When I evacuated my family during the Yale Road fire, I will always remember the fire tornado headed straight for my homestead. I watched in horror as this massive-spinning nightmare tunnel headed straight for my house.
A gust of wind came in and pushed it just by my home. It ended up burning down a field of the neighbors. Governor Jay Inslee came to my side of the state of Washington to survey the destruction the fire caused. It did do some damage. Lucky for everyone, Freeman farmers know how to work and were out there chopping out flames with their axes alongside the firefighters.
It didn’t stress me out like it should have. See, I was prepared. I had a special box set aside with my favorite out-of-print book in it, along with photo albums and anything else irreplaceable. This wasn’t my first wildfire experience and was likely not my last. Wildfires have become a season here in the Pacific Northwest.
I’ll always remember as a kid watching the news report on the Hangman fire and watching the fire on the television and in my backyard. See, money really is a concept. Survival is more important than money. The most important thing to know is that money too can burn.
The one thing I’ve learned since the Yale Road Fire, was that I know how to homestead. We were modern homesteaders and lived off the land. We grew our own food and even housed chickens and ate their organic eggs. I didn’t understand how my husband at the time wanted to evacuate all his record albums and wasn’t satisfied in just grabbing the ones worth the most money.
It was very natural to me to set a box aside with my favorite belongings and quickly grab it if I was forced to evacuate. I was fire ready. I knew how to live in society and live in a world where I knew the dangers of wildfire and how to keep my home as safe as possible.
Yes death and taxes are two of the necessaries of life, however, the in-between belongs to all us humans. My first homestead brought me a lot of peace. I liked creating my own water systems, knowing how to grow seeds and maintain them, most importantly I knew what to do in the occurrence of fire.
Causes of Fire
In order to be properly prepared for the devastation that is fire, you have to know what will cause it. August in the grain belt of the Palouse is particularly a possible cause of fire. The reason this is ideal for the growth of wheat is because of the wet winters, and springs and the burst of high temperatures in the late summer. This gives wheat the advantage. It can grow abundantly in the spring and in the early summer and then dry out just in time for the harvest.
It is so dry during this time of year that something like the spark from a train going by can cause a wildfire. The Yale Road fire was caused from a falling branch colliding with a power line. During this time on your homestead you want to create a green barrier around your home. Your family house is worth saving.
The fire tornado I saw coming at my house may have diverted for this reason. I made sure all the undergrowth and rotten trees were cleared and I kept my lawn watered. Fire eats up dry and dead tinder and if you don’t have a lot of it around your home, you might just save it.
In August, the fire department will alert the public of fire danger and do not allow any type of fire. During this time any backyard fires or camp fires are now allowed. Utilizing your chainsaw or even flicking a lit cigarette on the ground can cause a wildfire. Lit candles and other items lit can be a fire hazard. Down power lines can also cause wildfire. If you see a down power line, call the power company to alert them.
One of the best ways a homesteader can create a green barrier around the home is to buy goats. Goats will eat anything. They are animals and will try and eat your car or house if you let them. If you pen them right, they will eat the underbrush and dry brush and keep the area around your house clean.
At my first homestead, when the fire struck I didn’t have goats. I did have a green barrier. If you don’t want the responsibility and the hassle that comes with goats, they aren’t necessary. You can build a green zone without them. However, if you are like I and love animals, goats provide a wonderful way to maintain the green area around your house. They will also give you milk and if you get really savvy you can make your own goat milk soap.
When I worked as a social worker, I came face-to-face with the dangers associated with fire. The first industrial fire system I worked with turned on and squealed a loud siren and while I fumbled to turn it off the sound blared in my ear.
The community that resided there knew exactly what to do and walked out the front door and stood on the lawn. They did this with little stress. They did this because they knew what to do, they had done this drill many times before. They were conditioned to once they heard that particular sound walk to a particular location and wait to make sure it was safe to go back in.
Practice makes perfect. That’s why it is essential to do a fire drill at least twice per year. Every life and every human will experience some calamity be it fire or divorce. The survivors will know what to do in the face of it. It was because of this and doing regular drills, that I knew what to do when I saw the fire coming near my homestead.
That’s why if you are homesteading or planning to homestead, always have a “go bag” or box with special papers in it ready to go. These can be pictures or things like wills and birth certificates. Every home should have working smoke detectors with noise that can alert you if a fire is coming.
Every person in the house should know where to go if the house catches fire. Specify a spot that everyone should go if the house catches fire. Make sure that spot has necessities like tarps and blankets in case a fire breaks out during the cold season.
Remember that memories are more important and human lives matter most. Livestock should also be accounted for. Once the household is safe, every animal on your property should have an escape plan. Many family farms and homesteads have a plan to open the gates and give their animals a chance to run away.
You will hold a lot of regret if you let your animals get burned. They should be a part of the drill. They aren’t the most important family members, but they do matter.
Developing a Bug Out Plan
A plan is more important than your bug out bag. A bug out bag packed and at the ready is very important, however, if you lack time to grab it don’t. Your plan and the safety of your family is the most important.
There are many places you can find bug out plans templates. No matter the template, your individual home will require some specialized designing on your part. When you are designing your evacuation plan, ask yourself what other disasters you’re likely to encounter.
You also want to measure the path of the winds. Many homesteaders have wind mills. The simplest thing you can do is lick a finger and feel which way the cold air hits your finger. That will tell you which way the wind is blowing. Since fire is one of your dangers, knowing the pattern of the wind is important as it will help you navigate the path of the wind.
During fire season, positioning your car to go may be the best way to protect yourself and your family. There may be no time to escape and you will need to gather in your car and get out. When I was evacuated I threw my young daughter in the car, closed the door and drove away.
