Hey guys, this is my friend (and blog assistant) Susan's California wildfire nightmare story of how she and her family survived it. You won't believe the before and after pictures below. Here's Susan…
How we survived our California wildfire nightmare and what we learned
I had just finished cleaning up the kitchen and was thinking I would go jump in the shower, when my husband walked in and ever-so-calmly told me he had just received a call from the Homeowners Association and that we needed to evacuate.
I thought I had smelled smoke earlier, but it was a windy day and the smoke smell could have been coming from anywhere. I walked over to the front of the house, and sure enough, I could see flames coming down the hill towards my neighborhood.
We really didn’t say much to each other, and didn’t need to.
We had spoken about a situation like this so many times, we knew exactly what to do. We had complete trust in the other one to grab the things we needed. He set off to get our bug-out-bag, our legal documents, and the dogs, and I went into the kitchen to get the supplements I knew I would need to keep myself calm.
Soon after we started gathering our necessities, there was a loud bang on the back door. I went to answer it and a large, burly sheriff told me, “Ma’am, you have to get out NOW”. As I glanced past his head, I could see that even in the couple of minutes since looking out my front door, everything had already gotten much worse. The smoke was so black, you could barely see the house next door. It was unbelievable how quickly the hard winds were pushing the flames through my neighborhood at a jet-fueled pace.
Although I certainly wasn’t moving at the pace of a slug before he knocked, I became a whirling dervish after. It was go-time and I had to make a final assessment on anything I may need and then get the heck out.
As we backed out of our driveway, I gave the house one last glance; it was sad to think that I may never see it or any of my stuff again, but I took comfort in knowing we had everything we needed to survive.
Would you be ready to evacuate your house in 5 minutes if you had to?
Be sure to read the preparedness post I wrote a while back, where I touched on many ways you can be prepared for a catastrophic event of any type. Fire, hurricanes, tornadoes, earthquakes, loss of job, or an economic collapse — if you haven’t prepared for any of these events, then now is the time to do so.
Don’t get me wrong: I am not some all-knowing prepper.
I’m sure an experienced prepper would laugh at my preps, but I know the reason I had so much of everything I needed ready to go in a short moment was because I had prepped to some degree. My downfall, however, was that so many of our personal preps are for emergencies that we would honker down for inside the house, and not necessarily for living somewhere other than our own home.
But, as with most life experiences, I did learn a thing a two that I could have done better, and I want to share those with you:
- If you decide to make a bug-out-bag (see this post on how to do that and to be prepared for any natural disaster!), make sure you go through it on occasion to make sure everything is fresh, clean, in good working order, and ready to go. The clothing items we had in ours smelled like clothing that had been stored. Believe me, you will want something fresh to put on once you’ve had a shower. Fortunately, as I took one last sweep of the house before exiting, I grabbed several items that I had just laundered and hadn't yet put away. (See Mom? Sometimes it’s a good thing not to put your laundry away!)
- Make sure your bug-out-bag has flashlights, fresh batteries, a small first aid kit, and duct tape. My husband goes NO where without duct tape. I'm not kidding. One time on a cruise I found duct tape in our suitcase. When I asked him why in the world he would bring it on a cruise, he replied, “Because you never know when you’ll need it”. Turns out he was right: we used it for 3 or 4 times on that trip. I was glad we had it, although I could have done without the “told you so” smirk he would give me each time. Now I never question if -or why- he has some on hand.
- My husband and I have a large safe, and while it is fire-resistant, it is not fire-proof. We bought water resistant bags like these and put the important documents we need in an instant back into the safe. Once we started to gather things we need, it made it so easy for my husband to go to the safe, grab the bags and know everything we absolutely needed was in those bags. Prepper sites often recommend you have these things set aside and ready to be grabbed in an instant: Passports, mortgage info and phone numbers to these places, homeowners insurance, vaccine records, copy of will/trust, pet info and vax records, and any other documents you'll need to show who you are, what you own, and who belongs to whom. Also, be sure and stick any car info you have in there, as well. Some of my neighbors lost cars to the fire, and didn't have their loan info or their pink slips to prove ownership. If there is one thing I've learned from my neighbors with varying degrees of damage to their homes (total loss to minor charring), is that insurance companies love to make things difficult and will make you bend in 6 different directons to get what is rightfully yours. You can speed up the process (and stick it to them) by having all your paperwork in one place.
