This guest post and entry in our non-fiction writing contest.
with humor and slight loss of dignity. By Mama J
This is story of an experienced prepping family told to ready themselves for a possible five-minute evacuation during a forest fire in the summer of 2012. I type the word “experienced” with some humility and I am humbled by our mistakes. We flunked.
Having lived in a mountain state for most of my married adult life we have been prepping for any number of survival scenarios including the obvious blizzards, drought, pandemic flu, plague, EMP, war, and of course, attacks from Mutant Zombie Bikers (MZB‘s).
Of course we have fires and plenty of them. We live at the base of some of the tallest peaks in the country surrounded by farmland.
Big fire before now was always “under control” or some percent contained. Now, add super dry conditions, stupid humans, dry lightning storms and lots of wind. I have read horrifying stories about big fire but you never really appreciate the speed and flash devastation until you see it.
Huge pines exploding right below helicopters dumping sling shots of water that look like fairies peeing on a volcano. Smoke and ash.
You know when you can HEAR it, you are way too close.
We thought we had all the bases covered. Bug out bags, bug out vehicles, bug out bikes, cache of supplies at a friend’s house. Flash drives of documents, cash, plans, maps, Plan A, B, and C. I had recently done a photo and spreadsheet inventory on all of our belongings. Including, firearms, ammo, preps, food and extra supplies. Updated our policies and we are insured to the hilt.
We tortured our children (and ourselves) for years with middle of the night fire and evacuation drills. Ripped screens, smashed fingers, pajamas full of snow, boy fist fights in the middle of the night, tears over lost shoes and general mayhem.
Reverse drills to get home from school and work. We thought we had lovingly beat the family into evacuation submission.
Frightened screaming children are not something you want to deal with in an emergency if you can help it. Drill, talk to them, drill again. Encourage children to find ways to better your system. They really love planning the drills and waking their parents up at 2am.
The real fun begins… I wasn’t too worried about the fire until I noticed the number of big helicopters thu-umping over the farm. I say thumping because of the noise. Thu-ump thu-ump thu-ump. Right? Especially when they are so low you feel the vibration. They normally have big fire under control in a few days. It was so hot. Much hotter than we high altitude brats are used to.
We are used to very low humidity, but the air would suck the spit right out of you. No rain for months. The high winds were keeping the smoke cloud from looking like a big mean reason for you to leave on vacation.I was calm the first day I was told we “might” need to evacuate. I loaded the truck with everything it would hold. Left room for the kids and hooked up the camper to spend time away. Checked on neighbors, readied some livestock to load. Started irrigating, and set up sprinklers on the house. Watching the fire and waiting.
Being part of a cohesive community is a blessing. A neighboring farmer offered to back burn his hay fields and CRP land to prohibit the fire from reaching our properties. At great loss of income to himself. And possible fines because of an obvious burn ban in effect. He called the Sheriffs office to get Fire Department permission but was told someone would get back to him. No one did. Surprise? No. They were busy fighting a fire! Other neighbors with water trucks, backhoes and tractors were busy cutting fire breaks on other properties and ready to help at any moment. We are ready and waiting……
I think I am very cool and prepper chic. Queen of prepper world,. No one is as prepared as I am! Haha!
We slept with one eye open that night.
We woke to sound of more helicopters and sirens. We are still on standby. Husband plans to stay home but is called in for an injured employee at work. Son works only a few miles away, he goes into work also. So what? If we need to leave I am ready. Radio says certain areas must be on standby to leave within five minutes. Ours was on the “get ready” list.
Looking out the window I notice a new fire on the mountain side parallel to our farm. It was truly frightening to see how fast it was spreading in all directions. The helicopters and are all over it. This one is going to be very bad if it is allowed to get out off-hand. In this area there are thousands of beetle kill pines that are bombs waiting to go off. Through the day the wind is increasing along with everyone’s anxiety. Now, the fire crews are divided. There is no road or foot access to this area. Almost vertical rock faces and forest on BLM land. I am starting get nervous. I call the family to come home.
Then, I got the stupid phone calls…Not the stupid phone call that said we had to be ready to leave at any moment. The stupid phones calls that my family can’t get home because no one can get through the road blocks. They do not have proof of residency! What road blocks? Where did they come from?
