Fire Evacuation List

I wrote this last year but the topic is so dreary that I never want to post it. However, it’s November and California is on fire again and I guess just will normally be from now on so this dreary stuff is important. We suffered the deadliest fire in our state’s history last week up North and many further evacuations in parts of Southern California are expected still today. Here are ways to help the victims of these fires. If you live in California and can temporarily offer your home/room in your home for evacuees and emergency workers see Airbnb here for Northern CA and here for Southern CA. Please remember that with most natural disaster, monetary donations are much more helpful than piles of physical stuff, something disaster workers often call “the second disaster.” 

Today I’m sharing our family’s fire evacuation list. I’ve always been a planning/prepared type but having kids turned me into an anxious, survivalist piece of work. It’s a fine line to walk between alarmist and realist and I try to do my best. So not long after we moved back to California, I made a list of things to grab if ever we had to evacuate not really thinking we’d ever need it. Though wildfire is a very real possibility in our neighborhood, this evacuation list was more of a just in case thing to ease my anxiety. The crazy thing is that last year I actually had to use the list. And I witnessed the horror of a deadly residential fire in our neighborhood. And now, several times a year, we are seeing community-leveling fatal fires, making this a very grim reality for people living in the Western US.

I was in the Target parking lot across town when I noticed a ton of smoke coming from the hills where we live, looking like the exact location of our house. My family was not home, but our dog was and I was hysterical by the time I arrived in my neighborhood, not knowing if our house was in flames and, more importantly, if our dog was ok. Thankfully he was but a home only 3 up from us was consumed with flames. I don’t want to go into details but we lost our neighbor in the fire, though we didn’t know anyone was in the home at the time. Heartbreaking and surreal doesn’t begin to describe it.

The fire kept reigniting and easily it could have jumped with a just a shift in winds, the preceding days being some of the windiest in memory. Our neighborhood is nestled into beautiful but scary brush covered flammable hills. We didn’t end up needing to leave, but for sometime evacuation was a possibility. Everyone, firefighters included, had the tragic Northern CA fires of the weeks before on our minds. The general mindset of neighbors was the same…screw possessions, we’re taking our families and pets and getting the hell out if need be. I wasn’t the only one packing a bag.

With fires, or any kind of disaster, minutes can really count so there’s no time for brain fog. I was pretty panicked and having a physical and personalized evacuation list (not googling last minute) was extremely helpful, comforting, and efficient.

A neighbor had mentioned that she separates her list into time categories, and I adopted that brilliant idea. If you have 5 minutes, you grab a, b, c and if you have 15 minutes, you also grab d, e, and f. The list is prioritized so you pack and prep what can in the time you have.

It goes without saying, if you have less than 5 minutes, you load your family into the car and drive. The massive death tolls of recent fires in heavily populated areas has been such a wake up call. Possessions mean nothing compared to your life so leave!

If you do have a few minutes to gather some possessions, load your kids and pets into your car and then back it into your driveway while you load, KEYS IN IGNITION. That way, if things deteriorate quickly, you are ready to roll.

I keep our list taped to the inside door of a cabinet at our kitchen desk. That is our home’s center of operations, so it’s convenient. Our list is very primitive, just scribbles on a tattered paper, but it does the job. (And, no, my list doesn’t contain even one vintage lamp!)Here’s what our evacuation list looks like:

* the asterisked items are action steps to ready your home in an evacuation to make it easier and safer for firefighters to protect your home. They vary between households and this list is a great reference to help identify the ones that apply to your house. 


5 minutes

  • keys
  • wallet/purse
  • cell phones/chargers
  • cash
  • shoes
  • jackets
  • glasses (we’re blind over here)
  • any medications needed
  • leash
  • dog food
  • dog bowl
  • hard drive (photo storage)
  • important documents (all stored in one place!)
  • water jug


15 minutes

all of the above plus…

  • get dressed – including pants and tennis shoes
  • a change of clothes for everybody (pants, shirt, jacket, underwear, socks, shoes #2)
  • baby books
  • photo albums
  • cameras
  • sleeping bags
  • canned food and can opener
  • water jugs
  • *check on neighbors! – especially if you have older neighbors with limited mobility
  • *turn on exterior lights (makes it more visible to firefighters in dark/smoke)
  • *shut all windows and doors, leave UNLOCKED


30 minutes

all of the above plus…

  • clothes for everybody for a few days
  • toiletries for everybody for a few days
  • pillows
  • optional, depending on the situation….camping gear, lantern, radio, batteries
  • stuffed animals or a special toy for kids
  • computer
  • *turn on interior lights in each area of your home (again, to aid in visibility)
  • *open window treatments all the way (curtains, blinds, etc)
  • *bring flammable items from outside indoors (patio furniture, toys, doormats, trash)
  • *connect all garden hoses (better yet always have them all connected!)
  • *fill trash cans/buckets with water around home for firefighters


1 hour

all of the above plus…

  • more sentimental stuff (baby clothes, husband’s guitar, etc.)
  • toys, books for keeping kids occupied
  • *shut off gas
  • *move BBQ away from home
  • *place a ladder at corner of house for firefighter roof access
  • *remove flammable window coverings (for us, curtains and bamboo shades)
  • *disconnect electric garage door and close it
  • *flood roof and exterior of home with water
  • *move flammable furniture away from interior walls to center of rooms
  • *fill sinks/baths/tubs with water


A few more random things to keep in mind:

– In the heartbreaking scenario that you can’t take your pets/animals with you: DO NOT RESTRAIN THEM IN ANY WAY. Their best chance for survival is to use their animal instincts to flee. I’m in tears writing that but loving animal owners have had to make this call in recent days.

– I try to keep a stocked and updated first aid kit and flashlight in our family car as well as a couple emergency gallons of water, though we often end up using it for non-emergency times and I forget to restock.

– The minimalist in me thinks the amount of hoses we own and have hoked up on every side of our property is so ridiculous, but I will NEVER AGAIN complain about them and now proudly keep them connected and ready to flow. Residents within feet of our neighborhood fire fully utilized their ready to go hoses and believe that stash saved their home. I enthusiastically joined the more-hoses-than-you-think-you-need-and-they-are-always-connected club and all Californians should too!

– For insurance purposes, it can be very helpful to have the contents of your home documented in the unfortunate event that you lose it all. Yearly, I used to quickly walk through our house recording a video while I opened every drawer, cabinet and closet. It takes only a few minutes and you’d be surprised by what you forget you have. (Admittedly, I’ve slacked on that since I started documenting every house update, vintage furniture acquisition, etc on the internet…)


I hope none of us ever have to use any of this information, but the realist in me knows that’s unlikely. Please, please be prepared for the inevitable. Sending so much love to all the people impacted by these fires. And infinite thanks to the superhero firefighters and first responders who are battling blazes and saving lives. I’m heartbroken that my home state is up in flames again. Love you California. Stay safe everybody.


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