This summer has been a crazy one for British Columbia. A large portion of the province is on fire and we are in a state of emergency.
Although we haven’t been affected personally, we do have some family and friends that have been evacuated and we currently have an air quality advisory in place because of the smoke. I’m on a few Facebook groups for people looking for help or to help, one of which is the Fort McMurray group that was created while they dealt with that massive fire last year. They’ve been through so much, and now have been offering assistance to those in BC who are now going through what they’ve experienced first-hand.
I’ve been compiling some of the extremely helpful tips the folks from Fort McMurray have been offering. Some of these are common sense, but some things I wouldn’t have thought of – figured others might find it helpful as well.
If you are under EVACUATION ALERT
Fuel your vehicle(s) immediately. You don’t want to wait until there is a massive line up or fuel runs out.
Charge your phone and make sure you have a car-compatible charger. If the power goes out, it might be your only link to the world.
Take photos or a walk-through video of every room in your home and make a list of the models and serial numbers of big ticket items (electronics, vehicles, etc). This will come in handy as proof of possessions to the insurance companies if your home does sustain damage.
Make sure to carry all important documents. This includes birth certificates, passports, insurance papers, SIN cards, etc.
Gather up things that are irreplaceable (photos, childhood mementos, hard drives, etc) and put it by your front door. Everything else is replaceable.
If you don’t already have one ready, pack an Emergency Kit with enough supplies for at least a week. This includes all necessary medications, diapers & especially water for everyone in your family.
Don’t forget your Pets! If you are evacuated you might not be able to come back for some time, so make sure you plan to take them with you. Keep them indoors so you don’t have to go searching for them at the last minute, and have their kennel, cage or leash ready to go by the door with a bag packed with a supply of their food & medication. If you have livestock, make sure you have a plan for them.
In the case of a forest fire, try to stay indoors if the air quality is poor. Turn on your sprinklers, particularly on your roof. It might not do much, but it could make a difference.
Figure out how to turn off your gas and electricity so you can do so quickly if you are ordered to leave.
Make plans with family & friends of where you will go and who you can stay with if you have to leave. This is extremely helpful if you are taking more than one vehicle and get separated.
Check in with your neighbors. If you have elderly or disabled neighbors, make sure they have a plan to get out and offer assistance.
Listen to the local news or radio for updates.
Know your route out & have a back-up plan. Highways could close and you might not be able to go where you originally planned.
Don’t feel like you have to wait for an evacuation order. If you feel like your property is threatened or that you might become trapped, leave.
If you get an EVACUATION ORDER
Make sure you have everything listed above, turn off your gas and electricity, secure your property & leave IMMEDIATELY. Now is not the time to put out sprinklers, pack a bag or find your cat.
Don’t try to be a hero. If you choose to stay behind to protect your property, you are putting your life and the lives of first responders at risk.
Respect local authorities and head in the direction they tell you & listen to the radio for updates on road closures, the situation can change quickly and without warning.
Register with the Red Cross even if you don’t require aid. Registering helps your loved ones know that you are safe & enables the Red Cross to contact people directly as more information becomes available. Evacuees should register with their local emergency reception center ONLY if they immediate assistance is needed with accommodations, food or medical support. If you do not need this type of assistance, please leave it available for those who do.
Call your insurance company and get a claim started as soon as possible. Even if your home is not physically damaged, you can be compensated for smoke damage or expenses incurred while evacuated.
Make sure to keep all the receipts while you are evacuated. It may not seem like much, but if you aren’t able to return home or to work for a few weeks it can add up quickly.
Affected workers are encouraged to apply as soon as possible for Employment Insurance (EI), even without a Record of Employment – but you will need your SIN and a temporary mailing/residential address where you are staying and can receive mail temporarily (family or friend’s house, hotel, shelter, etc).
If you are allowed to RETURN HOME
If an evacuation order is lifted, but you are still under an alert, make the best decision for your family whether or not you should return home immediately. If you are returning to a damaged area, it might be in your best interest to leave your children and pets with trusted family and friends while you assess and clean up the damage.
Make sure to follow the route specified by local authorities & listen for updates.
When you return to an area that has sustained damage, authorities should have assessed whether your property is suitable for re-entry. Do not enter your home if it has been deemed unsafe. Before entering, walk around the perimeter to photograph any damage and check for hazards and gas odors.
Keep track of your expenses and the time you spend cleaning up. Again take photos and make sure you keep your receipts.
If you are going to clean your home yourself, make sure you do it safely & thoroughly. Contact your insurance provider to make sure you can proceed with cleaning and repairs, they may cover costs to have your home cleaned by a professional fire restoration specialist. Red residue left by fire retardant can usually be easily removed with water.
Do not drink tap water unless you have been advised that it is safe to do so.
Discard food that is spoiled or has been exposed to heat, ash, chemicals or water, as well as food that has been stored in a refrigerator or freezer that has lost power.
Take care of your family. Fear, stress and anxiety are natural reactions to a traumatic event; it can take time for some to recover emotionally. Listen to your children’s fears, focus on the positives, and seek expert help or counselling if necessary. The sooner you can get back to your regular routine the better.
If you aren’t affected, but want to help in event of a natural disaster, there are many ways to do so.
If you have money, the best place to donate is the Red Cross. They usually coordinate the majority of emergency services and and may have their donations matched by the government or private companies, which will make your money go further
If you have time, find out if local evacuation centers, the Red Cross or the SPCA are in need of volunteers, even if it’s just to do laundry or walk displaced dogs.
If you have space, consider opening your home, RV, driveway, yard, etc up to evacuees. Shelters aren’t the best place for families with small children or pets, so anywhere they have a bit of space or privacy, even if it’s just a place to park a trailer, pitch a tent, or take a shower, is usually appreciated. If you are a business owner with a large parking lot or warehouse space, you may volunteer it as a staging area or storage facility for supplies.
If you have a vehicle or trailer, you could offer help in relocating people, pets or livestock. If you have a barn or fenced acreage, perhaps consider housing some displaced livestock temporarily.
If you still don’t know how to help, look for Facebook groups that tend to pop up when there is a need to match volunteers with opportunities and evacuees with assistance or updated information.
But whatever you do, DO NOT DONATE STUFF. This isn’t an opportunity to get rid of your used clothing, furniture, toys or other items. Evacuees may have lost everything, but they also don’t have anywhere to put your old couch or garbage bags full of old clothes.