WILDFIRE EVACUATION PREPAREDNESS

Emergency Notifications & Information

In an emergency, Marin officials may use many different tools to communicate information and instructions to the community: Alert Marin, Nixle, Social Media, local TV and radio, and social media (Facebook and Twitter) are the primary outlets. Sign up and prepare to use these systems now, before an emergency occurs.

These systems are not guaranteed to work in an emergency or during a power outage, and monitoring and understanding them is your personal responsibility. To ensure that you have access to information from multiple sources in an emergency, review the available systems on the preceding page. Monitor a battery powered AM/FM radio continuously during power outages to keep apprised of current conditions.

Don't neglect to use your own senses - look, listen, and smell for signs of fire and changing conditions!

REGISTER TO RECEIVE EVACUATION NOTICES & FIRE INFORMATION

ALERT MARIN

Emergency Alerts
Alert Marin Emergency Notification System
WHEN DO WE USE IT?
  • When ACTION is needed at a SPECIFIC ADDRESS
  • Imminent flooding, wildfires, and evacuations 
  • During-event information about evacuation routes, shelters, transportation
  • Other public safety incidents where lives may be at risk

 

NIXLE

Information Notices
nixle logo
WHEN DO WE USE IT?
  • When INFORMATION is needed in a ZIP CODE
  • Road closures, general updates, issues affecting larger areas
  • Post-disaster information about shelters, transportation, or supplies
  • Police activity and general public safety information

 

SOCIAL MEDIA

Twitter, Facebook, NextDoor
social icons
WHEN DO WE USE IT?
  • Less critical and low level UPDATES intended for larger populations
  • Traffic updates, road closures,incident updates, and contact information
  • Safety announcement, power outages, minor issues, frequent updates
  • Disaster recovery resources

Follow:

@marinsheriff @marincountyfire 
(and your local agencies)

Evacuation Terminology

The terms “voluntary” and “mandatory” are often incorrectly used to describe evacuations. In Marin, fire agencies and law enforcement will use the terms Evacuation Order, Evacuation Warning, and Shelter-In-Place to alert you to the significance of the danger and provide basic instructions.

 EVACUATION ORDER

Leave now! Evacuate immediately, do not delay to gather belongings or prepare your home. Follow any directions provided in the evacuation order.

EVACUATION WARNING

Evacuate as soon as possible.  A short delay to gather valuables and prepare your home may be ok (see Evacuation Checklist) may be ok.  Leave if you feel unsafe.  

SHELTER IN PLACE

Stay in your current location or the safest nearby building or unburnable area.  May be required when evacuation isn’t necessary or is too dangerous

Before a Fire Threatens

Assemble a "Go Kit"

At all times during fire season, prepare a Wildfire and Emergency "Go Kit."  Assemble a kit for each family member and pet, and keep the kit(s) in your vehicle or near your front door.  

Install Battery Backups

GARAGE DOORS

It's very common for the power to go out before a fire strikes, since fire and winds can damage electrical infrastructure.  You need to be prepared to communicate and escape, even without power.  How will you receive warning at night if the power is out, and how will you open your garage door to evacuate if there is no power?

For garage doors, a battery backup should be installed.  They typically cost less than $100, and can be installed by homeowners.

Check with your garage door opener manufacturer to see if they make a battery specific to your opener model, although universal models are available. 

COMMUNICATIONS & Internet

For home phones and internet connections, a "UPS" Uninterruptible Power Supply is a good option (link is for Amazon, however they are available locally, in-stock at Best Buy, Costco, and other electronics stores).

The larger the UPS is, the longer it will last when the power goes out (consider the 1500VA model, about $150).  Consider keeping one dedicated to your home phone, and another dedicated to your internet cable modem.  A 1500VA model will last about 2 hours when attached to a cable modem and router, and a home phone may last up to 24 hours, depending on usage.

Please consult with the manufacturer for specifics and installation instructions.  Test regularly to confirm function.

