Preparing for Wildland Fire on Your Homestead

Reader Contribution by Sean Mitzel
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Emergency preparedness is a necessary part of any well-functioning homestead. The lives of people and animals are at stake and, of course, many homesteaders livelihoods depend on it. This is especially timely and relevant considering the massive amounts of fires that have been and are burning in the Pacific Northwest. 

Preparedness is a vast subject and one could really get wrapped up in the mire of endless scenarios to prepare for and that, in and of itself, is an important topic. What do you prepare for? How do you prepare for it? The truth of the matter is that you cannot prepare for every conceivable event. To steal from the infamous and cult classic, The Princess Bride, “it is inconceivable!” 

One of the worst case scenarios for any homesteader is if you have to leave your homestead now! Hence, the emphasis on wildland fire. 

This is the exact situation my famiily was presented with a few weeks ago due to sudden forestland wildfire that started less than 1/2 mile from our property. To make matters worse, my wife and I were not at home, we were a full day’s drive from our homestead. Our kids were holding down the fort. They informed us of the situation and we made the quick decision to evacuate them immediately due to the drought, high winds and very dry conditions being experienced. 

Fortunately, our kids were able to act quickly, due to prior preparation, and call 911 to alert them to the fire. The fire department, armed with helicopter and float planes responded quickly and were able to douse the fire before it became out of control. No lives or structures were lost except for some portions of downed powerline which caused the blaze in the first place.

Homestead Wildlands Fire Preparedness: Lessons Learned

Here are some thoughts, reflections and lessons learned from the potential disaster that was averted on our homestead:

1. You can be very preparedness minded and still have a devastating personal disaster occur in your life. No one, regardless of preparation, is immune from calamity.

2. The worst case scenario is if you have to leave your own home right now! Planning for this is difficult especially on a homestead. With over 200 animals on the property this needs to be very well thought out.

3. Periodically go through what-if scenarios with family. These need to be broadly based and not specific. For example, “if you had 15 minutes to leave the house, never to return, what would you grab?” Fortunately, we had very recently (a few days) talked about this very scenario. The only difference being that we were able to return!

4. Human life is the top priority so you have to be mentally prepared to leave your animals. If you do not have to leave immediately, have a priority list to take your most important animals. Even though we would like to take all of them we could not do that in 15 minutes or even two hours. Have a plan to get the priority animals loaded up fast and practice this plan.

5. Have a primary, secondary and tertiary meeting place in case of fire. Have a local place to go for you and your animals now instead of during the fires. Have a regional place to go in case evacuation is widespread.

6. Our homestead lost power just before the fire started (downed powerline) so this complicated things. Internet was gone and water pressure was gone. Yes, we could have fired up the generator and brought those back but this impacted the critical minutes of fire recognition to leaving the property. Have plenty of fresh water/rain water storage. This is great for drinking, cooking and cleaning but not at all good for fire suppression. Think through your fire suppression plan if that is part of your preparation efforts.

7. Have lost of defensible space and firebreaks on your property but this is no guarantee. Think of defense of your property in layers but be ready to retire from the battlefield.

8. We were able to call and warn several neighbors from our vantage point. It is great to have all these numbers stored in your phone but have hardcopy also. Vehicles are a great place to maintain copies.

9. Have bug-out bags ready to go at all times including an important papers folder with essentials like birth certificates, marriage licenses, wills etc… 

There is much to add to this list but all of the above are important in homestead wildland fire planning.

Sean Mitzel is a permaculture designer and host of ‘The Courageous Life’ podcast. For more information about Sean and his family, please visit their website.

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