Homestead Emergency Preparedness

Reader Contribution by Bruce Mcelmurray
article image

Snowpack Is Dangerously Low

Over the years we have watched with heartbreak when wildfires have devastated an area. It seems that now our area is more vulnerable due to extreme drought and wildfires are at the forefront of our minds. Therefore this blog topic is about being prepared and having a plan should such a tragedy occur.  Normally our life here is utopia with birds chirping and the gentle breeze in the treetops. That is until we experience a severe drought like this year. We normally receive around 265-300” of snow which is the moisture we need to see us through the remainder of the year. This year we only received 105” of snow which has put us in peril. We have periods where the gentle breeze blows, the wildflowers bloom, the birds sing their songs, the deep well water is sparkling and pure and the air is clear and refreshing; but that is not to be this year.  

Weather Abnormalities 

We have to be prepared for and anticipate the unexpected that always seems to be right around the next corner of life here in the mountains. As I write this our air is filled with smoke from what we presume is the wildfire in New Mexico or Durango, CO. We have nice gentle breezes but we also have strong winds that topple trees and cause power outages, like last night.  Wind in the mountains changes direction often and is controlled by the contour of the gullies and ridges of the mountains. Colorado is a semi-arid state and for the past several weeks we have been doing last minute wildfire mitigation. We have been in red flag warning for several weeks and our part of the state is in exceptional drought conditions – the highest.

Factor In Disabilities

Throughout the west we are facing perilous conditions like wildfire or high wind. Weather patterns seem to me to be cyclical and we are in one of those heightened dangerous times presently. It requires having a plan to evacuate or to stay in place if cut off from safe evacuation. We have two disabled canine family members who do not have full use of their back legs so we need to factor that into our plans. We are not as agile as we once were so that too has to be considered. We need to have those items which are important ready to load so we can grab them quickly as time can be very limited. We keep a current list of those things to take with us so we don’t forget something necessary and important.

Evacuate Or Stay?

We also need to consider which direction the potential wildfire could come from and determine if it is safe to even try to evacuate. We only have one entrance/exit to our community. We need to shut off all propane sources, turn on the mist system, pack essentials like clothes, prescriptions, records, and computers just in case evacuation is a viable option. Due to the configuration and construction of our small home we could stay in place if we lacked a safe and secure escape route. Our location is remote so the likelihood of a safe departure could at best carry risk. All these considerations need to be evaluated ahead of time and options weighed and prioritized when clear thinking is possible.

Keeping Fur Family Safe

For us we must consider our three German Shepherd Dogs and their safety. Two have disabilities so that factors into the equation. One has a slipped disc that limits the mobility of his back legs. Another has been diagnosed with cauda equina which is an inflammation of the spinal canal where the nerves extend down to the rear extremities. Both would need extra assistance in being loaded into a vehicle. There is no chance we would leave without them nor is there any amount of persuasion that could compel us to leave them. Many evacuation centers will not allow fur family so we have a large tent that will house us and our canine family if needed. We need to pack their prescriptions, food bowls, food and leashes also. Therefore, depending on conditions, we have to be constantly prepared for fluctuating situations and sometimes when they are at a heightened level as they currently are we must not only be vigilant but ready to act quickly and affirmatively.

Thorough Planning 

We have had twenty years to prepare and our home exceeds the defensible standard established by the wildfire experts. Trees are thinned out, limbs removed up to 18’ high, ground cover is kept low and fuel sources are removed. The back half of our home is underground and the exterior has a stone facia. Our roof is metal and we have a misting system that will keep exposed wood surfaces wet or damp. We keep two 55 gallon drums full of water with manual hand pumps to use as necessary. With our one viable escape route about 12 miles away we have planned for both evacuation or staying put depending on the situation and circumstances.

Be Flexible

I can’t emphasize strongly enough that having a workable plan in place ahead of time may not guarantee survival but it will improve your chances as opposed to not having a plan. When peril is imminent is not the time to be formulating a hasty plan. Any plan that your survival depends on should be made when you are clear thinking and not left to spontaneity in the face of a pending threat. It should also be flexible enough to improvise if needed but the core plan needs to be fixed in place. All parties of a household should be familiar with the plan and who does what when the time comes. Survival may depend on having a plan and while our plan is not perfect perhaps it will give others a starting point in the development of a plan that suits their individual need. Each plan should be individually structured to meet specific needs, circumstances and capabilities.

Photos taken by Bruce and Carol McElmurray.

For more on Bruce and Carol McElmurray who live in a small house in the mountains of  southern Colorado with their three canine fur family members go to their blog site

All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Guidelines, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on their byline link at the top of the page.