If you have to evacuate your home this summer due to a wildfire, you don’t want to find yourself scrambling at the last minute.

Yakima Valley residents should make an evacuation plan now.

Washington’s wildfire season is starting earlier and the state is experiencing more fires, said Michele Roth, executive director of the American Red Cross serving Central and Southeastern Washington.

“It used to be that we had a time frame for wildfire season, but we’re seeing that it’s becoming more chronic,” Roth said. “Last year was the worst disaster season in modern history. We want to encourage people to be prepared, get educated and be ready.”

Horace Ward, operations manager for the Yakima Valley Office of Emergency Management, recommends three steps:

  1. Make a plan to stay informed.
  2. Make a communications plan for your household.
  3. Make an evacuation plan.

Stay informed

The national wireless emergency alert system, which also reports Amber Alerts, will report wildfires but it’s not as specific about locations as Alert Yakima, Ward said.

Alert Yakima is a free public access system that alerts residents about severe weather, fires, floods and other environmental threats. It will be especially helpful during wildfire season, Ward said. Sign up at yakimacounty.us/2222/Alert-Yakima.

It’s also important to know the local emergency phone numbers if 911 is not working, Ward said. Here are three numbers to put in your contact list:

  • Office of Emergency Management: 509-574-1900.
  • American Red Cross: 509-457-1690.
  • Naches Ranger District: 509-653-1401.

Yakima residents can also follow the Yakima Valley Office of Emergency Management on Facebook to stay informed or refer to the Emergency Management website, Ward said. The website is www.yakimacounty.us/350/Emergency-Management.

Communications plan

It’s important to have a plan and a place to meet your family if you have to get out of your house, Roth said.

The Red Cross has an emergency app in the Apple and Google Play stores with alerts about where shelters are open. You can also call 1-800-RedCross or text “GETEMERGENCY” to 90999 to receive information.

Ward recommends having an out-of-state emergency contact you can call to let them know you are safe.

“A lot of times cell towers get overwhelmed as you have all these people calling and trying to get a hold of their family as disasters are moving through the area and you can’t get a call back in to the local area,” he said. “We recommend having an out-of-state contact.”

Evacuation plan

Everyone should have a disaster supply kit or “go bag” with three days’ worth of water, food and basic supplies, Ward said.

An emergency bag should also include a flashlight, a battery-powered radio, a first-aid kit, medications, supplies for any infants or pets, a multi-purpose tool, personal hygiene items, copies of important documents, cellphone chargers, cash, blankets, hard-copy maps of the area and emergency contact information, according to the Red Cross.

“Important documents include marriage licenses, property documents or birth certificates,” Roth said. “To just have those ready helps a lot when you’re in post-recovery.”

Red Cross shelters are free to everyone and open during emergencies like wildfires, and will remain open as long as they’re needed, Roth said.

“Our main goal is to make sure that people have a safe place to stay, they have food to eat and they have the resources that they need,” she said.

Ward recommends planning your place of shelter ahead of time in case you need to evacuate your home.

“Are you going to go to a family member’s house or an out-of-the-area friend’s house? Or are you going to rely on the Red Cross or other service organizations who set up a shelter?” he said.

Public transportation can be difficult to access in rural areas where wildfires typically start, but Yakima Valley Emergency Management has agreements with every school district and Yakima Transit to use their bus services if necessary.

“If we needed to, we have access to buses and could get a lot of people out,” Ward said. “In our Alert Yakima system, one of the questions asked to you as you’re signing up is, ‘Will you need help with evacuations?’ So, when we send out notices, we can see people who are flagged who might need help getting out.”

In Washington, emergency services cannot legally force people out of their homes.

“Nobody is going to be there prying you from your home, but we are certainly going to do our best to say, ‘Hey, we wouldn’t be here if this wasn’t a serious issue,’” Ward said.

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