Lessons From the Alberta Wildfire: Be Prepared

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Lessons From the Alberta Wildfire: Be Prepared

Alberta Wildfire Underscores
Need for Preparation

The Alberta Wildfire continues to rage around Fort McMurray, Alberta, Canada, and fire conditions remain “extreme,” according to Alberta government officials.

However, the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo (RMWB) has announced that immediate life safety concerns have primarily been addressed, since the evacuation of approximately 80,000 residents. Even so, responders from Fort McMurray and across Canada continue to work 24 hours a day to protect the municipality from the out-of-control wildfire, in hopes that the evacuees may soon be able to safely return to their homes.

Creative Commons Photo by DarrenRD

Currently, only emergency responders are allowed entrance to the evacuated areas. According to the RMWB, “Smoldering hot spots, hazardous materials and downed power lines are some of the dangers that can still be found throughout the town, which makes access to any parts of the evacuated zone dangerous.”

What If It Happened to You?

If you reside in an area that is prone to wildfires, what proactive steps can you take to ensure safety for you and your family, and protection for your home and property?

The US Fire Administration, in cooperation with FEMA, suggests that you create an emergency bag of personal items you will need if asked to evacuate. In doing so, remember the “5 P’s”:  People and pets; papers, phone numbers and important documents; prescriptions and eyeglasses; pictures and irreplaceable memorabilia; plastic (credit/debit cards) and cash.

ChecklistNext, USFA and FEMA recommend the following:

  • Practice a “family evacuation plan,” including where to meet and what to do with pets.
  • Clean leaves and debris from around your home, including your roof and gutters.
  • Use fire-resistant building and yard materials around your home. Consider installing interior and exterior sprinklers.
  • Keep a 200-foot area around your home “clean, lean and green.”
  • Make sure your driveway and house number are clearly marked for firefighters
  • Practice two separate routes out of your neighborhood, in case roads are blocked

The Pre-Evacuation Phase

Okay, so you’re expecting the evacuation order any day now. How do you protect your home in your absence?

Once evacuation is imminent, your goal is to make your home and the surrounding area more resistant to catching fire and burning. This means reducing the amount of material that can burn easily in and around your home by clearing away debris and other flammable materials.

The California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection has compiled a brochure titled, “Wildfire Is Coming, Are you Ready to Go?” which can be downloaded from their website, readyforwildfire.org. This helpful brochure provides all the information you will need to protect your home and family before, during and after a wildfire-related evacuation. Being ready to go means knowing when to evacuate and what to do if you become trapped.

During the ever-so-important pre-evacuation phase, the California guide suggests the following:


  • Gather up flammable items from the exterior of the house and bring them inside (patio furniture, children’s toys, door mats, trash cans, etc.) or place them in your pool.
  • Turn off propane tanks and move propane BBQ appliances away from structures.
  • Connect garden hoses to outside water valves or spigots for use by firefighters. Fill water buckets and place them around the house.

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  • Don’t leave sprinklers on or water running; doing so can affect critical water pressure.
  • Leave exterior lights on so your home is visible to firefighters through smoke or at night.
  • Put your Emergency Supply Kit in your vehicle.
  • Back your car into the driveway with the vehicle loaded and ready to go. Make sure all doors and windows are completely closed. Carry your car keys with you.
  • Place a ladder at the corner of the house so firefighters can quickly access your roof.
  • Seal attic and ground vents with pre-cut plywood or other sealing material.
  • Monitor your property and the fire situation. Don’t wait for an evacuation order if you feel threatened and need to leave.

Inside the House:

  • Pixabay Image

    Shut all windows and doors, leaving them unlocked.

  • Remove flammable window shades and curtains.
  • Move any flammable furniture away from windows and doors.
  • Shut off gas at the meter and turn off pilot lights.
  • Leave your lights on so firefighters can see your house under smoky conditions.
  • Turn off the air conditioning.

Prepare for the Worst

Using a fire-retardant foam or gel, like the Frontline Wildfire Defense System, to extinguish embers and burning wood, can significantly mitigate loss to wildfire. In the event of emergency evacuation, the system can even be activated remotely.

All things considered, planning ahead is your best defense against possible wildfire loss to your home and property. If there’s anything we’ve learned from the Alberta wildfire its this:  Prepare for the worst…you’ll be glad you did.


Featured Image: Creative Commons Photo by Jason Woodhead

Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo

US Fire Administration

California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection