Tips from a California evacuee (web only)

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By Cindy McCombe Spindler

Today, I have had a hard time doing anything other than watch the media coverage of the fires in Colorado. It is hard to see my home state get hit so hard. I have been thinking much of the two times where I was forced to evacuate my home in San Diego County.  During both times, I had young children with me.

If you are ready before the evacuation notice is put in place, you will be able to get out of your neighborhood before there are traffic jams. Before you get started, fill up your car or cars with gas.

The biggest lessons I learned is this – you are not your possessions. You have items that may mean a lot to you, but you would be able to create a very meaningful life if you and your family lost every physical possession you own. It might be hard to imagine, but it is true. I actually watched some people do this in San Diego.

I have a few lessons that I learned that I would like to share. Here they are:


1)     Don’t wait until you have an evacuation order to start thinking through your evacuation plan.  You are not being an alarmist by doing so. You are being pro-active. You can easily pack up your car, and then unpack it if you need to. That is not wasted time.

2)     Take pictures of every room in your house. Make a record of all the possessions you have by taking digital pictures. This will help for insurance purposes, but it will also give you peace of mind that you aren’t abandoning the life you have created.

3)     Get your paperwork in order. Grab all of your vital documents. Get your birth certificates, social security cards, medical insurance cards, house deed, marriage license, vaccination records, animal medical records, and all of your insurance information in line.

4)     Pack your short-term bags. Make a plan to pack enough possessions to get you through a few days. Pack your suitcase like you are taking a weekend trip. Unless you are really different than I am, clothing is easy to replace. Take a bit of laundry detergent with you. You will probably wash your clothes a few times before you return home. Have these bags easy to get in and out of your car.

5)     Get your medications in order. If you have time, refill your medication and pack what you have. You will not want to be scrambling to do this when you are out of your house. Prescription medications and prescription eyeglasses are two items that are more difficult to replace.

6)     Grab a sheet of paper and sit down for 10 minutes. Take your time and think back over your life. Think about what your possessions really mean to you. Only grab what you cannot replace. I have two examples for you – I have a collection of magnets that I have bought from every place I have visited for the last 20 years. I also have spent considerable time collecting Christmas ornaments that I am truly attached to.

7)     Grab your photos. Your photos document your life. You will want to have these. You can gather new possessions, but you can’t recapture photographic memories form your life.  I started my career at Kodak and truly know the value of photography.

8)     Organize your electronics. Most of us have a ton of information in our computers. I packed my computer both times, and I was happy I did so. It is easy to forget things like cell phone chargers. You can put the essentials you need to get by for the next few day sin your short-term bags.

9)     Get your animal cages ready. If you have animals, you should get everything out and ready. That includes food, medicine, leashes, water bowls, etc. When the evacuation order comes in, you should simply have to put your animal in the cage and go.

10) Acknowledge that you are going through an emergency situation. I heard stories in San Diego about people thinking they could not miss work or reschedule appointments. When disasters hit, allow yourself to be flexible with your schedule. This will pass. If you are used to being highly responsible, it might feel strange not to make all your daily commitments.


Those are my personal recommendations. Here is a list I found on the Internet that gives more information:




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From June 2012.