I was really hoping to not write this post this year. But here we go again: There are wildfires in my neighborhood, and in the neighborhoods of several friends up and down California, so once again I’m here to stay: Folks, everyone has to have a plan for emergencies, and have a “go bag” for themselves and their pets ready.
If you have spent your whole life on the East Coast or the central states, you just can’t understand how dry summers in California are. We generally get zero rain from April or May to October or November – that’s normal for us. And summer thunder and lightning is not normal here. So it was highly unusual for us to experience a summer thunderstorm on late Sunday night and in the wee hours of Monday morning, and upsetting to hear reports of lightning strikes all over the northern half of the state. Though this strange storm brought a tiny bit of rain, we couldn’t appreciate that because of the more than 20 fires that were started by the lightning – one of which was in Lake Oroville State Park, about six miles from my home.
Lightning Is a Serious Fire Threat In California
I was alerted to the thunder and lightning by my senior dog, Otto, who woke me up at about 1 am by pacing in my bedroom and panting loudly. I hadn’t heard any thunder yet; I thought maybe he had an upset tummy and had to go outside, so I sleepily walked with him to the back door, only to have him balk at the threshold and look at me wild-eyed, panting. “Are you crazy?” he seemed to ask. “I’m not going out there!” As we stood there, looking at each other, a lightning bolt lit up the sky and I finally understood. I gave him a Trazodone tablet, left over from his Independence Day medication, and slept on the couch in the living room so I could comfort him and so that his pacing and panting (until the Trazodone took hold) wouldn’t wake my husband.
Because lightning in the summer almost always means fires in this part of the country, first thing in the morning, I checked the news and, sure enough, there were reports of quite a few fires.
One was close to my sister-in-law and niece, an hour away. Another was even closer to both my sister’s house and mine! As the day wore on, the wind picked up, the fires grew, and some evacuations were ordered. My phone buzzed with calls and texts from a friend who is hosting evacuees and needed to borrow bedding; a friend whose elderly relatives (and one dog) live in the evacuation zone closest to me and was wondering what to tell them; my sister and brother-in-law (and three dogs), who live in a neighborhood that is in the path of the next zone to be evacuated, and my sister-in-law, asking if she (and my niece and their little dog) could evacuate to my house from HER local fire.
I also received alerts from my local animal rescue group, asking for volunteers to staff the emergency shelter that the group operates for holding animals for families who need to evacuate and can’t keep their pets with them.
Fortunately, two years after the tragic Camp Fire, there are plenty of other trained volunteers who will step up to help take care of animals from families who had to evacuate the fire zone and couldn’t bring their animals with them.
In the middle of all this, I have to leave in a few hours to drive my grandson to the airport; he’s headed back to the East Coast after a fun summer here with my husband and me. He’s disappointed that he’s leaving in the middle of all this drama and excitement, and argued that I should go volunteer with the animal rescue group anyway – so he could come along to see what that’s like. He was bummed when I said that getting him to the airport to go home was more important than volunteering at this moment (he cheered up immensely when my evacuated niece arrived here, so he had someone to play with on his last night in California).
Have an emergency plan ready before you need it
But I will be leaving my husband behind with our “go bags” packed – complete with important paperwork (passports and birth certificates, etc. for us, medical records for the dogs), medication (for Otto), food (Clif bars for emergency energy, dog food for the dogs), extra cell phone chargers and batteries, and a few jugs of water (always helpful). We have a plan already in place for anything that might happen, including where to meet (if the fires exploded and I couldn’t even come home after the trip to the airport).
Before all the lightning struck, emergency preparation had been on my mind; I had been reading about the devastating wind storm in Iowa and the fires in southern California. No matter where you live, you have to be ready for any sort of natural disaster that might possibly befall you and your family, human and nonhuman.
Take a few minutes today and look through your “go bag” or action plan. Do you have nonperishable food for at least a few days? Up-to-date contact information on your dogs (including up-to-date information on file with the microchip registries for your pets’ microchips)? The more you discuss the plan with your family, neighbors, and friends, the better prepared you will be to take in strays or be evacuated yourself. Here are two of the best resources available about emergency preparedness. Don’t just read them; take action!