This is a guest post by AZ Rookie Prepper
[This is an entry in our non-fiction writing contest where you could win a number of prizes including an 84 serving storage bucket of Wise Food Storage, 500 rounds of 9mm ammo, a NukAlert a copy of my book The Dirt Cheap Survival Retreat and a copy of my CD It’s The End Of The World As We Know It – And I Feel Fine . For complete rules and list of prizes see this post.]
On the 12th of June, right on the U.S. – Mexico border, a fire started in a remote portion of the Coronado National Monument, Cochise County, Arizona. Fanned by high winds and fueled by drought stricken grass, brush and trees, it quickly grew to 3000 acres in just a few hours. Heading north-northeast, it expanded up and down the Huachuca Mountains, engulfing terrain as varied as grasslands at the lower elevations, 4000 feet, through oak woods between 5500-6500 feet, to Ponderosa and Apache Pine at the higher elevations up to 9200 feet. The BIG problem was it was heading right for Hereford Arizona and Sierra Vista, Arizona, a community of approximately 50,000 people, just 12 or so miles away.
Lets set the stage here. Last February, this area had a record breaking freeze that killed many plants and trees that would normally never have to endure such cold. The region has only had less than an inch of rain since the 10th of September 2010. Moisture content of the flora was measured in single digits; it was a disaster waiting to happen. The Coronado National Monument along with the other federal and state lands in this vicinity were all closed to all visitors. No person or vehicle was supposed to be there. This area is known as a high volume route for human and drug smugglers coming out of Mexico. Putting two and two together, its not too hard to figure out that on a bright sunny day, at 1:00 p.m. in the afternoon, with nary a cloud in the sky, this did not happen by natural causes….
By the time the main fire had been mostly contained nine days later, approximately 65 homes, businesses and other structures had burned along with about 30,000 acres. What should make everyone here take notice is that between 10,000 and 12,000 people had to evacuate their homes and businesses, sometimes fleeing with just minutes to spare to get out of the way of the smoke and flames. I have always said that I’m going to “bug-in” if TSHTF, but I’ve had to reconsider that since the 12th of June. I’m more than willing and capable of standing my ground and defending my turf when it comes to the golden horde or mutant sodomizing zombies….but a wall of 40 foot flames rushing me? Hmmm…I think I need to reconsider this bugging out concept a little more.
Quite a few folks here were given no time whatsoever to evacuate, the flames moved that quickly. Many thousands more were put on pre-evacuation notice by the local sheriffs department. Those in the pre-evacuation and evacuation zones were warned, if told to leave and they did not, very likely no one would come to their rescue because it was that dangerous.
In the aftermath, I decided to do a lessons learned for myself and share it with you. This may apply, it may not, but I hope all of you can take some knowledge from this.
Lesson One. No possession is worth your life in this type of situation. You and your family are invaluable, everything else can be replaced.
Lesson Two. If you are in a pre-evacuation zone, do not hesitate. If you don’t have a place to go to, call ahead and reserve a storage facility and hotel rooms. Start moving stuff NOW. You may be able to make several trips before not being allowed back to your property. Always have a BOB ready. Have an evacuation plan that includes “What” goes and what stays, “Who” gets what items, “Where” you will meet up, “How” to communicate with each other, “How to get from home to evac location, “When” to leave and when to link up. Be prepared to change your evacuation plan. Sometimes spouses suddenly decide that something is too valuable to leave behind. Include as part of your plan a method of evacuating pets and livestock. There is nothing more pitiable than seeing and smelling helpless animals that survive a severe burn.
Lesson Three. Prepare your property. Soaker hoses, sprinklers, or even bucket brigades can be used to soak down the roof and sides of your buildings. Defensible space is important. Remove debris and burnable plants from next to the buildings and your propane tank.
Pay close attention to the areas where wind would accumulate leaves etc, the fire generates its own winds that will follow those same patterns and deposit burning materials right where you raked up all those leaves last fall. The homes where the occupants paid attention to maintaining their yards were much more likely to survive the fire than those that did not.
Close the valves on your propane tanks or consider shutting off your gas main (if the local gas company doesn’t do it for you). Move patio furniture, wind chimes, bird feeders etc indoors. This will prevent these items from becoming additional fuel or wind driven projectiles.
Windows tend to crack, break or even completely shatter in the heat of fires, even if that fire is not directly adjacent to the building. This allows burning embers to enter the home. Tape those windows or use shutters, metal or (last resort) wood to cover them. Valuables that must be left behind might survive a fire if placed in the oven, fridge or freezer. All of this is dependant upon having time of course.
Lesson Four. Be patient. All the time you are getting ready to move out, you could be subjected to tremendous amounts of smoke and ash falling on you and your family. Firefighting aircraft might well be zooming overhead. Fire trucks and other emergency vehicles could be parked right in your way.
The actual evacuation movement may involve traveling bumper to bumper with a lot of other people who also want to get out of there. Many will be frightened and stressed. Other folks will be doing 60 m.p.h. in a 25 m.p.h. zone. Low slung passenger sedans will be used like monster off-road trucks. People panic. Keep an eye on the kids, if unsupervised or with panicking adults, they’ll be the worst.
Lesson Five. Be prepared to help others. Think about your 70 year old neighbor trying to load her overweight dog into the car. How about the kids left at home while the parents went to work in the morning and they cannot get through the roadblocks to pick up their kids. Those firefighters working to save your property could probably use some ice, cool drinks, lip balm, clean socks, foot powder, food. The law enforcement officers trying to keep order in this mess have little or no time for meals or to run to the local convenience store for something to drink also.
Lesson Six. Be prepared to wait. Some evacuees here had to stay away from their homes for up to twelve days. All that time there was no electricity in their homes, so when they returned, it was to the smell of rotten food in their fridge and freezer. While their homes had not burned from the fire, phone lines, electric lines, cable lines did. Most had no gas service too. It might take awhile to get your services returned.
Lesson Seven. Be ready for criminals. Quite a few stories from people I trust involved seeing trucks driven by nefarious people, moving slowly, looking to see which houses had been evacuated. One guy was loading his trailer, a neighbor asked him to come over to help him with something. While next door, he watched a truck drive up his road, back up in his driveway and attempt to hook his trailer up. When confronted, the occupants of the truck quickly left the scene. After the evacuation orders were lifted, the scam artists start coming out, trying to “help” you with your damaged property. Only deal with reputable businesses or those you know.
Lesson Eight. Be ready for floods. After the fire is out, the ground has lost its natural cover that soaks up the rain. Here in the desert, the ground doesn’t absorb much to begin with, so all that water, no longer impeded by grass/brush etc. flows much more quickly across the landscape.
Lesson Nine. Community, prayer and luck will be the saving graces in pulling through a SHTF event like this. Cochise County, Hereford Arizona, Sierra Vista Arizona, and Palominas Arizona have pulled together and truly come through an unprecedented (in this area) disaster. A lot of people worked extremely hard to limit the damage that occurred and to help each other get through this.
While this fire might not be the definition of TEOTWAWKI to you, it does have applicable lessons for many of us. I am sure I missed some key elements, but these are the ones that have struck the strongest chords within me. All comments are welcome. What else would you do if this was to occur in your neck of the woods?