- We are also considering buying a smaller safe to put inside our bigger safe. This one has a fire rating for 60 minutes at 1700 degrees. It's shaped and sized like a briefcase with a handle, so it would be easy to grab quickly, but if you're not home at the time of your emergency, like many of my own neighbors, then your documents will have a much better chance of surviving the damage. It's also very affordable, and could be the thing that saves you a lot of grief and time trying to replace all those documents that our critical in our lives.
- Snacks and food. This is one area where I felt like I failed. I have tons of food in my pantry for a scenario that would allow us to stay in our house, but I am woefully unprepared with snacks to take on the run. The sad thing is that I know better. Bodies fueled with nutritious food are stronger and more resilient to stress and illnesses. I suppose I never gave much thought to snacks, because we just don’t feel compelled to snack since switching to real food, but from here on out I will be better prepared for this. Not only because our bodies need nutrient-dense calories during stressful times, but because if your only source of food is coming from the Red Cross or a restaurant, you’ll be able to make yourself a fairly healthy meal by eliminating some of their junk and supplementing with the snacks you’ve brought. My husband can’t eat nuts due to his diverticulitis, so I’m thinking it may be time to get this food dehydrator so at least we could make some jerky or dried fruits. I’m also going to buy some grass-fed beef sticks, and more of these shakes. I typically don’t like protein shakes, but I had some of this brand on hand, and I was glad I did. They are Non-GMO certified, made with lots of veggies, and the protein comes from hemp, pumpkin seed and peas (no icky soy). My daughter initially said it tasted like chocolate chalk, but by the fourth day of restaurant food, she drank it without complaint. I think her body was craving the nutrients in it.
- By the third day of living in a hotel and eating restaurant food, I was desperate for some good fat. My husband found a Trader Joe's and brought me some grass-fed butter, pastured ghee, organic coconut oil and some gouda cheese. Our valley is surrounded by avocados and citrus, so we ate as much of that as we could get our hands on. If I ever go through this again, I would definitely grab the ghee on our way out (we went through so much of it!) and coconut oil.
- Your pets. You may think you can pick Rover up and throw him in the car before evacuating, but you will want to make sure you have a leash. (The hotel we stayed at the first night verified we had leashes for our dogs before giving us a room). My husband and I wasted precious moments trying to find leashes for both dogs. He was telling me he last saw it here, and I was saying I last saw it there. To get around this, I just ordered this set of leashes. I plan on putting 2 near the front door should I ever have to evacuate for an earthquake, 2 near the backdoor should we ever have another fire, and 2 in the car. We don't have cats, but be sure and make plans for them, too. So many people in my neighborhood lost their kitties because the cats were frightened and hiding, or wouldn't get into their carriers. If you're a cat owner, can you share with us in the comments how you would handle a 5 minute evacuation?
- Because we feed our dogs a raw homemade diet, I made sure to have a fairly decent quality bag of dog food in our pantry for emergencies. My husband grabbed the food, their bowls and a gallon of water for them. (This experience showed us -within days- why we feed them a raw diet. The bagged food made them poop every 3 hours, and by day 3 they both had the nastiest breath. Not so appealing when sharing a 200 square foot hotel room with them!)
