Heart pounding, I stared at the email in disbelief. A fire alert from our local power company stared back at me. Is this real? It can’t be real. Can it?
A few minutes earlier our house landline rang. Charlie, in our living room, picked up the phone and a few seconds later hung up. “Who was on the phone?” I yell out from my office. Seconds later, before he could respond, my cell phone rings and I pick it up. Silence. Thinking it just another annoying robocall, I hung up, too.
Immediately, an email arrives in my inbox. From my desktop, I open it and read it but my brain can’t decide if it is real. The email has an 800 number listed on it; quickly I check my “recent calls” on my cell phone and realize it is the same number. Suddenly overwhelmed, I get up from my office chair and sprint into the living room. My heart still pounding, I stand there staring at Charlie with my hand on my chest, tears welling up in my eyes.
“What’s wrong?” he asks, his voice loud with concern.
I can’t tell him…I’m overcome with paralyzing fear.
What could that email from our power company possibly say that made me so fearful?
“This is SDG&E calling with an important message. The National Weather Service has declared a Red Flag Warning. High winds associated with Red Flag Warnings could cause power outages. If outages do occur, the power will stay off until it can be restored safely. Please be prepared to activate your personal emergency plan.”
Why would this seemingly benign email about a potential power outage flood me with fear and send me into a panic?
Because we have never, ever received such an email before.
Not from our power company and not from any other agency that has warning systems in place for whatever reason.
And, not even before our house burned down in the 2007 California wildfire, known as the Witch Fire. At around 10:00 p.m. that evening, while listening to the local news, the mayor of San Diego came on the air and spoke saying something to the effect that they had evacuated the mountain town above us and our entire valley.
But, that was the first we’d heard about it.
We did not receive a phone call, an email, a text or a knock on the door. If we had not been watching the news at that moment, or received a phone call from my mother asking if we were evacuating, we would have not known. If a fire alert system had been activated by our local government, we were, somehow, overlooked.
So, this time, receiving this email and the two unanswered calls before, sent me down a dark path. Specifically, it is the words “activate your personal emergency plan” that sent me over the edge. My mind was reeling: does that mean we should pack up and get ready to leave?
The Back Story
We lost our home in a devastating wildfire ten years ago. It happened on October 21, 2007 and we have just passed our 10th anniversary. While most of the country is channeling orange and black in preparation for Halloween, orange and black evoke fire and destruction to me.While most of the country is channeling orange and black in preparation for Halloween, orange… Click To Tweet
The photo below is the burned-out shell of our old house in 2007.
This time of year in Southern California is fire season. But, over the years, “fire season” keeps getting longer and longer. Scorching hot and dry, October in my neck of the woods doesn’t have cooling breezes and autumn colors.
Barren, except for patches of super-sized tumbleweeds waiting to break free with the next blast of wind, clusters of cactus twisted together in prickly plots, and hardy shrubs challenging our valley to hinder their survival, our surrounding terrain is a constant reminder of an imminent threat. Red Flag Warnings happen frequently and are announced on the local television stations during the weather report.
So, what was different?
- That this message came via phone call and email, when we’ve never gotten one before.
- That we’ve had several days of blistering heat, over 106 degrees in our valley.
- That the wind was mild on the day we received this email and not blustery until the next day.
Plus, three weeks ago there was an actual fire in our valley about a mile from us as the crow flies. With roughly 30 firefighters, multiple borate bombers and helicopters dropping water, the whole nine yards, still no private or government agency called, texted or emailed the potential danger.
And, over the last several days, I’ve heard sirens up close and personal as well as in the distance, blaring their disquieting wail as emergency vehicles travel the road, a country highway, that fronts of our land.
My auditory senses detect the sound of helicopter blades, before I see them, swishing by with their distinction thudding whoop, whoop, whoop, and my body tightens to alert status. Followed by the droning, buzzing hum of bombers loaded with fire retardant traveling low overhead, my anxiety increases exponentially until they pass over. The mountain town to our east has an airport and is the hub for these fire-fighting air tankers.
The noise of both reverberating across our valley, as they fly over our valley heading north, means I can take a deep breath and let it go. They are heading out to assist others where needed. And, we are safe. For now.
So, for my own piece of mind, I’m sharing my thoughts on how to handle a surprisingly unexpected official fire alert with each of you today, so that if you ever receive such a notice, hopefully you will not panic the way that I did.
8 Tips to Handle an Official Fire Alert
Here are a few tips to help you handle an official fire alert:
#1 – Take a Deep Breath
Allow yourself to be scared, but take a second to manage that fear. Don’t allow yourself to fall apart as I did, especially if minutes count.
#2 – Analyze the Official Fire Alert
Was the official fire alert a phone call or email or both? Did the alert tell you to be ready to leave OR to leave now? If the fire alert told you to leave now, drop everything and head for your car grabbing loved ones and pets on the way out the door. Do not second guess WHY the official fire alert told you to leave now. Trust that it is important to do so…maybe even lifesaving.
