Van Beek: The year from hell, aka 2020
As we emerge from our homes, currently used as bunkers against the unseen enemy, COVID-19; and we are surrounded by those protesting injustice; while we watch our businesses close and annual events canceled; Mother Nature decided that we haven’t quite experienced enough … so she threw in a wildfire.
All of a sudden, out of nowhere, we found ourselves facing the largest fire we have ever experienced in the White River National Forest. Thanks to our amazing firefighters and other first responders, we averted a mass loss of homes.
However, we are not out of the theoretical woods yet. Between now and the beginning of our snow season, we still face fire danger.
As smoke fills the skies and the whiff of burning wood is not delivering the comfort it does, on a crisp winter night in front of the fireplace, our hearts race, as we wonder if the winds will shift the fire towards our home.
Living in the mountains is an amazing experience, but with it comes a degree of risk. It is important that we prepare, as much as possible, for the unexpected. While any fire is devastating, there are things we can do to mitigate its effect on our personal lives.
Beforehand, take photos of every room and all your valuables. Scan important documents to a thumb drive and upload it all to the Cloud. Some docs to include would be your driver’s license, the deed to the house, your will or trust, insurance cards, medical records and prescriptions, passports, social security cards, birth certificates, banking information, immunization records, pet vaccinations, important contacts, and anything else you consider valuable. After uploading the information, place the thumb drive in your go-bag.
Make sure each person has their own bag, preferably a backpack for ease of movement. Include, water, non-perishable food, a first-aid kit, extra medications, a flashlight, batteries, a change of clothes, a foldable rain poncho and if possible, a pair of waterproof pants, and one of those shiny survival blankets.
Place a checklist by the door. This will help you to recall the valuables you’d like to pack up (photos, jewelry, art, mementos) and necessities, like prescriptions. Investing in a fireproof safe is a consideration that may not be as expensive as you think, and certainly cheaper than losing valuables.
Ready.gov suggests also adding: battery-powered or hand-crank radio and an NOAA Weather Radio with tone alert, flashlight, first aid kit, extra batteries, whistle (to signal for help), dust mask (to help filter contaminated air), plastic sheeting and duct tape (to shelter in place), moist towelettes, garbage bags and plastic ties (for personal sanitation), wrench or pliers (to turn off utilities), sturdy gloves for handling wood and other outdoor elements, manual can opener (for food), pocket knife, and cell phone charger. A compass and map may be helpful if your phone’s GPS is out of range, and knit hat for night warmth. Bear spray would be helpful if you must be outdoors overnight, to protect against wildlife.
In addition, they recommend the following: non-prescription medications such as pain relievers, allergy medication, etc., prescription eyeglasses and contact lens solution, infant formula, bottles, diapers, wipes, pet food, cash, sleeping bag or warm blanket for each person, extra socks and sturdy shoes, fire extinguisher, matches in a waterproof container, feminine supplies and personal hygiene items, mess kits, paper cups, plates, paper towels and plastic utensils, paper and pencil, books, games, puzzles or other activities for children.
Keep a variation of this go-bag kit at home, at work, and in your car, for you never know where you might get stuck. This will require duplicates of supplies, but worth the peace of mind.
Because an evacuation may occur quickly and even in the middle of the night, always identify alternate exits and practice leaving through them, in case the fire is near your usual door. Make sure everyone, including children, knows how to unlock all doors and windows. Give children permission to break a stuck window, to escape. Keep a jacket and shoes near the bed for easy access, along with any mobility equipment for those in need.
Remember, that during times of chaos, pets often sense trouble and may hide. Looking for them takes time, so put them in the car first, with their favorite toy or bedding. If you have time, shut off your utilities, to avoid potential explosions or additional fire hazards.
Assuming that we are fortunate enough to be away from the flames, remain indoors to avoid excessive smoke inhalation. Also, remember that wildlife will be running away and scared. Keep your pets indoors and if possible, place large buckets of water at the furthest point from the house, for animals to drink. They are thirsty, frightened, and possibly injured. We can’t do much, but a bit of water may help them to survive. Keep in mind that providing food is still dangerous.
We are still in wildfire season. Mountain living requires additional safety measures and being prepared will make the difference between it being catastrophic or merely inconvenient.
For more information:
- Sign up for Eagle County alerts, maps, and updates at ECEmergency.org
- Eagle County Sheriff’s Office: 970-328-8500
- Eagle County’s Wildfire Mitigation Specialist: 970-328-8742
- Eagle River Fire Protection District: 970-748-9665
- Greater Eagle Fire Protection District: 970-328-7244
- Gypsum Fire Protection District: 970-524-7101
- Vail Fire and Emergency Services: 970-479-2250
- BLM Office, Glenwood Springs: 970-947-2800
- USFS Office, Eagle: 970-328-6388
- USFS Office, Minturn: 970-827-5715
- Basalt and Rural Fire Protection District: 970-704-0675
James van Beek is the Eagle County sheriff. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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