Right now Oregon is suffering though a wildfire perfect storm of longstanding drought, high winds, and many fires burning across our state.
My wife and I lost electricity in the early evening yesterday, along with about thirty of our neighbors. Apparently the windy conditions caused a utility pole to catch fire, with electrical lines lying in the road.
I fired up our generator, so we had a fairly normal night -- aside from the fact that because of the smoke from wildfires in the area we didn't want to open any windows, and our air conditioning wasn't working because of the electrical outage.
Thankfully, the power came on when we were waking up.
But as shown in the photo above, at nine a.m. it was still very dark outside our house. The gusty winds had spread the Beachie Creek fire rapidly in the Santiam Canyon to the east of Salem. With the winds coming out of the east, our area was hit with dense unhealthy smoke that obscured the rising sun.
Since we've lived on ten mostly natural acres in rural south Salem for the past thirty years, wildfire is on our minds every summer. We have cleared vegetation for quite a ways around our house, but there still are plenty of trees surrounding our home.
So even though it is quite unlikely that the Beachie Creek fire could reach our neighborhood, the high winds yesterday and today were a reminder that a wildfire could be sparked locally at any moment and spread like, well, wildfire. My anxiety was pretty high up until noon, when I decided to do something that had been on my mind for a long time.
Prepare an evacuation checklist. And even better, to actually do some of the things on the list.
We have emergency bags in our cars filled with things we'd need if stranded somewhere. However, that wasn't my concern as I envisaged how I'd feel if we got a notification that a fast-moving wildfire was close by and we only had a short time to evacuate our home.
I like to think that I'd be calm, cool, and collected. But almost certainly I'd be frantic, heated, and scattered. What do we take in our cars?! What do we leave behind?!
I had imagined the answers to these questions. Yet I also had imagined how easy it would be to forget something important in the course of running around, getting ready to evacuate, knowing that our house might be a smoldering ash heap the next time we saw it.
So I Googled "evacuation checklist."
Just doing that made me feel better. Preparing for something that hopefully wouldn't ever happen provided an outlet for the nervous anxious energy that came with the electricity outage, red sky, smoky air, and high wind. I started by printing out this Fire Evacuation Check List.
I've got more to do, as does my wife. But it didn't take me long to mostly fill up a couple of suitcases with clothes, treasured personal/family items, health needs, and such. I also jotted down reminders about what else I need to put into a ready-to-go backpack that is sitting in my office -- my laptop, charging cables, iPhone charger, other things.
Naturally we'd never forget our dog or dog food. But we might forget essentials like the chew sticks that she enjoys for a doggie dessert after she has her dinner. So those now are part of a dog go-bag.
It pains me to see images of the homes and businesses that have been destroyed in the Santiam Canyon. When it is safe for people to return there, I'm sure the devastation will be even more horrific. But as people often say when they learn their house has been lost, "We can rebuild. And we're thankful we're safe."
Exactly. If Laurel and I ever have to flee our home in the face of a wildfire, that will be hugely stressful. After preparing some for that eventuality today, I'm feeling a bit more confident that we could do this without losing our minds -- too much.