Prepping for the Next California Power Outage & Wildfires

It’s starting to seem that every year in California, wildfires are displacing thousands of people, and forcing thousands more to be under evacuation orders. On top of that, to prevent wildfires (to avoid law suits), PG&E have shut off power to approximately 2.1 million people in 2019 (in some places, up to two weeks!). Although the casualty rates for these types of problems are relatively low, they can be a massive pain in the ass and be extremely stressful. Fortunately, with a little basic emergency preparedness, the damage, stress and inconvenience can be greatly minimized!

To start, I’d recommend watching the following amateur recording from the 2018 fire. As you watch this, keep in mind that it’s being filmed during the day! The smoke is sooo thick, it’s blocked out the sun (photovoltaics would be useless, consider a generator). Evacuating early would’ve made life much easier for this guy.

So Where to Start?

Hope for the best, plan for the worst. It’s important that you start planning and prepping BEFORE the problem strikes. Be sure your family is both comfortable and capable of carrying out the plan. Preparing for a wildfire/prolonged power outage can be summed up into 3 steps:

  1. Gear Up: Have a supply kit for each member of the household.
  2. Home Insurance: Protect your assets!
  3. Have a Plan: Have an evacuation plan for your home, family and important belongings.
  4. Communication Plan: Important addresses, contacts and a way to reach everyone.

Gear Up with a Bug Out Bag!

Again, it’s critical you do this BEFORE SHTF. These BOBs should be easily accessible (not hidden away in the back of a closet/basement). Ideally, they should be placed near the front entrance of your home, or in your garage, close to the car. According to FEMA and most other emergency preparedness agencies, you should be prepared to be self sufficient for 72 hours as this is roughly how long it will take for the Government to give assistance.

Some people obsess over their BOB’s, trying to find the perfect backpack to store everything, or making everything multipurpose to maximize capability, but if you’re just a beginner, don’t fret! Let’s keep it simple. Start with a backpack and get the following items. The quality of the items should be whatever your budget allows for (anything is better than nothing).

Emergency Bug Out Bag Checklist:

  • 3 day supply of food (high calorie, easy to prepare)
  • 3 gallons of water per person
  • Change of clothes
  • Copies of important documents (passports/insurance)
  • Credit cards, cash, coins
  • Cell phone chargers/cables/backup battery
  • Multitool
  • Road map marked with possible evacuation routes
  • First aid kit
  • Face mask/Respirator
  • Headlamp
  • Radio
  • Sanitation supplies (toilet paper/hand sanitizer)
  • Prescription medication if required

If you’re up to the task, an encrypted USB stick with all important docs/photos/passwords would be wise. Also, if time and space allow during evacuation, you may consider grabbing family heirlooms/photographs and high value items like jewellery.

Should you wear a face mask for wildfire smoke?

Absolutely! This is especially true for children and the elderly. Residents downstream of the smoke will often experience headaches and mild respiratory problems due to the poor air quality. For residents close to the source the problem is magnified tremendously. It’s recommended that if you’re affected by the smoke and not under an evacuation order, you should stay indoors with the windows closed and air conditioners set to recirculate. If you do venture outside, a mask will help. Although face masks are easy to use, some respirators can be pretty tricky, practice and be sure you know what you are doing. We recommend the following products:

  1. 3M Half Facepiece Reusable Respirator
  2. 3M Particulate Filter 2091, P100
  3. 3M Disposable Air Particulate Respirator

Home Insurance

Your home is typically your biggest asset. If you’re living in an area prone to wildfires, you better be sure you have adequate home insurance and that you understand how to make an effective claim if you have to. Preparedness is just another form of insurance, you hope you’ll never have to use it, but if you do… it’s there to save you. Take it seriously as your home insurance will help you and your family get back on track when SHTF.

Aside from insurance, it should be noted that there are Federal Catastrophe Grants to assist people in need. Although small, it’s definitely something you’ll want to investigate further.

To ensure your insurance is adequately protecting your assets we suggest the following:

  • Conduct an Annual Insurance Review: Speak with an agent annually to discuss any changes to your property and if the insurance company is offering anything new.
  • Read the Fine Print: Understand your policy. Too many people get screwed over in the fine print, don’t be one of them. Take the 30 minutes and read everything.
  • Update Your Policy: Anytime you make a significant home improvement, update your insurance policy.
  • Renters Insurance: Even if you’re living in a small apartment… if you lose everything, are you really willing to start over? Protect yourself.

Document Inventory

Settling a claim is way easier when you’ve properly documented all assets. You can do this simply by using your phone to record a video of yourself going through each room, closet, and drawer describing the prices paid, and where you’ve purchased the items. Be sure to place extra attention to higher priced items. Place your video in a cloud service like Google along with scanned receipts. If you’re uncomfortable placing important/personal documents on the cloud, you can go with an encrypted USB stick in a safety deposit box or fireproof safe kept in the home.

Evacuation Plan

This isn’t just about where you’re going and how to get there, it’s also about preparing the house to resist fire damage and to assist firefighters. Again, as mentioned several times already in this article, you’ll want to be set up BEFORE SHTF. If you’re not proactive about setting up your house, and you instead leave it to the last minute… you run the risk of being stuck in traffic jams or worse. Don’t leave it to the last minute.