- Like I mentioned earlier in the post, the first thing I grabbed was my supplements. I have both adrenal and thyroid issues, so I wanted to be sure and have the things with me that not only calm my adrenals, but also would help me sleep. I grabbed my magnesium from Dr Carolyn Dean in both liquid and lotion form because our bodies burn through magnesium at a faster rate when we are stressed. I also grabbed my organic CBD oil because I have found that it not only helps keep my anxiety in check, but it also helps with the tenacious pounding-pounding-pounding my adrenals do when I’m stressed. It is super beneficial to your immune system as well, and I figured it was a good time to have it in my arsenal. I grabbed my Vitamin C because the little amount we get from food is typically not enough — especially when we’re stressed. And I grabbed this probiotic because I had no idea what kind of food was in my future, and keeping my gut healthy is imperative to me.
- I was so glad I had grabbed a few of our favorite essential oils to help with the aches and pains of sleeping in a strange bed (peppermint), and to help keep us calm (lavender, geranium). I also grabbed my favorite tea tree/lavender oil blend because it has so many uses. I was especially happy that I remembered my lemon essential oil, too, because, 3 people and 2 dogs in a hotel room — need I say more? Besides it always lifts my spirits. If you haven't started a collection of essential oils yet, this kit is a great place to start, plus it has almost all the oils I mentioned above.
- I think another thing I will add to my bug-out-bag is Benadryl. I typically don’t like to take anything from a pharmaceutical company, but there is no denying that it will knock you out if need be. Sleep didn’t come easily the first few nights for us because we had no idea if our home was one of the 65 lost, plus we were sleeping in a strange place, and because our 2 dogs were still freaked out by the sudden change in surroundings and insisted on sleeping practically on top of us. We were all desperate for a good knock-out sleep. Besides, if you were bugging out for some other reason than a fire, Benadryl would come in handy for allergic rashes and hives, too.
I think given the fact that we had only 5 minutes to get out, my husband and I did fairly well, and I honestly believe it was because we had conversations about this previously.
Take a few minutes by yourself and do a walk around your house. What would you grab? Then do it again with your spouse.
Because my husband and I had discussed this before, we weren’t trying to grab the same things, and we weren’t in each other’s way while we grabbed the necessities.
Then do it with your kids. My 22 year old daughter wasn’t home at the time, so there I stood in her bedroom trying to figure out what she would want. For the most part, she said I did pretty well with what I grabbed, but there were a couple of items she wished I had taken for her. Items that I would have never guessed. So get an idea of what things are cherished to your kids. You might be surprised.
I hope this fire was the only one I ever have to live through. I wouldn’t wish this horror on anyone. And until you’ve been through it, you will never understand what it is truly like. But take it from someone who has been there: get your family prepared now by reading my previous post about prepping, and doing some research online.
Because once a catostrophic event happens, you will be so glad you did.
Here's a picture of my neighborhood before the fire:
And here it is after. Sixty five homes lost (thankfully ours was saved):
That's the story of our California wildfire nightmare…
Maybe you have survived a natural disaster too, be sure to tell us about it in the comments below, and share what you learned to help others be better prepared in case it happens to them next!
- Susan's previous post on Disaster Preparedness
- More posts from Susan
- Exciting Drug-Free Help for Alzheimers (also for Diabetes, PCOS and other Chronic Diseases) Hint: it’s NOT about Eating More Vegetables
About Susan: I live in Fallbrook, CA (Avocado Capital of the World!) with my handyman husband and our 2 dogs. I am the mother of one, but a mom to many. I love that my daughter’s friends come to me for advice, support, love and laughs. And when they do, I always try to feed them something nutritious or get some cod liver oil in them! Nothing makes me happier than when any of the kids I’ve preached to call me from the grocery store wanting to know which choice is better or what a certain ingredient is! I’ve worked as a medical assistant, an interior designer, and most recently, as a freelance writer for a local paper. I’ve also guided and mentored students through their college application essays. I love learning and reading about all things real food, nutrition, and natural healing, so it is a real blessing and treat to help Kelly around the Kitchen Kop site.
Photos courtesy of: Village Valley News, KTLA, PressFrom, Coast News, Long Room, Jack Mckee and Boston Herald.