Sometimes, there simply isn’t time to do anything but flee. Still, having a plan can help you. When I was allowed to go back I used my specialized plan to get my homestead animals to a fairground I knew were taking in animals because of the fire. To me that was wonderful. I am someone who worries about the animals almost as much as the family members. It dissipated a lot of stress and gave me one less thing I didn’t have to worry about.
Having a specific gathering place is essential. When I evacuated, people were going to the community church. I’ll always remember parking there and looking up only to see the giant airplanes flying in to try and put out the fire.
You can make your bug out plan and list your strengths and weaknesses, however, know that you won’t truly know how strong you really are until you are facing a fire. This is a plan and survival instincts will jump in and teach you things you didn’t know about yourself. In your bug out plan you should include a first aid kit with all the first aid essentials, among other things. There are plenty of articles covering this aspect.
How to Survive a Fire on the Homestead
When you are in a survival situation, preparation will be the utmost necessity for you. You will not have time to plan on how to get your family to safety when unexpected does happen. The utmost thing you can do is develop an escape plan.
Does your homestead only have two roads to get out? You will need to know this. When I was escaping the Yale Road fire, I knew there were only two roads around my house. I knew the road to my right was burning so I went left. If you have upper floors, you want some sort of fire-resistant rope ladder that can be brought down so your family can get out quickly. Every house should have working smoke detectors.
A lot of families change the batteries of their smoke detectors on New Year’s Day. Pick a day and make it a tradition. Every home should have a working smoke detector. When you plan your drill, make sure your family knows how to test the door. If the knob is hot, stop. Chances are your door knob is made of metal. Metal conducts heat better than wood. Test the door knob before you touch the door. If any of it is hot, stop and try and find a different way out.
When escaping a fire in the home, stay as low to the ground as possible. You don’t want to pass out from smoke inhalation before you get out of the path of the fire. If you can keep a wet rag over your mouth while you get out, do so. It will help stop the smoke from getting into your lungs. Once you leave don’t go back. Plan to get out, not go back in.
Keep your Emergency Kit near your planned exit. Have two in case your original exit plan won’t work because of fire. Finally your drill should be practiced at least twice per year. Plan your evacuation in the event of rain or snow.
Stopping a Fire
Fire is a reality that can happen to anyone. If you choose to live rural, you should know that first responders may have a harder time getting to your house on time. During the Yale Road fire the first responders didn’t know which road led to what and that caused them a lot of determent.
Most fires do start in the kitchen. Having a fire extinguisher in the kitchen at the ready should be a priority. Fire cannot function without oxygen. Cover an outbreak in the kitchen with a non-flammable item.
If the fire starts in your microwave or on you oven, turn the heat source off. A lot of fires that start in the kitchen can be stopped by simply putting a pan lid over it. If you are experiencing a grease fire, know that baking soda and salt can be poured on it to put it out. Do not use flour. It can ignite.
If you are experiencing an electrical fire, the fire department should be notified. Always keep any outdoor fires maintained. One of the best methods of putting out an outdoor fire is using a pine cone in a bucket of water.
Pull the pine cone out and sprinkle it until the fire is out. If you pour the water on it, it might make it harder to reuse. Any outdoor fire should always be supervised and properly maintained with a water source nearby. If your fire is sustainable, it should not be put out until the embers die down. Use your hand waving over the fire to make sure it is out. Keep a shovel nearby and make sure any underground embers are put out. You can use dirt to put out the fire instead of water.
All outdoor fires should have a trench dug around them to keep them from becoming uncontrolled. Use a shovel or use a backhoe. Know where your hose is in case you need to put a fire out that gets out of control. Fire can be managed with proper preparation.
More than one-third of house fires are caused from unattended candles. Never keep a candle unattended. Fire is important for the home. It should be properly managed and never left unattended. Think of fire like a 2-year old. You never want to leave it alone. An unattended fire or an unattended 2-year old can cause a lot of unnecessary damage. Never touch a fire or embers to see if it is hot. Those kinds of burns hurt.
Stop, Drop and Roll
You’ve likely heard this phrase before. It is very recognizable for a reason. It has saved lives. Imagine a piece of clothing is on fire. You probably will only be thinking of protecting your clothing. If you don’t do it right, however, you can make it a lot worse and end up in a burn unit.
If you see flames, don’t immediately wipe. Instead you want to follow this simple phrase. The first thing you want to do is to stop. Cease any movement and take the time to really ascertain your situation.
If you are, in fact, enflamed that is when you follow the next step. Plan to drop to the ground. If you can use your hands to cover your face to avoid burning your face. If you are still on fire that is when you roll out the flames. Do this to really make sure the fire is put out. Always remember that you can replace everything in your house. You can’t replace you.
That’s why before you do anything, check yourself to be sure you don’t need to Stop, drop and roll. The heads of the household need to be prepared to do this if any of their children or if anyone in the household is on fire.
A blanket can snuff out a fire. It is also flammable. Try to put out the fire by using this trick before you do anything else. You don’t want to make the fire worse. Remember that this technique is only used if a person catches fire.
If your fire alarm goes off, don’t do this technique first. This is a specific fire preparation for humans who catch fire. Plan on evacuation if it is your home and not you. The Stop, Drop and Roll method is for people. If they are on fire this is how you put them out before you get away.
I’ll always remember how in the middle of the day, the sky above me turned dark and I saw the neighbors getting in their cars to get away. I yelled at them to know if they were evacuating. Many people who owned 4wheelers drove around looking for elderly and people who could not feasibly get out.
Fire can happen to anyone. In the Pacific Northwest it is considered a season. We laugh, and we plan. It doesn’t matter we love our dirt. We love our way of life. Fire won’t stop us, we will just manage for it. I’ve lived through two wildfires now and still love the Palouse. I guess love really does conquer all, even wildfire.