Maneuvering Through Wildfire Evacuations – for Small Farmers

Farmers face increasing fire frequency, size and severity due to several factors, including climate change, the spread of invasive grasses and by changing farming practices. If you live and farm in California, wildfire is not an “if” but a “when”. Make sure you are informed and that your family and farm are prepared prior to an event that requires you to evacuate. You will give your household and agricultural operation the best chance of surviving a wildfire by being ready to go. Being prepared also means knowing when to evacuate, and what to do if you become trapped.

Preparation is a spectrum, and not everyone will feel able to take on all of the steps suggested in this post right away, but doing a little at a time will contribute towards a feeling of confidence and safety when the time comes to act. CAFF hosts a Wildfire Resource Library to help you understand what is most important to you and what you can do to feel ready. 

  • Creating a Wildfire Action Plan is a good place to start and includes simple tasks like creating and posting a phone tree of important contacts and evacuation routes and maps around the farm. 
  • Check out this On Farm Disaster Planning Workbook from Farmer Campus to get started! 
  • Or, if you prefer to learn through videos, dig into this library of experiences direct from farmers and emergency response professionals!

Evacuation Status Levels Are Color Coded

  • Evacuation Order (Red): An immediate threat to life. This is a lawful order to leave now. The area is lawfully closed to public access.
  • Evacuation Warning (Orange): A potential threat to life and/or property. Those who require additional time to evacuate, and those with pets and livestock should leave now.
  • Advisory (Blue): A notice to be on alert and follow county recommendations.
  • Clear To Repopulate (Green): It is safe to return to your home. Be aware of your surroundings and go through the returning home checklist.
  • Shelter In Place (Purple): An order to go indoors. Shut and lock doors and windows. Prepare to self-sustain until further notice and/or contacted by emergency personnel for additional direction.
  • Normal (Clear/None): There is no current knowledge of threats affecting your area and you can carry on with normal activity.

emergency kitSome simple things you can do before a wildfire threatens your farm or ranch is to create a go bag including a change of clothes, first aid kit, toiletries, blankets, family photos, insurance documents, etc. Also, make sure you gather pet emergency supplies with food, medical records, toys, etc. Many farmers in rural areas also suggest building a response kit which is a little more robust than a go bag and includes power supplies, portable generator, jumper cables, emergency fire blankets, first aid kits, fire extinguishers, batteries, USB chargers, NOAA weather radio receiver, mini air compressor, extension cords, a chain saw, gasoline, bolt cutters, face masks and replacement filters, water packets, snacks, etc.

  • Make sure you monitor wildfires in your area and know your community’s emergency response plan, evacuation zone, alerts and evacuation centers
  • Announcements to evacuate may come through a bullhorn in the middle of the night. Make sure you have supplies staged in key locations and all your devices are charged up so you don’t get caught without a way to communicate.
  • When immediate evacuation is necessary, follow these steps as soon as possible to get ready to GO!
  1. Review your Evacuation Plan Checklist.
  2. Ensure your Emergency Supply Kit/Evacuation Bag is in your vehicle(s).
  3. Cover-up to protect against heat and flying embers. Wear long pants, long sleeve shirt, heavy shoes/boots, cap, dry bandanna for face cover, goggles or glasses. 100% cotton is preferable because it is less flammable.
  4. Locate your pets and take them with you.

Additional Considerations and Response Programs

In recent years, some farmers have expressed frustration with evacuating and then not being able to get back into their properties to care for animals and crops that could not go with them. Several counties in CA have Ag and Livestock Pass programs in active status or in the development phase. We will be creating a quick guide for farmers on this topic in the coming months, keep any eye out for it!

Although CAFF does not advocate for farmers to stay and defend if they are under evacuation orders, we are aware that sometimes there is no other option. Some states, like Oregon, are updating fire defense and preparedness certification programs for farmers through the Office of Health and Safety (OSHA) and Oregon State University Extension programs. Some farmers we work with have expressed interest in creating something similar, which would legally allow them to stay and fight fires. At this time we are not aware of any such program like this in California.

The Lookout site tracks current fires in CA and is especially good for helping people understand how fires work, how they move across the landscape, how they are effectively managed and fought, and how to tell when they are beneficial.

Farming through wildfire season is not easy!

Remove some stress out of the equation by taking small steps to prepare your family and agricultural operation:

  • Make A Plan. Prepare your farm and family by making a list of your needs and options and prioritizing them.
  • Pack Your Bags. Having a go bag for family and pets, as well as basic response kits can make all the difference when a quick escape is necessary and for ensuring that essential items are ready to go.
  • Stay Alert! Sign up for both evacuation and public safety power shut offs
  • Know Your Route(s) In and Out. Identifying egress and access routes is critical for rapid response and can be expanded by creating easement agreements with your neighbors. Make sure all farm employees and family members know where to regroup once out of immediate danger.

Stay tuned for more information on these topics in future posts or ask a question through CAFF’s wildfire forum!