Originally Published: June 17, 2016 6 a.m.
Like everyone else, I am heart-sick about the fire striking Yarnell for the second time in three years. At this writing the fire was 40 percent contained, and let us all hope the flames are extinguished safely and quickly.
Having lived in places surrounded by forests for much of my life, I am always concerned about fire safety. As a matter of course, I have also learned to make sure my home and loved ones are safe at all times. Unfortunately, fire may strike at any time. Arizona is indeed tinder-dry, meaning everyone should be taking precautions about what to do in case of such an emergency. Taking action after receiving evacuation orders is not the time to carry out such precautions. The time is now.
Let us start with those signs posted in our neighborhoods, encouraging everyone to create defensible space around their homes. They aren’t just there for decoration, you know. When I lived in Mountain Club it was downright scary to see pine boughs languishing directly over the roofs of stick-built houses. Yes, pine trees are beautiful. No, they don’t belong within fire-reach of your beautiful home. Cut down trees, clear deadfall and keep your yard clear of pine needles and other flammable materials.
In 2002, I lived just a few miles from Colorado’s disastrous Hayman Fire—one of the largest in the state’s history. My house was perched on a steep hill and surrounded by forest, and I had already been advised that should it catch fire, the terrain would be too steep to worry about putting it out. Thus with the elevated fire danger that entire summer, I actually took my most prized possessions to a storage unit. Better to not see my beloved belongings for awhile than to chance seeing them burned to a crisp.
Also, I keep what survivalists call a “Bug-Out Bag.” This is a backpack containing copies of necessary house, insurance and identification documents (the originals of which are kept in a safety deposit box), also medications, toiletries, CDs containing copies of my work and prized family photos, and emergency cash. I keep the bag close to my front door, and take it on the road with me when I am away from home.
I also keep other items close to the front door since it is most likely my exit if a fire breaks out. These include my most prized family heirlooms which are situated to fit in with my decor. I keep a small sign taped to the closest window. It is red, with big words reading “PETS INSIDE.” My pets are listed on the sign, along with the tip that our dog will bark if present. I also keep pet carriers close by, for easy transportation should we have to leave. My pets are my kids; your human children should be rehearsed on what to do and how to escape.
What if you receive evacuation orders, or your home catches on fire while you are in it? The best advice is to remember the tips we were taught growing up: first get everyone out safely, including your pets. Do not go back inside if there is smoke or flames. Have a mutual meeting place in case family members get separated. If you are inside and there is smoke, stay low to the floor and find the nearest exit. If you are trapped in a room, close the door and stuff cloth or newspaper around the cracks to prevent smoke inhalation. Do not open the door if it is warm. If your clothes catch on fire, stop, drop and roll.
Let’s hope these tips have not scared you to death, but also that you take them to heart. Please have a safe, healthy and happy summer.