Evacuations – who’s in charge of them, and how do you know what to do?

Wildfire evacuations are aimed at saving lives and protecting the safety of residents and firefighters alike, but who is responsible for issuing and enforcing these orders?

Local emergency managers and law enforcement officials ultimately make the final call on evacuations, but these officials do not work alone. Fire managers assess the weather, terrain, potential spread and other factors about a fire to help emergency officials decide whether to recommend 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 (Be alert) – Residents are informed in person of the situation.
• Level 2 (Be ready) – Residents are asked to consider leaving the area, or to be ready to leave at a moment’s notice. At this point, law enforcement officials may limit access back into the area.
• Level 3 (Leave, evacuate now) – Fire is in the area. People are to leave immediately. Access to the area is restricted.

What do you do if you are unsure about evacuating and haven’t heard anything? The best thing you can do is to already be prepared, and call your local sheriff or law enforcement to ask.

Here are basic questions to prepare for a possible wildfire evacuation:

• Are you familiar with your community’s disaster-preparedness plans, and have you 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 congregate 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?

To contact your county’s emergency management, go to https://www.dnr.wa.gov/Wildfires and scroll down to Local Emergency Management Contacts.

For basic steps on wildfire awareness, go to the Ready, Set, Go website.