Princeton Capital Blog

Wildfires, House Fires, and Blizzards, Oh My! – Disaster Planning Part 3

November 27th, 2012

Wildfires, House Fires, and Blizzards, Oh My!

Welcome to the 3rd part of our series on disaster planning and survival. Today, we’re going to talk in depth about wildfires, house fires, winter storms and blizzards.

You should prepare as best you can, but we’ll look at how to survive, and how to survive the aftermath.


The most important way to prepare for a wildfire is to know your evacuation routes, and plan for what you will take if you only have five or ten minutes to get out.  Also, create a video of everything in  your home and keep it in a safe place in case of a total loss.

Additionally, you should have a 30 foot safety zone around your home.  (from WikiHow which has additional suggestions)

  • Remove vines from the walls of the house.
  • Move shrubs and other landscaping away from the sides of the house.
  • Prune branches and shrubs within 15 feet of chimneys and stove pipes.
  • Remove tree limbs within 15 feet of the ground.
  • Thin a 15-foot space between tree crowns.
  • Replace highly flammable vegetation such as pine, eucalyptus, junipers and fir trees with lower growing, less flammable species. Check with your local fire department or garden store for suggestions.
  • Replace vegetation that has living or dead branches from the ground-level up (these act as ladder fuels for the approaching fire).
  • Cut the lawn often keeping the grass at a maximum of 2 inches. Watch grass and other vegetation near the driveway, a source of ignition from automobile exhaust systems.
  • Clear the area of leaves, brush, evergreen cones, dead limbs and fallen trees.

Additional Resources for preparing:

So, if a wildfire is happening but you haven’t been evacuated yet, gather up all of your pets into one room for easier evacuation.  Back your car in so you can toss everything into the back and drive off quickly.  And finally, figure out where you’ll stay if you are evacuated.  Put on protective clothes: sturdy shoes, cotton or woolen clothing ensuring it’s a long sleeved shirt, and have something like a kerchief to cover your face.
If it’s really close but you’ve not been officially evacuated yet, shut off all utilities including bottled gas, open your fireplace damper, close your fireplace screens, close your windows, vents, doors, and heavy drapes.  Move your flammable furniture into the home away from windows.   Turn on all outdoor lights and an indoor light in each room with a window in order to have your house be more visible in heavy smoke.
Hose down everything you can around your house within 15′.  Wet down your roof if you have wood shingles.
When you do evacuate, ensure that you take your emergency supplies kit that includes the water and food you put together. Lock your door.  Let people know you’ve left and where you’re going.  There is usually a checkpoint, and the evacuating officials are keeping track of who has left.
After the fire, contact your insurance company.  If the home is a total disaster

House fires

It’s difficult to plan for preventing a house fire.  When you do home maintenance, you can look at wiring.  You can smell for gas leaks. You can ensure that your lightbulbs are appropriate for the fixture.  Don’t have a 100W bulb over your stove if it’s only rated for 60W.  It will run too hot, and it’s right near grease and additional heat.  Also, make sure you regularly clean the filters over your oven to keep grease from building up.  If you use your fireplace regularly, get the chimney cleaned every year, and have the sweep look for cracks and any additional problems.

Always have a current video of your household inventory.  Additionally, keep copies of receipts for big ticket items.  And have computer backups in a safe place.  You may want to leave all of these with a friend or in a safe deposit box in your bank.

Talk with your family about evacuation routes especially if you have bedrooms upstairs.  Invest in a special fire ladder for the bedrooms. Consider practicing evacuation, and have an agreed upon place that you will all meet.

Change your smoke alarm batteries at least once a year, and have smoke alarms strategically placed.

During the fire, get out, call 911, and get to your meeting place.  Do not go back in to save a pet.  This is probably the most difficult thing, but it’s important to take care of your life first, and leave rescuing to the professionals.

If you get trapped in a room, close the door and stuff clothing or whatever you can find into the cracks around the door.  Wait at the window and signal for help with a flashlight or light colored cloth.

Additional tips are here:

After the fire, contact your insurance company.  If the home is burned but not completely destroyed, you will need to board up windows and place tarps over the damaged roof to protect your home.  Create a plan for drying out your possessions and removing undamaged items to a safe location.
There will usually be an investigation as to how the fire started, and you may not be allowed near, especially if there could be arson involved.

Strong Storms and Blizzards

Here are some resources for preparing for storms and blizzards:

The biggest issue of survival during a strong storm and a blizzard is boredom, especially if you have kids who are used to watching television or playing video games, and the power is out.  Make certain you have enough board games, lanterns and extra batteries.

The second biggest concern is with carbon monoxide poisoning.  Never use a generator, grill, camp stove or other gasoline, propane, natural gas or charcoal¬ burning devices inside a home, garage, basement, crawlspace or any partially enclosed area. Locate unit away from doors, windows and vents that could allow carbon monoxide to come indoors.  Install carbon monoxide alarms in central locations on every level of your home.  If it sounds, move quickly to a fresh air location outdoors or by opening a window or door.

After the storm is over, you’ll either need to clear the snow, or clear any branches that have fallen.  If you see any downed power lines, call the power company immediately.  Do not go near them as they could still be live.  If there are major trees down, and they are the city or town’s responsibility, call and let them know.  If they’re yours, you will need to either clean it up yourself or hire someone to do that.

We hope you’re finding this series useful.  Please let us know what additional topics you would like to see written.

If you missed the other parts of the series, you can find them here:

Part 1: What emergency supplies to have

Part 2: Preparing for disaster

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