Wildfire Evacuation: A Mom’s Story and Lessons Learned


Shaken from my sleep, I could hear my husbands excited voice,  “I think we have to go.” firestorm wildfire evacuation

I looked out our bedroom window and could see flames directly upwind of our home, which is nestled down a private tree-lined road, shared with a dozen neighbors.

Being downwind in 50mph winds meant a burning ember could land in our neighborhood at any moment, possibly preventing us from a safe exit on the only road out.

Yep, we had to go and we had to go fast…

As the sun set earlier that evening, the wind was strong and near hurricane strength. The Eucalyptus trees in our yard seemed to bend horizontally with each gust. Since there was already a fire burning in another part of the county, I made a mental note about what I would take if we needed to leave in a hurry.

My Short List:

  1. Purse – for my id, phone and credit cards
  2. Laptop Computer – really just wanted the photos
  3. Jewelry Box – for my family heirlooms of no real value except in sentiment, my passport, and camera chips I kept as backup
  4. Kids (yep, they were last on my mental list, but would be first if I could only get one thing…. obviously!)

So, when the time came to go, I had a plan. I put on some clothes. I dumped the laundry basket out. I dropped my jewelry box in, then my computer and then my purse. I took the basket downstairs and placed it by the door. I went into my son’s room to tell him we had to go.

He popped up, grabbed his rolling backpack already filled with his xbox and all his xbox games, and started for the door. Whaaaaaat?!?!

Turns out he had been texting with his neighborhood friend, whose father was a fire fighter, and already knew of another fire threatening our neighborhood. Two fires were now burning to the east!!!

I went to my daughter’s room. Waking her in the middle of the night to leave in a hurry was a bit traumatic as we had evacuated due to fires in the past, which was scary enough, but never in a rush. We did not make time to collect any of her special things, but we should have.

So, I had my kids and my laundry basket. We headed for the car, which was NOT easy in 50mph winds with pine needles and palm leaves lining the driveway, making the run to the car seem like a slip slide across ice.

Sitting in the car, we waited anxiously for my husband to collect his valuables and the family ‘football’. Our family football contains all the things we do not want to have to replace or simply can not replace.

Our Family Football:

  1. Passports, Birth Certificates, Marriage Certificate
  2. Insurance and Banking info
  3. Legal documents

Finally, he came running out of the house. From the first sight of fire to our departure was less than 5 minutes. We did good. We got the most important things.

As we drove out of our driveway, I was struck by the moral dilemma about alerting neighbors.  I decided we had to go ASAP to protect my family, but I decided to sit on my horn the whole drive out of our neighborhood to wake everyone up…. which it did they later told me.

Even though we did not lose our house and all of our things, we did find ourselves rather unprepared for the 5 days we were under mandatory evacuation and could not return to our home.

The most glaring omissions from our evacuation were clothes, personal care products and kid food. After our middle-of-the-night evacuation, we made up ‘GO BAGS’ which could easily be grabbed on the way out.

GO Bag:

  1. change of clothes, jammies, extra undies
  2. personal care products, prescriptions, vitamins and supplements, mini-medicine cabinet with as-needed meds/supps
  3. food – non-perishable food and water (kid food for picky eaters or safe food those with allergies)
  4. activities/things to do (not electronic, because unplanned and planned blackouts happen during firestorms)

Special Things:

It was very difficult for my daughter to be separated from her special things, not knowing if she would ever see them again. So, post-evacuation each family member made all the others aware of their ‘special things’ should an evacuation be necessary when only one of us is home.

Photo Albums:

I did not even think to take photo albums in the middle of the night, but I sure regretted it once the adrenaline calmed down. For future evacuations, I organized all the photo albums into boxes and labeled them with numbers based on their importance.  #1 being the one to grab first in an evacuation. And, then based on time, we could take more in the order of importance and space available in the cars.


On that windy night, we evacuated to my mom’s house in an older tract home neighborhood.  Overnight, downed power lines started few more fires and resulted in blackouts in many areas.  The next day, many schools in the county closed and some employers told their employees not to come in. The air was thick with smoke and ash, so we hung out inside the house and played games.

Then it happened again….

We live in a rural area and wildfire and evacuation is a known part of the deal, so when we heard the bullhorn announcement from atop a police car coming down my mom’s street ordering everyone to leave, we were surprised.

Her neighborhood backs up against a canyon, like many others in the county. As the fire progressed through the canyon, evacuations ahead of it were ordered because embers can ignite wooden roofs and overgrown yards in more densely populated areas.

Evacuation centers set up around the county were available to us, but they were quick filling up.  Our home insurance coverage would have paid for a hotel room and food for the days we were under mandatory evacuation orders, but getting a room close by would have been difficult due to several fires forcing evacuations across the county. We all moved from my mom’s house to the in-laws house and stayed until evacuation orders were lifted.

After 5 days, our neighborhood was ‘repopulated’ and we went home to dishes in the sink, a fridge of food we had to toss because of the power outage, and everything outside covered in ashes.

The cleanup began… and we were the lucky ones.

Now, when fire weather is forecast, we prepare for evacuation.

We put everything in place for a speedy exit.

We are ready.

Are you?







  1. Several years ago we lived near mission trails and we were also evacuated… this is a great read for fire season… and other emergencies that could cause an evacuation


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