Our Wildfire Evacuation, Part 5


by SoCal9mm, Survival Blog:

(Continued from Part 4. This installment concludes the article series.)

  1. Make sure you wait until the last moment to do your Christmas shopping – seriously, I never have to worry about “rescuing presents” when I procrastinate. Stupid “get-stuff-done-early”…
  2. Laundry – have enough clothes so that you don’t have to go commando next to the washer, waiting for your lone pair of choners to get clean. Trust me, not cool.
  3. Air – we worry about food, water, shelter, protection, etc., but we rarely worry about preps for air. Dust and ash are (relatively) easily removed from breathing air with particulate masks (or respirators), which are fairly inexpensive and easy to store. But most do have rubber elastic straps that WILL break if left in storage too long (like mine did). I need to pay better attention to personal protective equipment (PPE) rotation.

So that’s it right? Nothing else left to tell? Well, I still have a bit more to share…


After a thorough cleaning of EVERYTHING in the house we finally moved back in on Jan 4, 2018 – exactly 1 month after the fire. The only things that we hadn’t cleaned before moving back in were the HVAC ducts and the attic insulation – both were saturated with potentially toxic ash, and both eventually got replaced in the next few weeks.

On Jan 6, the weather service sent out a notification that a very large rain event would be coming through our area on late Jan 8 or early Jan 9; ~4-5 inches were expected within a 12-24 hour period. Great – we go from a drought that causes a huge wildfire to flooding rains that come right after everything that could possibly hold the hillsides together has been burned to ash.

We have a fairly steep hill right behind our house, and most of it (including our neighbor’s house that was on top) was completely burned. I was very concerned about this and decided we needed to take action. With the help of some amazing friends, we trudged up and down the ash-covered slope and covered as much of the hillside as we could with tarps and sandbags.

On Jan 7, the weather service increased their estimates to >6” of rain, and I felt that the small canyon we live in might not hold up – that we really shouldn’t stay in the path of a potential mudslide; I mean, you only need 1 weak spot to potentially bring the whole thing down. I told W. that we really needed to evacuate again. I remember how her eyes teared up and she whispered, “but we just got moved back in” – I felt so bad. After discussing the risks vs. benefits of staying, we decided to start packing – again.

Fortunately, we had 3 significant advantages over the last evacuation: 1) we had at least 24 hours before the expected danger was to hit, 2) we knew where everything was – in fact, we still had some of our things that we hadn’t yet unpacked, so we just had to grab it and toss it in the truck or trailer, and 3) we had made several changes to our checklist and pared it down to a more manageable and appropriate level.

After work on Jan 8, we packed the last items into our vehicles, grabbed our pets, and left our house – again. We settled back into our friends’ house and waited out the storm.

As you might know, the storm that was supposed to hit us veered about 20 miles to the west and slammed into Montecito (just east of Santa Barbara), dumping ~6” of rain on the burned and bare hills and mountains. All that rain got funneled into just a few canyons and overwhelmed the debris basins, pushing mud, rocks, and trees down into the town and coming very close to flowing all the way to the ocean in 1 or 2 places. Debris flows killed 21 people and 2 are still missing. Ironically (and unfortunately), the northern half of Montecito (closest to the mountains) had undergone mandatory evacuations, and many people were out of their houses when the debris flows hit. Most of the fatalities occurred in the southern half of the town – in places where they did not expect the flows to reach, and where evacuations had been “advised”, but were not “mandatory”.

In our area, we got ~2.5 inches of rain during the night, and when I drove up our street early the next morning it was still covered in places with mud, rocks, and tree limbs – but it was manageable. Had we gotten the full brunt of the storm, we might have easily seen parts of our small canyon coming down into the houses.

With that storm behind us, we moved back home and unpacked.

Two months later, another large storm was called for, and we evacuated again. It turned out that, again, the power of the storm was much less than expected, and we had no troubles.

~10 months later (early 2019), we got word of another large storm heading for us – with 5-6” of rain expected. I figured that our hills (which were now starting to get some small regrowth) could handle that amount and we decided to stay put. Well, the next day the weather service increased their estimate from 5-6” to 9-10” of rain. Um, no – we’re not staying for that. So we packed up and left – again.

We ended up getting 5.5” of rain (the original estimate was spot on) and everything was fine.

It got to the point in early 2018 where we would get back home and we would just leave some of our stuff packed up and ready to go again. Our friends who hosted us during these later evacuations would call us whenever the weather looked bad to ask if we were coming over.

My point in bringing these events up is that every time we’ve had to evacuate, we got better and faster at the tasks we have to perform. We’ve done this four times in the past 18 months, and improved each time; but, this type of “practice” is not something I’d wish on anyone. Each time we review what worked and what needs improvement, we’ve reorganized our stuff several times so that it’s easier and quicker to grab (in fact, I’m in the middle of a large reorg right now), and we’ve revised our checklist into something that barely resembles the original. Each and every evacuation has been a “test”, and it sucks, but we do it – and we’ll continue to do it if it looks like danger is headed our way.

You hear all these trite sayings, “better safe than sorry”, “when in doubt, get out”, and such. While there is truth in these phrases, it is very unnerving to pull that trigger and decide to bail out ahead of potential danger, especially if your neighbors are not leaving. Normalcy bias (“it’s never happened before, therefore everything will be fine”) is HARD to overcome. Every time we had to evacuate, it was hard work and stress. Having the checklist and having the items prepped took a lot of time and energy, but I believe that it really helped us – I’m certainly glad we had it rather than not.


When I composed our original checklist it was geared towards a SHTF type of evacuation and had things like: ammo, long term storage food, water, water purifier, stove, my box of survival books, medical supplies, etc., etc., etc. I would say that it’s partly due to the fact that the original 15 and 30-minute lists were “clogged” with items like these that contributed to us being so slow on that 1stevacuation. We spent valuable time second-guessing the items on the list because some of them didn’t make the most sense for the situation we were going through.

Read More @ SurvivalBlog.com