If you have not yet signed up to receive alerts in your area, consider it now. Here’s a post from my archives that may help you:
If, instead, the official fire alert tells you to “get ready” to either activate your emergency plan OR “get ready” to evacuate, then do the following:
#3 – Activate Your Plan
Hopefully, you and your family already have an emergency plan in place. If you do and if each family member has a role, activate your plan. If you don’t have an emergency plan in place, consider working on it as a family project. This post, Evacuation: are you Ready? explains how and has a FREE printable.
#4 – Loved Ones First
If your family is not all together (for example, some at work, school or elsewhere), contact them immediately via text or phone call. Give them a brief run-down and let them know you will either (1) pick them up OR (2) meet them at a designated location. Here’s a FREE printable worksheet to help you get started, if this is still a “to-do” on your list of projects: Emergency Contact Sheet: are you Ready?
If a family member is handicapped and requires physical help via special equipment and/or medication, gather those things and place them in your vehicle. And, here’s yet another FREE printable worksheet to help you if you don’t already have your things together in one area: Family Emergency Kit: are you Ready?
#5 – Pets Matter
If you have a beloved pet and do not, under any circumstances, want to leave them behind, find their carrying case or crate. If it is a small pet like a cat, place them in the carrying case so they are ready to go. Cats can sense your fear and will skedaddle under a bed or hide somewhere using up your precious time as you move toward evacuation.
If your pet has a crate, place your crate in your vehicle. For added security, place your dog on a leash and take him/her with you as you work on other things. Or, tie your dog to your car door. That way, they are ready to jump into the crate when you are ready to leave. And, guess what? I have several different FREE printable worksheets all about pets: Pet Owners: are you Ready?
#6 – Gather the Essentials
If time permits, make sure you have your purse or wallet, money, credit cards, cell phone, cell phone charger and bottled water with you. You will most certainly need them all.
When we evacuated in 2007, I left my cell phone in my car when we decided to be in one car together. Originally, we loaded up and drove separate cars, but as the emergency scene county-wide escalated, I got scared and didn’t want to be separated from Charlie.
With fires raging on our property west of our house and fires encroaching from the east, a burning inferno of wind-driven destruction, I thought if we were going to die, I wanted to be with him and not separated. So, we ditched my car and I accidentally left my cell phone behind. At the time, Charlie did not have a cell phone, so we were incommunicado for many, many hours with the outside world.
Hopefully, you already have a vehicle emergency kit stashed in your car. Here’s a post that can guide you through the process, if you don’t:
#7 – Gather Your Fly-Away Kit
If time permits, gather your important papers and put them in your car. If you already have a Fly-Away Kit, with all your important papers already together, grab that kit and place it in your car. Need help compiling a Fly-Away Kit? Look no further!
#8 – Emergency Supplies
Also, if time permits and space allows, grab your emergency supplies. Whether extra clothing already packed in a suitcase or food and water set aside, load both in your car. If you are ready to move forward on these projects, here are posts that can help:
By the way, I took the cover photo for this blog post on October 21, 2007. Here it is without the title words covering it:
This is a view of the mountains to our east and the sky above them. This photo does not do this panorama justice because it was taken with a simple point-and-shot camera. The mountain town to our east is approximately 15 miles away, so this view is just a small window into the inferno heading our way. Unless you have experienced a raging wildfire, it is hard to understand the proportions of the devastation. The entire sky to the east of us looked like this and it was not a gorgeous sunset as you can tell by the black sky at the top of the photo (it was about 7 p.m.). Watching the news of the destruction in Northern California over the last couple of weeks has brought all these memories flooding back.
So, what happened regarding the expected power outages? Nothing. At least that I know of. The winds passing through our valley that day were barely a whisper.
And, what did I do after I calmed down and Charlie assured me that I was over-reacting? I went to our garage and got Coco’s carry case. Just in case…
It remained in our house for the next few days, which was a fortuitous decision because the winds the next day were crazy. So crazy they scared my niece (and former blogging partner), Tiffany, to the point of distraction that she sent me this video:
This video includes Dude, her adorable black pug. Even he was stressed out. Tiffany did not get the fire alert email, but she sure had her share of wind. It is so windy in this video that you can barely hear her commentary. And, Dude seems a little gobsmacked.
She was getting ready to pick up her girls, Princess P and Princess Sweetie Pie, from their short-day at school. Then, the 3 of them were meeting me at our local mall for lunch and shopping. But, Tiffany was afraid to leave Dude behind because of the high winds. I said “bring him with; we can eat outside at the Mall.” But, if she’d known of a pet-sitting service, she could have made other arrangements. In the end, she decided to drop Dude off at her parents house, located in a neighborhood instead of out in the country.
This is Dude swimming in our pool on a much calmer day with Princess P and another one of my great-nieces. He is the cutest.thing.ever.
Tiffany’s current landlords lost their home to wildfire in 2003. And, we lost ours in 2007. I must say that knowing 2 families that have lost their homes to wildfire has made Tiffany more aware and she wasn’t going to leave her dog on a blustery day during a Red Flag Warning in fire season for any reason.
I like to think that I’ve instilled a bit of cautiousness into my extended families’ reality. While I don’t want to think that my anxiety on days like this permeate their psyche making them anxious, too, I do want them to take these types of days seriously. After all, none of us know when we will get a surprisingly unexpected official fire alert in our inbox or on our voice mail.
Materials and Supplies Needed
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