What you can do to prepare ahead of an evacuation order
At a picnic table outside the Montana Department of Natural Resources and Conservation headquarters in Missoula, wildfire preparedness specialist Julia Berkey sifted through the contents of a duffel bag packed in the event of a fire evacuation.
“I’m actually glad we’re doing this today, because I realized a few things were missing from my go-bag,” Berkey said.
She pulled out packages of freeze-dried food, bundles of clothes, a steel water bottle, a bag of medication and more. All are items Berkey encourages Montana residents to have ready to go in the event of a wildfire emergency.
As fire season heats up across Montana, managers like Berkey say people living in areas prone to wildfires should be ready to evacuate at a moment’s notice.
The Colt Fire burning near Seeley Lake prompted the evacuation of several households — the first of the season in Montana. Berkey said a lot of factors go into the decision to issue an evacuation order, like the weather forecast, proximity to the fire and the number of possible exit routes a property has.
“We live in ecosystems that rely on fire to be healthy, and so we need to acknowledge that — that we also need to be prepared,” Berkey said.
Nick Holloway works with the Missoula County Office of Emergency Management, which helps coordinate disaster response. He said the office tells folks under an evacuation warning to prepare the “six Ps:”
- Papers (important documents, like tax forms, birth certificates, etc.)
- Pictures (and other irreplaceable memories)
- Plastic (credit and debit cards)
Holloway and Berkey said, while evacuation orders aren’t enforceable in Montana, staying behind not only endangers your life, but first responders’ lives, too.
“You know, just be prepared to go,” Holloway said. “At the end of the day, you’re going to make the decision of whether you go or not. We’re going to give you the best guidance we possibly can.”
Your local sheriff’s office will go door to door in the event of a wildfire evacuation, but officials also encourage residents to sign up for emergency alerts in their county by searching your county’s name and “reverse 911” online. Families and neighbors should also plan for multiple escape routes and a meetup destination.
For more on how to prepare for an evacuation and how to prepare your house to mitigate fire risk, visit mtfireinfo.org.