Lamorinda Wildfire Preparedness & Evacuation: 10 tips from the locals
Updated: Sep 22
I was home on a beautiful morning when I saw and smelled smoke. Unsure where it came from, I turned to Facebook and saw multiple posts asking the same question. In the first half hour, no one seemed to know where it came from or what happened..
Turns out it was the 5-alarm structure fire in San Francisco that sent flames and smoke all the way to Lamorinda (click here for the news). It was scary and shocking to see smoke reaching us from so far away. This made me realize we need to get ready for the fire season, but where do we start?
So I asked our neighbors at our local Facebook group, and these are the tips and recommendations from the responses.
1) Sign up for local crisis alerts
Towns in Lamorinda (Lafayette, Moraga, Orinda) use Nixle to provide community notifications. Contra Costa County uses the Community Warning System to provide geographically targeted alerts for emergencies. You can register at Nixle.com and cwsalerts.com to receive important alerts.
The CWS Alerts below alert you when it's time to evacuate. The calls go to all real landlines (not VOIP). If you don’t have a true old fashioned landline then you must register your phone numbers. Your cell phones should all be registered (for you and kids) as well as VOIP house phones.
In addition, you need to add CWS as a contact on your phone with the Emergency Bypass function on so that the call will come through in the middle of the night even if your phones are on silent.
Here are the links to sign up for the emergency notifications:
https://www.nixle.com/ or text your zip code to 888777 - for local police notifications
https://cwsalerts.com/registration/ - evacuation orders
Pulsepoint app - follow Moraga Orinda Fire Department (MOFD) activity
PG&E - Receive outage alerts
2) Prepare a "Go bag"
“Go bags” are critical. If you have to evacuate assume you’ll have 10 minutes max to leave your home. Have those bags packed with whatever the family needs (essentials, clothes, medicine, etc) and critical paperwork, valuables etc ready to go at a moment’s notice. Also, always have your vehicles filled up on gas.
Keep a list of things you might want to grab that aren't in the go bag. When you are panicked, you will not remember what you want to grab. Tape the list in your closet or somewhere easily accessible. Make sure it is in big lettering and easy to read.
Keep a binder with all your important documents: insurance/deed/titles/birth certificates/ passports. Make copies of your photos and either have them on a hard drive or cds with "the binder".
Walk through your house taking pictures/a video of your stuff in case you need to list them out for insurance purposes.
Get an am radio and walkie talkies for when the cellular towers get shut down during the power outages.
Local Primary Radio Stations (should all carry alerts):
KSJO FM 92.3
KQED FM 88.5
KZST FM 100.1
3) Evacuation Tips
Introduce yourself to your neighbors. Listen for blaring car horns. If your neighborhood is evacuating, people will blare and honk their horns while leaving REPEATEDLY and LOUDLY to alert you.
These are important evacuation information published on CERT:
Orinda Evac Zones
Moraga Evac Zones
Download local maps to your phone (you can do this via the google app) -- that way you can still access google directions if cell service goes down. Here's a link with instruction of how to download Google map
My family and I now sleep with our windows at least cracked all year long, to hear any distress honking or shouting outside, since our doorbell is hooked up to our phones and they’re on airplane mode overnight.
After last year, we keep a sign taped inside our closet that says “We’ve Evacuated” that we can put on our front door to tell our neighbors to move on, if they’re trying to wake us in the middle of the night.
Remember to close all your windows and bedroom/closet doors when you evacuate! The amount of smoke damage to my in-laws house was insane. Walls, carpets, furniture, pillows, clothes, etc. had to be professionally cleaned. They couldn’t move back in until two weeks later. Luckily the insurance company covered all expenses including their hotel stay and meals.
Make sure you buy headlamps for each person in your house and keep them in nightstands. Biggest lesson I learned last year when we were evacuating... power is out... middle of the night... holding a flashlight in one hand severely limits your ability to grab go bags, pets, etc. They are cheap on Amazon and now everyone has a headlamp.
4) Check wind directions before you evacuate
Wildfires can happen anytime the grass is dry, but the really dangerous, fast spreading fires require the aptly named Diablo winds which typically come in the fall.
When there is a fire in your area you need to be acutely aware of the WIND. Watch it. If the wind is blowing the fire TOWARDS you...get the hell out of dodge. If the wind is blowing the fire in a different direction, sit tight and be aware - don't necessarily leave. A lot of people evacuated last year that didn't need to and clogged the roads, making it hard for people who legitimately needed to get the hell out.
These are some suggested apps to keep track of wind directions and speed:
”Ventusky” is a great app that shows wind speed and direction.
Willy weather had good info on wind predictions / actuals / direction.
5) Air Quality:
One of the commenters recommended the following air purifier:
If you can swing it, I highly recommend investing in a high quality air purifier -- we bought the Coway Airmega a few years ago and it has been AMAZING at keeping our indoor air quality healthy even during the worst of the fire season smoke.
Purple Air is a great place to get real time updates on air quality. The commenter wound up buying an indoor monitor from purple to see if their air purifier was working -- spoiler alert: YES!
Don't forget to CLOSE your fireplace damper during smoky days. One commenter forgot to close the fireplace damper and the house is quickly filled up with smoke, with interior air quality raised to an alarming 148 aqi. Here's a link of how to close your fireplace damper.
6) Important resources in Lamorinda:
I highly recommend going to local meetings hosted by the fire department and other emergency agencies. The geography of Moraga and the access roads make it important to know what will happen if a wildfire starts in the area. Roads might be closed for emergency vehicles. Remember the parking lots at Home Goods and the old OSH are good spots to evacuate to if the main roads are clogged.
For more complete information, three documents came highly recommended:
Lamorinda Residents Guide to Wildfires - it’s the best publication I’ve seen for summarizing important wildfire information
Also this video from our Fire Chief (Dave Winnacker) was recommended - the password is 3K=I7&7c. It runs for about 80 minutes, and provides a really good overview of the fire history in Lamorinda and what we can all do to keep our homes, families and community safe.
7) Backup power and generator
One of the commenters recommended the following solar powered generator:
We got a large solar power-ready electric generator that can power small to mid-size electronics for a few days during power outage. Lesson learned from last year’s fire season.
8) Red Flag Warnings
These are the 4 things you need to do when a Red Flag Warning is issued!
Red Flag Warning is the highest alert. It is issued for weather events that may result in extreme fire behavior over the next 24 hours
Park car outside garage or ensure you can open a garage without power
Make sure your car has at least a half a tank of gas
Have to-go bag packed and ready; have laptops, cell phones and other important electronics charged and stored somewhere where they are easy-to-grab
Box up sentimental objects (photos, jewelry, etc) and have them in an easily accessible location
If you have a pool get a few 5 gallon buckets fill them have a couple out front visible to the street and a few in the back.
If you can’t get out!!! If you have a pool toss your pool furniture into the pool to stand on, (you do not want to hang onto the sides of the pool as a fire burns over you your hands will be burned badly) have towels soaked to cover your exposed skin from the heat. If you do not have a pool, make sure you know where the pools are in your area.
Make sure your pool cover is off, make sure the pool is full. Fire fighters, other emergency workers like police or sheriff etc will use them to put out spot fire - even neighbors who are lost out or still there etc. Make sure you have a garden hose long enough to reach your yard front and back. Make sure its visible not hidden.
If you have a ladder set it out so it can be used to access the roof.
I hope you will find these tips helpful in staying safe during the fire season.
Let us know in the comment section below how you prepare.
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