This is not on my list. Not on any prepper list anywhere! I am not prepared for this.
I see something pathetic, wiggling on the ground. My prepper ego.
Husband said not to bring the truck because there is a line of vehicles in both lanes. To go around is too far. What am I supposed to do? I have two girls with me under 9 yrs old. Looking around the yard, my eyes spy the riding lawn mower. YES! Two hot cranky children in a lawn tractor-trailer, in a nest of towels, water bottles and umbrellas, to bring my husband proof of residency. Imagine grid locked trucks, cars, livestock trailers with stomping horses on a hot county road. Your personal vehicle is loaded to the hilt and hooked to a camper. What do you do, to get there quickly? Forget your pride and ride that lawnmower to save the day! Who cares if the girls are doing the parade princess wave at the folks we pass in vehicles. You are on a mission! Insert the witch on bicycle music from the Wizard of Oz.
Always have proof of residency in your vehicles and on your person! A current address on your license is helpful. Something NONE of us had. Car registration, insurance, electric bill, pay check stub. Now, most of us have this in our private vehicles, but my husband and son who were at different roadblocks, were in company trucks. Make sure your spouse, teens, parents, sisters, ,brothers, friends, anyone who will need to get to your home or retreat have some kind of proof. During an evacuation, the police, fire department, whomever is working the road block is protecting your property and your lives to the best of their ability. I was confused why they had our roads blocked when they hadn’t actually ordered us to leave. Don’t expect anything to be logical in a big emergency. I suppose it was to keep out the media, gawkers, and the hordes of stupid folks who are bound and determined to get in the way.
Looters dressed as firemen were reported caught in the evacuated areas. The boyfriend of a neighbor drove past the road block, through a ditch and a fence to get to her because they wouldn’t let him in. Ah, true love.
Husband is now home and working to finish up his part of the plans. Now, I must journey to the “other” roadblock to get my son, and the lawn mower is not going to get me there fast enough. The new rescue plan involved me almost killing myself on my (younger) sons Suzuki 250F motocross race bike and scaring the tar out of the Highway Patrolman. I think he had thoughts of pulling his side arm, as a sweaty slightly angry frustrated fully armed woman on a dirt bike shoves a 6 yr old report card in his face. (The only proof I could find for a older son who doesn’t live with us.) I wouldn’t have blamed him, though I was glad when he didn’t. I wasn’t thinking clearly. How stupid of me. I would have been in a pickle indeed if he decided to cuff me and stick me in his car.
Home again, everyone where they should be. Hydrate. Re load motorcycle. Next note to self: Why did you buy that monster motorcycle for your child without riding it yourself first?
Our rescued son is hooking up trailers to his and his Fathers trucks.
Remember that you can not drive two cars at once. Decide what goes and what stays beforehand. Figure out who is pulling and driving what. That part of the plan can change everyday. Two of my sons (drivers) were out-of-town. You can not pull a horse trailer with a Mustang GT unless you plan ahead!
Husband is packing up firearms and ammo. We have a metal gun safe, but he is not leaving his arsenal if he doesn’t have to. He insists they go in his crew cab truck/with locking bed only and only under his supervision. I don’t see the logic in that, but I can’t talk him out of it and we must pick our battles. At this point I do not care just so long there is a shot of whiskey for me somewhere in the next hour or so.
Not enough gun cases! We had guns inherited from family without cases, etc. I saved all the gun boxes when we bought new ones, but they were shoved under the bed with cases of pickles and jelly shoved in front of those. He didn’t know where they were! He was wrapping rifles in blankets, secured with duct tape. Time consuming, not good.
Practice moving your arsenal! Quickly. It is not fun, ammo is heavy, but do it!
I would not advise putting all your firearms in the same vehicle if you can help it. In case you lose one vehicle, you don’t lose all your firearms. Load your firearms (with ammo) with ones you need within reach. Plan it. When you have four people running in and out of the house, there is no rhyme or reason how the vehicle is loaded.
Make sure that every part of your evacuation plan is intact and functioning at all times.