If you need to evacuate ASAP:

  • Get the BOBs into the vehicle
  • To protect against heat and embers, throw on some long sleeve clothing, sturdy foot wear, a hat, and goggles/glasses.
  • Get out of dodge.

If you anticipate an evacuation order:

  • Remove flammable curtains and furniture away from the exterior walls and move them to the center of the rooms
  • Shut off gas at the meter then turn off all pilot lights.
  • Leave interior and exterior lights on so firefighters can see your house (day can turn to night under smoky conditions.
  • Shut off air conditioning.
  • Move flammable items from the exterior of the house to the inside (patio furniture, rugs/mats etc.)
  • Close off any BBQ propane tank valves and move the tanks away from the house.
  • Connect garden hoses to any exterior water valves to assist firefighters.
  • Fill up any large containers you can find with water and place them around the house.
  • DO NOT leave sprinklers on as that can affect water pressure needed by the firefighters.
  • If you have an extension ladder, place it up against your house for firefighters.
  • With pre-cut plywood, seal attic and ground vents.
  • Check on your neighbors (especially the elderly) and help them out. (work together, survive together)
  • Get the BOBs into the vehicle
  • To protect against heat and embers, throw on some long sleeve clothing, sturdy foot wear, a hat, and goggles/glasses.
  • Evacuate early.

When to Evacuate

Ultimately, you should be leaving as soon as evacuation is recommended or sooner to avoid traffic, smoke, and fire. Evacuating early also minimizes road congestion, making it easier for emergency workers to do their jobs. Officials will be providing non stop information over the radio and local television so stay informed for current escape routes and roads to avoid. The information will be critical, so it’s extremely important that your radio has backup batteries in the event of power failure.

When to Return Home:

Once the area has been determined to be safe and accessible, officials will announce it over the radio/local television. Do not go into the area until you get the all clear! Forest fires can smoulder underground and be lethal if walked upon (falling into a pit of ash for instance).  Be wary of downed power lines and damaged roads, there are still many potential dangers. Before entering your house, inspect propane tanks, regulators and gas lines before turning the gas on. Inspect your home carefully for smouldering embers and any damage.

Power Outage Plan

Power outages and wildfires go hand in hand. The power can (and usually does) go out before the wildfire has become a threat, keep this in mind!

 If the power is on, do the following:

  • You must know how to manually open your automatic garage doors or gates. (figure this out sooner then later)
  • If you have generator, know how to use it and wire it up correctly. DO NOT use it indoors (you’d be amazed but how many people did this during the 2019 power outage/wildfire).
  • If you have an electric car, keep it fully charged at all times if possible if there’s a potential threat.
  • If you have a gas-powered vehicle, keep the tank as full as practicable if there’s a potential threat.
  • Charge all cellphones and electronic devices.

If the power is off, do the following:

  • Shut off gas and propane valves
  • Keep the refrigerator and freezer doors closed.
  • Pay close attention to any updates using your battery-operated radio or cellphone.

First Hand Accounts from Fellow Preppers

The following first hand accounts comes from two reddit users in /r/preppers. I’m going to post their experiences in their entirety. The one thing they both have in common is that they had good relationships with their neighbors, and friends, this is something to consider if you’re of the “lone wolf” variety.

“I used to have a prepper group in Ventura, Ca, I’ve since moved but am still in contact with all of them. They were mainly impacted by the Thomas fire in 2017. Several members had to evacuate, but they all knew they had someplace secure to go to, other members’ houses and apartments. Luckily, since they are all preppers, it wasn’t that big of a deal. One member opened up his back yard to other members and their families to pitch tents in. Most brought plenty of food and already had prepared bug-out bags with needed documents, medications and hygiene supplies. Water wasn’t an issue since it was still running.

Some members volunteered to watch the kids while other members went to work as usual. A lot of the communication was through a private (LOL) Facebook group. One of the members from Ojai brought and donated the entire contents of his deep freeze, so I missed some epic BBQs.

In a wildfire, “working with neighbors” is basically futile unless you have earth moving equipment and in SoCal, you will be sued if you used it. My suggestion is to build a strong group of likeminded friends close to you. Hike, hunt, and camp together. Learn from each other. Cook together. In a natural disaster, a strong network is your best defense.”

~ Reddit User

“My neighbors are awesome. There are a couple of CERT’s on the court so everyone had flashlights and some basics. One neighbor opened her motorhome to everyone, and her wine “cellar” too (as well as setting up a charging station). Another had a generator and let us cool off the fridge for a couple of hours a day preventing food waste. I’ve ordered a generator and am getting quotes for a transfer switch to make things easier next time. I work from home and bill hourly and the cell-service went to shit, so that’s something to think about.

There was nothing new learned for me – I’ve heard it a million times on this forum – a) have the basics in place (water, food, lamps, cooking supplies etc), b) community is really important, don’t be afraid to be the first one to knock on doors and check on folks, and c) boredom really is a problem.

That said, it was 3 days for us, if it were 3 weeks with supplies running low (or out for most non-preppers), I’d be tempted to load up and get out of dodge.”

~ Reddit User

Fire in Paradise

This is a great documentary on Netflix if you’re looking further information, and a better idea of what you might encounter in a wildfire. Survivors recall their experiences from the catastrophic 2018 Camp Fire (The deadliest wildfire in California’s history). You can watch HERE.