containers need to be properly handled to avoid risk. Check with local authorities for hazardous disposal assistance.
  • If you have a propane tank system, contact a propane supplier. Turn off valves on the system, and leave valves closed until the supplier inspects your system.
  • If you have a heating oil tank system, contact a heating oil supplier for an inspection of your system before using.
  • Visually check the stability of the trees. Any tree that has been weakened by fire may be a hazard.
  • Look for burns on the tree trunk. If the bark on the trunk has been burned off or scorched by very high temperatures completely around the circumference, the tree will not survive and should be considered unstable.
  • Look for burnt roots by probing the ground with a rod around the base of the tree and several feet away from the base. If the roots have been burned, you should consider this tree very unstable.
  • A scorched tree is one that has lost part or all of its leaves or needles. Healthy deciduous trees are resilient and may produce new branches and leaves as well as sprouts at the base of the tree. Evergreen trees may survive when partially scorched but are at risk for bark beetle attacks.

Let your family know you're safe

  • If your community has experienced a disaster, register on the American Red Cross Safe and Well website to let your family and friends know you are safe.

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