For months before the fire I was complacent with an important part of our bug out plan. Our camper is our portable living/sleeping/storage unit and even if we must abandon it, we can pull the bikes off and have extra supplies away from home. Don’t put off repairs. Last fall I dropped the camper off at the mechanic ( a friend) to have the lights/brakes rewired, brakes replaced, hubs repacked and the axels flipped for higher clearance.
I am going to share some history to clarify: Boys took camper hunting. Brought camper home. Didn’t tell Mom that they “kinda” bottomed out. Or, for a better term, high centered the camper. What really happened was they ripped the trailer brake/light wiring out and (I think) slightly damaged the axel. Next spring Mom is driving her truck pulling said camper down from a 10,000 ft summit on a winding 8% grade and looses ALL trailer and truck brakes. Obviously, the trailer brakes were already gone and the truck brakes couldn’t handle it. The truck brakes were only 2 months old. I can tell you that this camper is loaded. Packed with supplies. Very heavy.
Husband is in the passenger seat asleep until I started screaming. It is a miracle that the poor man still has hearing in his left ear. I managed to get the truck/trailer pulled over into the runaway lane. Smoke pouring out of the truck rims and smells like…well horrible. I refused to get back in the truck for an hour. I cried, pouted and wanted to call a tow truck. No cell service.
While I was waiting for my stomach to leave my upper esophagus, and changed my pants, I gifted myself with the horror of all the terrible things we had just avoided. I have an incredible imagination. Truly the gift that keeps on giving. Shame to waste it.
“Rolling smashed 1000 ft below where I am now standing. My last moments on this earth looking up at the trails of tediously hoarded bug out supplies strewn on the rocks. Fish antibiotics, ammo, Wiggy bags, MRE’s, my precious 50 rolls of eco toilet paper blowing in the wind. Bags of dryer lint stuck in tree limbs. (No one would ever know how long it took to save all that dryer lint.). Tiny projectile rechargeable batteries. Oh Lord, the shiny stainless Royal Berkey. Oh please, not that.
Propane tanks exploding would at least send a smoke signal to mark our location of devastation. God forbid we should be the cause of a bloody forest fire!
They could simply put the fire out and cover the wreckage with the multitude of camo netting, tarps and call it good. Zip tie a bunch of plastic flowers on the guard rail they installed later in our memory. Cheaper than the overtime for the Department of Transportation crew to remove our sorry carcasses, and all our junk. Way less embarrassing for the family.”
I should also mention that after the husband checks out the cooled truck brakes and declares them good enough to get us off the mountain, I slowly climb into the passenger seat. Husband walks over, re opens the door, standing there with a sincerely sympathetic look, and a slight smirk. . Damn his eyes, I know what he is thinking. He wants me to get back on the horse and drive this wreck down the hill!
Sometimes I want to hate him for being right. Here I go again, in first gear the whole way, white knuckle, with tears streaming down my face. Diesel engine grumbling like belly on a springtime bear. Husband is relaxed, toothpick hanging out of his mouth,arm casually rested out the window, enjoying the scenery at 5 miles per hour. A more patient man was never born.
As soon as we get to the town at the bottom of the mountain the axel fell apart and the tire fell off the camper. When the truck lurched and I saw the tire bouncing across the road in the side view mirror, I was really mad and ready to pour a can of diesel over the whole thing. Light it up and dance like a maniac, giggling. At least I wasn’t crying anymore.
Oh, sorry. I get carried away.
Back to why it is important to keep your equipment and vehicles the best that they can be. Right now.
The camper was still at the mechanic shop when it snowed the previous fall so I didn’t think about pestering the guy to get it back. I need to stop being so nice. Right? I am a paying customer after all. I am sure the camper got put on the back burner because he assumed I didn’t need it. Well. I still need it when it snows! Disasters are not fair weather friends. So spring comes and summer. We spend our recreation time in the high country so I was itching to get it back.
One week later….
I pulled it home and noticed the trailer brakes weren’t working as well as I thought they should. Call mechanic. I said, “So hey buddy, how’d those brakes work for you when you test drove it.” Mechanic says, “I dunno, I didn’t try them, I figured you would adjust them when you got home.” What!? Do you know me? I am not a mentally stable person when it comes to trailers!!” I also said. “I hope you’re not sitting down to supper because I will be back in 15 minutes.” I was. I made him go over everything he did, how he did it, and made sure it worked properly.
