Burn, Burn, Burn

I don’t know how many of you guys read or watch the news, but the Western United States are currently experiencing a wave of wildfires. One area in particular is Kittitas county in Washington State. There is a wildfire there that began on Monday and has grown to a size of 28,000 acres in three days. That is… really fast.

The terrain of that area consists mostly of dry scrub plane, giving way into alpine woodlands as one approaches the foothills of the Cascade Mountains. What this means is that there is a lot of dry, easily burnable tinder for a fire to consume, add to that the notoriously high winds of the area (speeds of 15-20 miles an hour are fairly common), and you have a fire that can and is moving at speeds of 30 miles per hour or more.

As of 8:45 PM 15 August, the fire has consumed 28,000 acres, over 60 homes, forced the evacuations of hundreds of people and livestock from the surrounding countryside, and has closed Highways 10 and 97. There are currently 427 firefighters involved in trying to contain the blaze, with more expected to be arriving tomorrow. As of right now, the fire is in no way contained, and it is currently within 4 miles of both Ellensburg and the nearby town of Cle Elum.

The reason I bring all this up is that I have a lot of friends in Ellensburg, and when I hear words like “28,000 acres” and “0% contained,” my gut reaction is to dread. Obviously, this is ineffectual, so I intend to use the first portion of this post both as a place to vent my frustrations and worries, and as a place to maybe offer a little useful advice and preparedness tips in the event of an evacuation. Normally, I would focus on general advice that could be used in a variety of situations, but for the purposes of this post, I will focus on the Ellensburg situation in particular.

In the event of an evacuation, don’t try to take everything. It’s time consuming, and even if you manage to pack everything you want to carry, the weight of so many non-essentials will certainly slow you down. It’s a good idea to have a list of things, either in your head or on actual paper, that are important enough to bring with you if you have to pack fast and leave quickly. In this case, you will almost certainly have a form of motorized transport to carry you away from trouble, so you can afford to bring a little more with you. Think about things that will be a major detriment to you if they’re lost. Computers (laptop or tablet), memory drives, journals, financial records, diplomas, these should be at the top of the list.

Chances are that in this particular instance, you’ll either have or be given a place to go. This means that wherever you’re going, you should be able to expect basic facilities at your destination. Regardless of this, take water with you. I used to be in the Boy Scouts, and whenever we went backpacking, especially in the summer, we made sure to carry at least two liters of water wherever we went.

Thinking of the Boy Scouts brings me to my next point: preparedness. With a wildfire this size four miles from town, there is no reason not to be ready in the event of an evacuation. If I were in Ellensburg, I would have at least a duffel bag packed in case things got dangerous. This bag would contain at least two changes of clothes (pants, shirts and underwear), four pairs of socks (I always try to have a sock to clothing ratio of 2:1,), my journals (I own two), a few high-calorie snacks (cliff bars, beef jerky or the like), a sleeping bag (I own a stuff sack which could easily compress it to fit with the rest of this items), and two liters of water (as discussed previously). In addition, I would have my backpack filled with all relevant personal documents in possession, any relevant books that might come in handy (I have at least two), and a coat, which would most likely be strapped to the backpack during the evacuation process.

The only thing that would slow me down in the event of an evacuation would be my laptop computer, especially the power cord, putting on my shoes, and strapping my coat to my pack. If I moved quickly, all of this could be accomplished five minutes, if not less. I would have my backpack close to my computer and my duffel bag close to the door of my room, so that I can grab them quickly when I have to move out. After collecting my belongings, I would rendezvous with a predetermined group of friends, and we would evacuate together.

Having a plan like this in case things go wrong isn’t paranoid or silly, it’s simply common sense. I don’t sleep every night with my socks on my feet and a packed duffel bag next to my door in case the shit hits the fan, but I do recognize that a situation can go from bad to worse very quickly. In Ellensburg, the situation is already bad, and it could get worse faster than a lot of people realize. Given a situation where a raging wildfire is approaching the outskirts of the town in which you live, I do not think it unreasonable to be prepared in the event that things go horribly wrong.

There was more that I wanted to talk about, but I’m tired, if you want to learn more about the wildfire in Kittitas Valley, I got my information from here, here, and here. Additionally, msnbc has a fairly current account of the ordeal as well. To all my friends in Ellensburg and east of the Cascades, good luck and stay safe. Thanks for reading, I hope to get back to writing about writing soon.