aSummary from Palo Alto CERTS regarding Wildfires

Summary Preparing for Wildfire and Taking Action from Palo Alto CERT Trainers on Actions and Resource for WIldfires

Special notes for California Wildfires in August 2020

Contributed by Palo Alto CERT trainers David Rost & John Mori

INTRODUCTION: Below are some tips for people living in a possible evacuation zone for fire, hurricane, or other event. These notes are specific to the fires we are currently (August 2020) experiencing in California. There are a fraction of normal resources normally assigned to incidents of this size. They don’t have enough equipment or people to rescue anyone who stays behind and it puts responders at a high level of risk if they were to try. Responders need rapid access; people clogging roads slows deployment of equipment and resources. Responders need to quickly hop-scotch as the fire changes direction and moves through neighborhoods given how erratic things can unfold with wind, spotting, etc. • Trust responder experience and instincts when they say evacuate. • If they say leave get out and do not linger to see what happens. • These fires are moving much faster than you think.


GETTING READY: Be ready to leave at a moments notice . If you are on evacuation watch, make sure at least one person in the house is paying attention to current conditions.  Don’t wake up with fire on your front door!

CARS: Keep your gas tanks full! Your escape is completely dependent on your vehicles.

  • Always back your car into the driveway with the front facing the street.
  • Avoid having to back out if you need to leave quickly!
  • If you leave in two separate cars know where you plan to meet ahead of time.

 HOME (if you are on evacuation alert)[1]

  • Listen for emergency information and keep track of fire warnings and weather
  • Confine pets to one room or arrange for them to stay with a friend or relative
  • Move flammable furniture to the center of the home
  • Remove flammable drapes and curtains
  • Close all doors and windows
  • Be prepared for fallen power lines and trees

KNOW YOUR EXIT ROUTES: If you live where there could be the possibility of future evacuation, figure out two exit routes beforehand.

  • Try to anticipate traffic log jam points if too many people leave at once.
  • Don’t depend on your navigation software to work if there is a fire – cell towers may be down
  • See “Tracking Evacuation Information” below to stay abreast of current information

 LODGING: These fires are so big and so many are being displaced/evacuated that getting a hotel room is very difficult if not impossible.

  • Assume every local hotel will be full.
  • Arrange with family or friends to stay if you need to leave.
  • Have family or friends by ready to help you any time of day.
  • Make sure you pack face coverings or masks for multiple days due to the current threat of virus.

PACK AN OVERNIGHT BAG:  Pack a bag with cloths and toiletries for a several of days. If you have pets account for what they need too

  • Have everything ready to grab and go at a moments notice.
  • Don’t forget your pets – food, leashes, water, bowel, kennel (leash your pet before you go outside in case they panic and run

PAPERS/PHOTOS: Figure out what papers and photos you would take in advance. You can use blue painter tape to mark things you want to take. Hard to keep your mind on task at a high stress level with a short time to act.

  • Make copies now of the most important papers – insurance.
  • Be sure to bring a a secondary ID if you have it – passport.

PROOF FOR INSURANCE: Video everything in your house and garage so you have a record for insurance and you remember to capture everything. This is invaluable if you ever need to make a claim.


TIMING:  We hope there is a break in the weather so responders can gain some containment. Given the long range forecast and number/size of these fires this is going to be a long term event.

  • These fires are going to take weeks to fully contain.
  • Plan with that assumption in mind.

IF YOU GET CAUGHT IN A WILDFIRE : Best tip is to think ahead about what you would do as you are hiking or are out in the mountains. Be situationally aware about your surroundings – what is your escape route?  If a fire starts evacuate/exit the area immediately. Don’t hang around to see what happens. Rate of spread doubles every minute or so; faster with wind, low humidity, and hot ambient air temperature.

  • Avoid getting caught mid slope half way up a hillside/mountain where the fire is below you.
  • Avoid canyons, draws, and saddles that are like chimneys and will funnel the heat and fire.
  • Avoid loosing sight of the fire based on the terrain you are in.
  • Think about the fuel, slope, terrain, and wind direction/strength.
  • Are there places with light dispersed fuel i.e. a bald spot.
  • Pay attention to natural fire resistant features i.e. rock piles.
  • Pay extra special attention to wind changes in direction.
  • The black/burn is your friend.
  • If the fuel is light enough hold your breath and run thru the flames.
  • Think grass fire … will be hot in the black but fuel is gone.


TRACKING EVACUATION INFORMATION: Things change so fast it is hard for responders to give warning to evacuate. Responders are so busy dealing with the immediate situation it is hard to even keep the flow of information updated. Below are some possible links for current  information.


CalFire Maps/Twitter

GOOGLE MAPS,-123.2005548,9z/data=!4m3!15m2!1m1!


1m1!1s%2Fg%2F11kn8bpg_6,-121.7942607,10z/data=!3m1!4b1!4m3!15m2!1m1! 1s%2Fg%2F11kn6scznf

SCANNER:  Load a scanner app on your phone to hear what CalFire is doing. Below is a link to CalFire scanner frequencies if you have a scanner.


TERMS:  Below are some terms to understand what is happening with a given wildfire.

  • Control Lines are constructed or natural barriers used to stop a wildfire from spreading, also called firebreaks or fuel breaks.
  • Containment indicates how much of the fire has been enclosed by a control line. A wildfire with 25% containment means control lines have been completed around 25% of the fire’s perimeter.

[1] Source: FEMA CERT Supplemental Training information 2011