Diablo and Santa Ana Winds - Fire Weather in Marin

Monitor Daily Weather Conditions

Monitoring predicted fire weather can provide advanced warning and extra time to prepare before a fire strikes. During the North Bay Fires of 2017, the National Weather Service issued a Red Flag Warning 72 hours before the fires began.

Most major wildfires that destroy homes and cause death and injuries have a common denominator: dry winds blowing from the east or northeast.  These conditions are most common in the fall from September to October, but can happen any time of year and will always be associated with potentially catastrophic fires during the dry season.

Text your Zip code to 888777 to register for Nixle and receive Marin Fire Weather information notices.

Harden Your Home

Long before a fire strikes, all Marin homeowners should take time to harden their homes against embers and flames, and create defensible space with good landscaping and maintenance practices.

A wildfire-safe home must be resistant to ignition from wind-blown embers.  Even if the flames never reach your home, it must be able to withstand exposure to millions of tiny embers that can be carried a mile or more in front of a wildfire.  

Hardening a home is not always complicted or expensive! Use our guidelines to evaluate your home's vulnerabilities and retrofit ember and ignition resistant features today!

Harden a Home Against Wildfire - Fire Resistant Construction
Diablo and Santa Ana Winds - Fire Weather in Marin

Create Defensible Space

Defensible Space is the ignition resistant space you create around your home through landscape design, plant selection, and regular maintenance.

Defensible space will help slow or stop the spread of wildfire and protect your home from catching fire – either from direct flame contact or radiant heat.  Defensible space is also important to help protect firefighters when they are defending your home. 

What Should I do During a Red Flag Warning?

  • During a Red Flag Warning or Fire Weather Watch, you must be extremely cautious, prepare your family, and take steps to prevent wildfires. 
  • Review your Go Kit and ensure it’s complete 
  • Prepare your home and family for a potential fire by reviewing the steps on your evacuation checklist
  • Gather your important documents and belongings where they can be quickly loaded if evacuation is necessary.
  • Ensure your phones are charged and receiving messages. 
  • Remain alert and monitor conditions outside and nearby.
  • Don’t use power tools, barbecues, or any potential heat or spark source outside.

Red Flag Warnings are determined by the National Weather Service. All local media outlets will announce Red Flag Warnings when they are issued. Marin authorities will announce Red Flag Warnings by text message via Nixle.

When Evacuation is a Possibility

When a Red Flag Warning has been issued, or if a fire is burnign nearby, you should take steps to prepare for the possibility of evacuation.

1. Review Your Evacuation Checklist

Download and print our Wildfire Evacuation Checklist and Family Communications Plan.  If evacuation is anticipated and time allows, follow this checklist to give your family and home the best chance of survival. Be sure to complete the Family Communication Plan on the opposite side for each family member and keep in your “Go Kit(s).”

2. Dress For Survival

When preparing to evacuate, dress yourself and family in clothes that will shield from heat, embers and flames. Natural fabrics, such as heavy denim or pure wool are better than synthetics, no matter how hot it is. Keep these items near your “Go Kit” during fire season:

  • Sturdy leather boots with Vibram-lug soles
  • Long pants (wool or cotton) with sturdy belt
  • Floppy cotton hat
  • Handkerchief or bandana to cover face
  • Full-coverage goggles
  • Long sleeved shirt that covers neck (tuck into pants)
  • Wool socks
  • Leather work gloves

Put these clothes on at the first sign of trouble.  If you can smell or see smoke, it’s time to prepare.

3. Monitor Information Sources

Monitor TV, phones, radio, and social media for local fire and emergency information and evacuation notifications. Emergency personnel will attempt to provide timely evacuation notifications via Alert Marin, and emergency information via Nixle and Social Media if your community is threatened by wildfire. Act quickly and follow their instructions.

Keep your cell phone charged, and ensure your home phone has backup power.

LOCAL NEWS RADIO

If the power is out, local news radio or a NOAA weather radio with emergency alerting capability may be your best options to receive emergency alerts.  

  • AM 740
  • AM 810
  • FM 106.9
  • FM 88.5
  • West Marin: FM 90.5 Point Reyes, FM 89.9 Bolinas.

