While other parts of the United States prepare for a chilly holiday winter wonderland, Southern Californians experience warmer weather. This year however, the season is slightly warmer as fires spread across the Southland; the Creek Fire in the San Fernando Valley, Thomas Fire in Ventura, Rye Fire in Santa Clarita, the Skirball fire near the Skirball Cultural Center as well as other fires that have appeared throughout the Southland. The multitude of fires have resulted in road closures, evacuation of people and animals; as well as, hazardous air quality, with smoke trails visible from space.


Part of living in an arid bioregion, such as Los Angeles, is knowing how to prepare for fire season. I began to understand the need for fire preparation while documenting the Sayer Fire of 2008. While earthquake preparedness is something that most Californians are keenly aware of, fire preparedness, on the other hand, includes factors that without proper preparation could be the difference between a quick exit and a messy retreat. The following information is a guideline for you to develop your own emergency response, but is not a catch-all, as some things may not apply to you due to location, lifestyle or age.


You can start your emergency “go bag” by writing a list of your frequently needed items and then checking them off as you pack. First, know where your essential documents are; this includes your checkbook, driver’s license, passport, and even a utility bill (or similar paperwork that establishes your residency for later entry). An extra tip that I can offer in this process is to take a photo of everything as you pack; this is a safety measure that you can refer to in the event that you checked something off that you didn’t actually pack.

Keep your keys in an accessible place: You don’t want to hunt for your keys during an emergency evacuation.

Next, pack your medicine(s), clothing, and other basic supplies. Use a medicine bag or pill-box, either with a lock or not, to keep your pharmaceuticals neat and in order during transport. Also, pack a separate kit for your toiletries, that includes a toothbrush, comb or brush, mouthwash, soap, shampoo, TP and towels. Include an extra pair of shoes, undergarments, and/or sandals in case you’re required to stay away from the area for a few days. While you can buy some of these items at a convenience store or pharmacy, having these sort of items ready ahead of time can save you piece of mind and put less strain on your budget during an already troublesome time.

Some things to consider while packing this set of items are space, necessity, and climate. If you’re asked to leave during colder months, then an extra sweater or warmer socks is necessary, however during summer months, you will benefit from having lighter, more breathable clothing. While over-packing is a concern, under-packing can cause a feeling of anxiety and dread, especially if you are unable to get access to your home for several days.

Lastly, pack bedding and electronics. I haven’t mentioned it yet, but during this time make sure that you have your phone fully charged. Additional comfort items that you’re going to want to pack are a pillow, sleeping bag, and extra batteries for small devices; this includes a radio for listening to broadcast updates,  a flashlight or headlamp in case the power goes out, as well as extra dust-masks for easier breathing. If you have small animals, then at this stage you also want to have their items ready to go as well. For larger animals, such as horses, check with your local authorities regarding shelters.

While over-packing should be a concern, under-packing can cause a feeling of anxiety and dread, especially if you are unable to access your home for several days.

Now that your essentials are ready, it’s time to consider packing items that are irreplaceable, as well as ones that you will want and need in the future. As you are going through this secondary packing process, this is an excellent time to take photos of the items in your home. If fire or theft occur during your evacuation, then you’ll need to produce evidence of the items you are claiming loss on with your insurance agent. Speaking of which, INSURANCE! Whether it is your auto, rental, or homeowners insurance, keep track of your online log ins are and where you policy is, and what it covers. In the unfortunate event of loss, you’ll want this information on-hand and ready to go.

Additional Items

PHOTOS! Even in the day and age of #selfies and video, family photos are a timeless treasure, if you haven’t digitized your old photos, then knowing where your family album is important.  Other important items that you should consider packing are you certificates and professional achievements such a marriage license or a diploma.

HEIRLOOMS! Keepsakes such as old letters, hand-made items from deceased friends and relatives and (if you have kids) a favorite toy. Keep in mind that while some of these items hold sentimental value or are irreplaceable, if you are under the pressure of immediate evacuation, then your personal safety comes first. The longer you take, the bigger risk you face; placing yourself, your family or fire fighters at risk.

In closing, a word about the exterior of your house, apartment, condo, or studio: Make sure that your path is clear of obstructions, that means remove flammable and hazardous objects out-of-the-way. For some, this means clearing gutters and walkways of dried leaves, as well as covering, clearing and removing recyclable items that can catch fire; for others it means moving bulky items such as potted plants and decor to an alternative site. I recommend taking a look around your living space for things that may be hazardous to your exit, as well as items that could pose a risk to your home due to falling ash and embers.

Unlike previous years, this year, social media was an extra tool that I used for keeping track of the numerous fires in my area (Creek Fire, Skirball Fire, Thomas Fire and others). The usage of twitter accounts such as @lafd, @CAL_FIRE, @NWSLosAngeles, and @LAPDHQ were supplementary resources that allowed me to know what driving routes were inaccesible , what closures I needed to know about as well as air quality and weather conditions in my area. Facebook played a similar role, smaller role in that, I could check on updates from Mayor Eric Garcetti and other public officials with my phone.

During this season’s fires I also discovered two additional sites that provided in-depth information:

I checked both of these sites for daily updates about containment as well as new fire, but they have a wealth of information that is available to the public that includes the amount of fire fighters responding, equipment being used, acreage burned and much more.

While an emergency evacuation is highly unsettling, with a little preparation you can ease some of the stress. This year, preparation, communication, and ingenuity helped to make a stressful situation just a bit more bearable. Living in Southern California, fires are a regular occurrence, and I’ve seen my fair share over the years, from Griffith Park, to Sylmar, and most recently Kagel Canyon. A word of advice: Be safe, be prepared, and when the given the order, be ready to go.

SelfieMichael Ray is a writer, editor, and Generation Y shutterbug. California grown environmentalist and published photographer, “Say Avocado.”
I’m a social media whiz with interests in ecology, environmental activism, Literature, and California culture. I enjoy reading and writing about plant-based living, and document it all through recommended readings lists, audio broadcasts and short films.
In my non-writing life, I like painting, fashion, yoga, and set design. I’m a graduate of Humboldt State University with a BA in English Literature, and was a costumer for the world-famous Humboldt Circus 2012-13. I love Poesy, spoken word and was Poetry Division editor for The Toyon Literary Journal. Curious about current projects? Want to schedule an interview? Contact me at MRDLA1111@gmail.com.


From California with Love,
Michael Ray

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Michael Ray De Los Angeles