Here in Santa Clarita, we are experiencing extreme summertime heat which has been turning the massive green growth established by a very wet winter into brown dry, dead wildfire fuel. Couple these fire related risks with the fear of earthquakes, our elected officials, along with various organizations, are again out lecturing the public to proactively prepare for the eventuality such an occurrence take place.
I believe they are correct in being concerned. Having lived here for over half a century, I remember the turmoil created in the late 60s when it rained so hard the wash, now called the river, was filled bank to bank, taking out the bridge at Soledad and Camp Plenty, while the Sierra Highway Bridge sank three feet. Panic set in right away, with residents filling our local Safeway Market and buying shopping carts full of consumables. My neighbor and I were there as well, but all we wanted was a case of beer.
Then came the 1971 Sylmar earthquake. Although the power went out for a period of time, my neighborhood was relatively calm. We opened our RV, made coffee and had a small block party until all was restored to normal.
Yet the mid 70s fire was a lot more frightening. Starting over the hill to the south, it burned to the beach, as well as north through Santa Clarita going almost as far as Rosemond. I was at Willow Springs Raceway preparing for a Motorcycle Grand Prix. No cell phones in those days, so my wife Pam called the Highway Patrol and asked if they could locate me and inform me of what was happening. After getting the news, I immediately headed home. I drove the 14 freeway until being forced off at a roadblock, and then negotiated back roads to the next open onramp in order to continue my journey. When I crossed the junction at Soledad Canyon and Sierra Highway, the fire was still burning on both sides of the road. Pam and my two boys were waiting for me, and with the family all together, we headed back north beyond the reach of the fire.
You would think that would be all there was to tell, except 1994 brought with it an earthquake which affected our area even more intensely. Initially, we were evacuated several blocks due to a natural gas main rupturing and spewing gas into the air. Here again, our RV provided some comforts and we shared what we had. But the real issue became apparent when we were informed of the I5 and Hwy 14 interchange being blocked by the highest uncompleted bridge coming down. Using secondary roads, and the resulting traffic congestion, caused many extra hours getting to work and back. Besides all that, Pam worked in the Kaiser Building on Devonshire and Balboa, where the 3rd floor became the 2nd floor as the building structure collapsed. Fortunately, it was before the workforce arrived and no injuries were sustained.
When we finally did get into the San Fernando Valley, we saw the devastation first-hand. How surreal the CSUN parking structure looked rolled on its side, and how sad to view the many apartment houses, with residential over parking, showing damage due to a collapse of the building on the garage area. Luckily, Pam was reassigned to Kaiser in Woodland Hills, which was right next door to Litton Industries where I worked, so at least our nerves were frazzled together during the months it took to repair the roadways.
So, how should each of us prepare? Well almost every so-called expert, will tell you to have a “Go Bag” ready in order for you to be able to “Bug Out” at a moment’s notice. For example, AARP suggests you maintain supplies for every member of your family to “help keep you safe and comfortable in the coming hours and days. Stopping to hunt for your medications or other important needs can cost you critical seconds in an evacuation.” They recommend including an extra phone charger, a portable battery pack, a long-lasting LED flashlight and small hand-cranked or battery-operated AM/FM radio.
For your personal needs, include travel size versions of your toiletries, a backup pair of glasses, first-aid kit, baby wipes and a multipurpose tool which includes a knife and can opener. Pack clothing for a few days, try to include items you can use for layering, plus rain gear and waterproof boots. Pack at least three days worth of each of your prescribed medications, and if you need larger items, such as an oxygen tank, be sure to have a portable version available. Fill a zip-top waterproof bag with photocopies of your birth certificate, driver’s license, Social Security and Medicare cards. Include, as applicable, your power of attorney, will, marriage, adoption, naturalization certificates, proof of address, insurance, medical and immunization records, as well as credit and ATM card information. Make sure you have some bottled water and granola or energy bars. Lastly, include money for a few days in small bills and change.
But, while all these things are great to have with you, there is an underlying assumption about where you will be going. The list assumes you will be able to reach a safe place, where food and shelter is available, in a relatively short time. Realizing there may be a large percentage of an area’s population fleeing the disaster area, you should consider the possibility roads may be in gridlock, services may be overwhelmed and people may become desperate. Therefore, ask any friend who has had experience camping in a location which had no services available how long you could survive with the above recommended list of items, and what other items you should have with you. For myself and my wife, I also keep a separate bag packed with a small tent, sleeping bags and back packing pads left over from our motorcycle camping days. We maintain a two-week supply of emergency dried food and I would never leave home in an emergency without a means of self-protection.
In a fire situation, survival is more likely to be dependent on you evacuating when told to do so, and I recommend you follow the guidance provided by our first responders, but realize also, you are heading into unknown territory. Being well prepared can make the difference between life and death. At the same time, confronting disaster when you can shelter in place, allows you the availability of greater personal resources, and provides more time for your family to consider the available options.
Still, let us all hope and pray we are never in a situation which requires the use of our emergency bags, but being prepared helps maintain our peace of mind and calm our frazzled nerves.