Keep the radio on in the background during power outages, Red Flag Warnings, or when a fire is burning nearby.

A NOAA Weather Radio can be an excellent source of information during emergencies.  Prices vary from $20 up, depending on the model. Many receivers have an alarm feature, but some may not. Check the NOAA website for more details.

THE EVACUATION PROCESS

When to Evacuate

Leave immediately if you receive a notification or alert to avoid being caught in fire, smoke or road congestion.  Don’t wait to be ordered by authorities to leave if you are unsure, feel threatened, or lose power or communications. Law enforcement will direct the evacuation, and they will keep intersections open and moving, but their resources may be limited.  Evacuating early (before evacuation is ordered) helps keep roads clear of congestion, and lets fire apparatus move more freely to do their job.  If you are advised to leave, don’t hesitate!

  • The fire Incident Commander will issue the evacuation order through the Sheriff's Office, and will determine the areas to be evacuated and escape routes to use (if there are options) depending upon the fire’s location, behavior, winds, terrain, etc.
  • Law enforcement agencies are responsible for enforcing an evacuation order.  Follow their directions promptly.
  • You will be advised of potential evacuations as early as possible by Alert Marin.  YOU MUST REGISTER TO RECEIVE ALERTS.
  • You must take the initiative to stay informed and aware. Listen to your radio (AM 1610, AM 840, and others) and TV for announcements from law enforcement and emergency personnel.
  • You may be directed to temporary assembly areas to await transfer to a safe location.

All evacuation instructions provided by officials should be followed immediately for your safety.

Evacuation Process

Learn more, below:

  • When to Evacuate
  • Choosing an Evacuation Route
  • By Car or By Foot
  • What if My Road is Blocked?
  • But My Neighborhood Only Has One Way Out!
  • Fire Roads
  • If You Are Trapped
  • Returning Home

Your Evacuation Route

Your primary evacuation route is usually the one you would take to the grocery store! Take the fastest and most familiar route to a wide, primary road on the valley floor, away from the fire if possible. Never evacuate uphill unless directed to do so by fire or law enforcement authorities. Don’t evacuate by fire road or “cross country” trails where you might be exposed to unburned vegetation.

  • Take the shortest route to a place of refuge in an open area, preferably paved, near a valley floor.
  • Carry an Evacuation Route Map with at least two routes (if possible) in your Go Kit.*
  • Drive your planned route of escape before an actual emergency.  This is most likely the route you normally take to leave your community, as that's typically the shortest and is the route you're most familiar with.
  • The darkness and flames of a fire can be disorienting. Familiar landmarks may not be recognizeable during a fire.  
  • Don't panic in traffic! Your goal should be to get to a wide, paved area near a valley floor where you're safer, even in traffic.

*During an evacuation, law enforcement or emergency personnel may direct you to an alternate route.  Always follow their directions.

Take the fastest & most protected route to a valley floor.

Carpool! Every seat should be filled!

Stay in your car or a refuge area if trapped.

Don’t panic in traffic - a wide road on the valley floor is one of the safest places you can be, even in traffic.

Take the car that is most capable of getting you out alive:

  • Leave the convertible...
  • Take the SUV if possible..
  • Take the car with the fullest tank of fuel...

Take Your Car!

Media images of burned cars have left many California residents with the misconception that cars are highly vulnerable to wildfires.  The opposite is true!

Your car provides a tremendous amount of protection.  Made of glass and steel, it protects from hot gasses, embers, and radiant heat and as long as it stays on pavement, is extremely resistant to burning!

With an AM/FM radio, air filtration and air conditioning, headlights, and protection from heat, your car is like a survival suit for wildfires.  

  • Turn your headlights on.
  • Wear your seatbelt.
  • Pick up neighbors - especially elderly or disabled residents who may be unable to evacuate on their own.
  • Fill every seat! Carpool!
  • Turn on inside air and air conditioning.
  • Tune to local news radio stations.
  • Proceed slowly and calmly.
  • Don't pass cars when visibility is low.
  • Don't panic in traffic.

