The Northwest Large Fire Interactive Web Map tells the tale – Washington and Oregon are in the thick of wildfire season, with parts of both states either currently under evacuation orders or recovering from recent evacuations. What, a decade ago, seemed like an east-of-the-Cascades urban-wildland interface problem now is creeping closer to home for people who never considered wildfire a possible threat.
If an evacuation order is issued for your area, would you know what to do and when? Fire officials classify evacuations in three levels – and each requires a different response from you.
Evacuation levels and what they mean
A wildfire threatens your area. Stay alert for notices and consider packing now so you're ready to go if needed.
People with mobility and medical issues should evacuate now. Livestock should be moved now. It's likely authorities may order a general evacuation. Pack your car with essentials like your family emergency kit and personal items such as clothing, toiletries and valuable, portable items. Make a plan for family members to meet, and include pets.
All residents are ordered to evacuate, usually via a designated route. Perimeter roadblocks may be set up. Once you're out, check in with your local Red Cross shelter (even if you're staying elsewhere) so concerned family members can locate you. Don't return home until officials give the all-clear.
When it comes to evacuations, sooner is better than later. That may mean leaving at Level 2, before authorities officially order you to go. You'll avoid congested highways and the unsettling possibility of wildfire interfering with your preferred escape route.
How to prepare your property before you evacuate
If there's time to prepare your property before you go, here's what to do. (Safeguard people before property, always!):
- Close windows and doors, but leave them unlocked for firefighters.
- Remove flammable window coverings and move furniture to the center of the room, away from windows. If you have metal shutters, close them.
- Turn off gas at the meter, pilot lights and air conditioning.
- Bring in patio furniture and other exterior flammables.
- Turn off propane tanks and move barbecues away from structures.
- Seal attic and ground vents to keep embers from floating in.
- Turn off automated landscape sprinklers if they would reduce water pressure for firefighters.
- Connect your garden hoses in case they may be useful to firefighters.
- Leave outdoor lights on to help firefighters see your home through the smoke.
- Check on neighbors to make sure they're able to leave.
PEMCO can help, even if flames never touch your home
Your insurance may cover more than you think when it comes to wildfires. Let's say, for example, your walls are sooty or your furniture, carpet, drapes and clothing reek like an ashtray after smoke wafts in. Cleaning services would be covered (once your deductible is met). So would water damage from firefighters putting out a blaze at your neighbor's place. We'd coordinate coverage with your neighbor's and landlord's or condo association policies.
Even more help is available under your Loss of Use and Additional Living Expenses coverages. If a covered loss leaves your home unlivable, your policy would help with extra living expenses. Besides costs for a hotel room, that might include added expenses for takeout meals (above what it would cost to cook at home, like normal) or extra gas money to account for a longer commute from your hotel to work. Be sure to hang onto all receipts.
Your policy may also offer help if neighboring properties are damaged and you're ordered to evacuate, even if your home sustains no damage.
To better understand what your policy covers, talk with your local PEMCO agent or give us a call at 1-800-GO-PEMCO. We can review your coverages to make sure they'll give you the worry-less, live-more protection you deserve if the unexpected happens. We'll also clarify deductibles and which expenses are covered if an evacuation order comes.