Last week, Northern California saw the most devastating wildfires in recent memory. Specifically, Santa Rosa and the surrounding communities were awoken late Sunday or early Monday last week to fast approaching flames or first responders shouting orders to evacuate. My parents were among those affected. As Sunday night turned to Monday morning, my parents saw the hills around them aglow with fire and immediately sprung into action. They knew there was no time for delay. As my dad gathered items from around the house, including their two dogs, my mom gathered necessities from their closets, bathroom, and office area. They filled their two vehicles with what they could and safely made it to an area far from the flames. In the back of their mind, they thought maybe they’d return home in a few hours. But that was not to be. Their home was completely destroyed, as were thousands in their neighborhood and throughout the town.
It is a surreal feeling to have a natural disaster impact your family so significantly. We have never been through something like this and it has brought what truly matters into sharp focus. We are so blessed that my parents are safe, as there are at least 41 families in the affected areas who cannot say the same thing. We pray for them and their loved ones who were lost in this terrible tragedy.
As we’ve all talked over the last week in an attempt to process what has happened and how to move forward, I’ve been struck by some things my parents had done that made their evacuation much easier (though it was still far from easy). And as I further reflect on a summer/fall of unprecedented natural disasters such as Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, Maria, and others, I thought I would compile some ideas that I’ll be incorporating in my own home in preparation for a potential disaster or evacuation. I hope you find this information equally helpful, yet hope you never truly have a need for it.
- Keep all important paperwork together: My mom had all of our birth certificates, immunization records, their marriage license, social security cards, pink slips for vehicles, and insurance information all in a tote bag near her desk. These are all things she rarely needed, but still kept everything together. When it was time to evacuate, she knew right where these were and could grab them all at once. No searching through files or piles of paper.
- Keep medication together: My parents’ neighbors had even less time to evacuate, but the one important thing they knew they needed was prescription medication. These were all together in the bathroom and were again easy to grab at once without searching or having to go to multiple rooms to gather it all.
- Create an emergency plan: It is so important to know ahead of time where you will go in the event of an emergency or evacuation. My parents knew of a large parking lot next to a hotel that was away from flammable vegetation and far enough from the actual fire that it would be safe. But they also had a backup plan in case that area was also under evacuation orders. Because they were driving separate cars, they made sure to communicate where to go in case they became separated in traffic.
- Think about what you’d like to save before an emergency strikes: I feel like this is a common question people ask: “If the house was on fire, what would you grab?” Answers that come to my mind center around photos and sentimental items like jewelry or a special wall hanging. But in the moment, when stress and anxiety are running so high, I don’t know that those things would come to mind quickly. Or there simply may not be time to grab anything. So before an actual emergency, take some time to think about what is truly important. There may not be much besides family, and that is important to know too. Minutes are precious in any kind of emergency.
After talking with my parents throughout the week and thinking about how things are in my own home, I definitely have some work to do. Honestly, all four of our social security cards are in four different places (not quite sure where hubby’s is at the moment). My munchkin’s immunization records are online so that is helpful, but I don’t know where the pink slip is to my car, and our marriage license is in a file folder in a drawer. I’ve ordered this document file folder to keep all these important documents together.
(This is not an affiliate link; I’m just linking to the one I thought would be helpful for this purpose – not too big, different from other file folders I have so it’d be easy to spot, and keeps documents secure with the snap feature.)
I also plan on putting special photos and mementos together in a plastic tote box that will be easy to grab in an emergency. I found this one at Target that has latching handles that keep the lid in place.
My two biggest takeaways from the last week have been how humbling it has been to see the love and support shown to my parents and really our whole family by so many friends and loved ones. For that we are forever grateful. The second is how truly shocking it was that this all happened so quickly. It was probably about 3 hours from when my dad saw the first sign of fire to when their house was gone. But other families had only minutes to escape. This has all been an incredible reminder that anything can happen at any time, and that being prepared can make rebuilding and recovering much easier. That, and as long as everyone is safe, everything else can be replaced.
I would love to hear your thoughts if you’d had a similar experience or if you’d add anything to the list above. Together we can all help each other. Thank you for reading.
Photo: The Press Democrat