Alerts and Notifications

When a wildfire threatens your community, emergency managers will determine areas to be evacuated, and routes to use, depending upon the fire’s current and predicted location. Law enforcement officers are responsible for enforcing an evacuation order.  Follow their directions promptly.

If time allows, officials will attempt to advise you of the safest evacuation routes. You must take the initiative to keep informed and alert. Listen to your radio for updates on changing conditions. Monitor Alert Marin and Nixle for notifications and updates You may be directed to temporary assembly or refuge areas to await transfer to a safe location.

Children and Schools

Public and private schools will attempt to notify parents, and evacuate children only if time allows.  Schools may need to “shelter in place” and will protect children in safe places on campus if a wildfire strikes without time to evacuate. 

When an evacuation is ordered, parents may not be allowed in to the evacuated area to pick up students!  Communicate this with your children in advance, and send them to school prepared with the tools they need to communicate and protect themselves, such as extra food, long cotton clothing, and a list of primary and alternate emergency contacts and numbers.

Fire Roads

Fire roads are for firefighter use, and are not a safe option for evacuation. Stay on pavement, in your vehicle if possible. The unmaintained vegetation on fire roads, the fact that most lead uphill, and the requirement for high-clearance, 4-wheel drive vehicles makes them unsafe and unsuitable for evacuation.

Firefighters don't evacuate uphill, don't evacuate towards "unburned" vegetation, and don't attempt to outrun a fire uphill.  You shouldn't either.

Paved Roads

Take the fastest route towards the open areas and wide roads of a valley floor - the route you normally take to the grocery store is usually the best route to evacuate by.  If available, law enforcement officers will direct traffic and wave vehicles through intersections. Even during an extreme wildfire, when there may be fire on both sides of the road, you will be safer inside your vehicle than out. Keep the windows rolled up, outside vents closed, turn your lights on, and drive slowly and carefully. Don’t panic if caught in traffic.  You are safer in your car than outside! Do not stop to ask law enforcement officers or firefighters for fire information.

Temporary Refuge or Assembly Areas

Open locations free of unburned vegetation may be safe places to wait while a fire passes. If your evacuation route is blocked or impassable, a wide parking lot, ball field, or even a house or commercial building may provide temporary shelter. Parking your car, with windows up, in a location far from vegetation or structures and waiting for the fire to pass, is often a safe option for sheltering in place. Authorities may choose to evacuate the temporary refuge areas en-masse when it’s safe to do so.

Evacuation Centers

Emergency managers will attempt to provide information on safe evacuation centers if time allows. Plan to drive towards the highway 101 corridor. The Marin Civic Center Fairgrounds are a pre-designated evacuation facility and a safe location for evacuees. For small-scale local evacuations or disaster recovery and sheltering, local schools, community centers, or large parking lots may be used.

The Road is Blocked!

Don't panic! Law enforcement can move a large number of vehicles through intersections. Remember that your car provides a tremendous amount of protection from heat, smoke, and embers.  

  • Stay calm.
  • The presence of fire or flames on the roadside does not necessarily mean your road is blocked.  You can usually safely drive when there is fire burning on the roadsides.  
  • Being stuck in traffic in your car, on unburnable pavement, is usually safer than being exposed on foot.
  • If the road is blocked, try to clear the obstruction (if it's safe to exit your vehicle).
  • Turn around if the obstruction can't be cleared.
  • If an alternate route is available and your main route is blocked, take it.
  • Try to drive away from the fire if possible, and take the shortest route to a valley floor if you're on a hillside.
  • Do not leave your vehicle unless there is no other option or your car is on fire.  Leaving your car is a last resort and may prove deadly.  You are almost always safer in your car or a building.  
  • Do not abandon your car in the roadway.  Park it off the road if there is no other option.
  • Take refuge in an open area like a ballfield, large parking lot, or shelter in yoiur car or inside a building if no quick escape route is available and flames are approaching. See "Shelter in Place," below...

