The two major wildfires in Washington have prompted local officials to order numerous residents to evacuate or be prepared to leave in the face of oncoming flames. Being ready to evacuate during a wildfire is a fact of life for anyone who lives in the wildfire-prone areas of our state.
Fire evacuations are aimed at saving lives and protecting the safety of residents and firefighters, as well as property; but who is responsible to issue and enforce these orders?
The answer is: local emergency managers and law enforcement officials. But these officials do not work alone. Emergency agencies across the nation — the world, in fact — have learned that managing wildfires and other disasters works best through a ‘unified command’ incident management structure in which firefighters and local safety agencies work together. Fire managers assess the weather, terrain, potential spread, and other factors about a fire to help emergency officials decide whether to advise or order evacuations (and when to lift them after the threat has passed).
Three fire evacuation alert levels that homeowners should be familiar with are:
Level 1: Residents are informed in person of the situation.
Level 2: Residents are asked to consider leaving the area, or be ready to leave at a moment’s notice. At this point, law enforcement officials may limit access back into the area.
Level 3: Fire is in the area. People are to leave immediately. Access into the area is restricted.
Here are basic preparedness questions to answer to get ready for a possible wildfire evacuation:
- Are you familiar with your community’s disaster-preparedness plans and created a family emergency plan?
- Do you have plans to care for your pets in case of an evacuation?
- Do you know where the closest police, fire and emergency medical facilities are located?
- Have you planned different escape routes from your home and neighborhood?
- Have you designated an emergency meeting place for the family to meet and an established contact point to communicate with concerned relatives?
- Do you have an emergency kit that includes: at least a three-day supply of drinking water and food that needs no refrigeration or cooking; a portable NOAA weather radio; first aid supplies and medications; basic tools, such as a wrench, a flashlight and gloves; portable lanterns and batteries; credit cards and cash?
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