By the way, the boys that broke it, paid for it. Plus, a bottle of hair dye for Mom. Tinnitus testing for Dad.
Not only did I go over the camper when I got it home, I learned how to service the generator and bought extra parts. Went through the water, food, first aid, hygiene, clothes, and cleaning supplies. Ammo, gear, previously mentioned survival supplies which still remind of my near death experience.
Filled the propane bottles. No, the propane guy would NOT explain to me how to refill small tanks from my big tank at home. Party pooper.
While I was at it, I checked all the bikes and stored some more extra parts. The tool box had some critical missing items. All this was a mere week before the fire.
Keep family out of your bug out supplies! Tape instruction notes on everything. Everyone needs to know what you know. My boys are terrible about not replacing what they use. Make a running list in the house so everyone can write down what they used and what is needed.
Ladies! Empower yourselves! YOU MUST learn how to operate your families equipment. Tears do not start generators. Cursing will not change tires. You need to know everything your husband knows.
And vise versa.
Gentlemen! You must learn where your wives store the stuff. You know. The stuff. You are the only one that knows what important life saving stuff your wife has hidden from you. In the most obvious places.
Single folks! Remember all the above when you get married. You might not have the extra set of hands when you wish for it right now, but you know where you put everything ( I hope). You should know how your stuff works (More hope).
The most important lesson I learned in an evacuation situation.
Make peace with the fact that your house, and everything you own may not be there when you return.
Make sure your family does also. This is not as easy as it seems. I secretly fretted and worried about losing “stuff”, while trying to put on a confident face.
You know all the stuff that we have painstakingly searched for the last 30 years. Thousands of items that we have pu ton endless lists, sought out, saved for, purchased, and placed on this property for our families survival. My life’s work could disappear at any moment. We all realize this could happen. When it becomes your reality, it is a whole new ball game. It can affect your decision-making and your mental status.
Ok, I admit it.
One thing I refused to part with was our new boat. The last dying words of my ego. “Take the boat!“ In my defense it had 50 gallons of water and 78 gallons of fuel in it!
We were not asked to officially evacuate. We were on standby for two days. We left anyway because of the smoke. Our visiting niece was having troubles with it. We dropped the livestock and cats at the at a friends farm and declined their gracious invitation to stay the night.
We stayed at the cool lake away from fire. We sat together on a public lands picnic table, eating Mountain House dinners by lantern light, laughing and making fun of each other. Talking about how we could improve our REAL evacuation skills. I looked at each beautiful face around the table and stopped worrying about the belongings I left behind..
My husband slept in his truck with his guns and ammo. Our son dozed in his truck with the dogs guarding his Dad.
The little kids and I slept on the boat, where fire couldn’t reach us. I drifted off to sleep looking at the red glow on the horizon. I never slept better.
We returned home in two days. Our property was fine thanks to incredible amazing Neighbors, dedicated Firefighters and National Guard Helicopter Pilots. The same Firefighters who make $10.00 an hour. They sleep in parks on the ground and can’t buy health insurance. If you see these brave civilians, buy them a coke or a meal. Shake their hands, and thank them for their sacrifice and hard work.
What we went through was minor and could have been much worse. No matter how well you prep or practice, something will come up to challenge you. Stay calm and keep your sense of humor. Be ready to improvise, adapt, and change your plans instantly.
One day after we returned home it rained for the first time in six months.
This contest will end on February 16 2013 – prizes include:
- First Place winner will receive Two cases of MRE’s courtesy of Camping Survival, A Wonder Junior Deluxe hand-mill courtesy of Kitchen Kneads, $150 gift certificate for Fiocchi Ammo courtesy of LuckyGunner Ammo, A Big Berkey Water Filter System courtesy of TruPrep Emergency Preparedness and a one year subscription to Personal VPN service courtesy of unspyable.
- Second Place: A $200 gift certificate for any order from their store courtesy of Shepherd Survival and A Doom and Bloom Mini Trauma Bag courtesy of LPC Survival.
- Third Place: A Bar-ricade door bar courtesy of My Locksmith, Inc.