But My Neighborhood Only Has One Way Out!

If you live in a "one way in, one way out" neighborhood, as is common in Marin, your escape route is predetermined.

  • Use the "one-way-out" direction and leave!  Drive towards your neighborhood's exit, and to the nearest town away from the fire. 
  • Follow instructions in the alert messages if they provide evacuation shelter or escape route information.
  • Do not attempt to evacuate by fire roads or open spaces where you might be exposed to burning vegetation.  Fire roads are almost always more dangerous than being in your car on the pavement.
  • But fire engines will block my escape! 
    • When evacuation has been ordered, the fire's Incident Commander will instruct fire engines not to enter areas where evacuation is occurring and two-way passage is not possible.  Evacuation is the number one priority for firefighters.

IF YOU ARE UNABLE TO EVACUATE ON YOUR OWN

  • Ask a neighbor to assist you or give you a ride.  Pre-plan a list of neighbors who may be able to assist you.
  • Call 911 if you are disabled or need assistance to evacuate.
  • If first responders are in your neighborhood, attempt to notify them that you require assistance.

SHELTERING IN PLACE

If You Are Trapped or Unable to Evacuate

Wildfires are unpredictable and spread quickly. Even if you’ve prepared in advance, you may be required to “shelter in place” if ordered or if you find yourself trapped by a wildfire. To survive this frightening scenario, it is important to remain calm and keep everyone together. Prepare yourself mentally for darkness (even during the day), noise, chaos, and the natural urge to flee the safety of your shelter.  If you’re unable to evacuate, it’s probably safer INSIDE a car or building where your airway, eyes, and skin are protected!

Take shelter in the nearby place that is best able to withstand the fire. This may be your home, another building made of more resistant materials or that is less exposed to burning vegetation, your car, or an open outdoor area like an irrigated playing field or parking lot far from vegetation. Stay calm and together while the wildfire passes. When directed, or when the fire outside subsides, move to a safer area.

If safe evacuation is not an option, follow these steps:

Shelter in a House or Building

  • A building should be your first choice for shelter if evacuation is not possible.
  • Close all doors and windows and leave them unlocked.
  • Keep car keys, cell phone, ID, and flashlight with you.
  • Gather all family members and pets (in carriers) and lay down near the front door, protecting your airway by breathing near the floor if it becomes smoky or hot.
  • Monitor the fire and be observant. Watch for small (spot) fires.
  • Call 9-1-1 and let them know your location.
  • Leave the house only if it becomes too hot or smoky inside, or when it’s obviously safer outside.

Shelter in Your Car

  • If your escape route is blocked and there is no safe building nearby to take refuge in, park and stay in your car - it is far safer than being out in the open.
  • Never attempt to evacuate by unpaved fire-roads.
  • Find a place to park on pavement that has little or no vegetation, in an outside turn if on a hillside.
  • Turn on headlights and emergency flashers to make your car more visible through heavy smoke.
  • Close all windows and doors, shut off all air vents, and turn off the air conditioner.
  • Get below the windows, under blankets (preferably wool) and lie on the floor to shelter yourself from radiant heat if it becomes hot.
  • Call 9-1-1 and let them know your location.
  • Stay in the vehicle as long as possible.
  • Wait until the fire front passes and temperature has dropped outside, then get out and move to a safe area that has already burned.

Large Animal Evacuation

Preparing horses and other large animals for a wildfire evacuation requires an extra level of planning, preparedness and practice. Building an evacuation kit  for each animal, and having a plan for them that’s been practiced, increases the potential your animals will be able to leave when you do. If the wildfire’s proximity does not permit the time needed to load animals in trailers, it’s best to turn them loose and not leave them confined in a barn or pasture.

RETURNING HOME

Fire officials will determine when it is safe for you to return to your home. This will be done as soon as possible considering safety and accessibility.

When you return home:

  • Be alert for downed power lines and other hazards
  • Check propane tanks, regulators, and lines before turning gas on
  • Check your residence carefully for hidden embers or smoldering fires

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