In a major wildfire, fire protection and law enforcement agencies may not have enough equipment and manpower to go door to door advising you to evacuate; you should be ready to make this decision yourself or with the help of the reverse 9-1-1 system. The information provided below is to help prepare you for when a wildfire strikes.
Prepare For Evacuation
Know how you will be notified
If there is an emergency situation and you need to evacuated, there are several ways you will be notified:
- First and most important is the county's notification system. If your address is being evacuated, you will receive a phone message with evacuation information and instructions. Landlines are automatically part of the date base, but cell phones and email addresses need to be registered. This can be done online in only a few minutes at AlertSanDiego. You can register as many cell phones and emails as you would like.
- Law enforcement will go through neighborhoods advising residents of the evacuation notice.
- San Diego County also has an app that can be downloaded to your phone. SD Emergency provides information on disaster preparedness and current incidents in San Diego County, including push notifications of evacuation orders. The app allows you to customize what information you see and which notifications are pushed.
- During emergency situations, we do our best to provide up-to-date, accurate information on social media. You can find us on Facebook and Twitter (you may wish to consider opting to receive our tweets as text messages). Please note: our accounts are on both Facebook and Twitter are verified. If you don't see the little check next to our name that is not an official account.
Pre-plan your Evacuation Route
- Narrow roads can cause traffic congestion leading to panic for those evacuating.
- From your house, identify at least TWO roads leading out of the area.
- Be sure these roads provide for two-way traffic (i.e., cars evacuating and emergency vehicles trying to access the area).
Design Your Neighborhood Network
- Develop a neighborhood phone tree
- Know which neighbors may need assistance when evacuating
Evacuate Large Animals Early
- If you own horses, be sure to own a trailer for them
- Know how to load the horses in the trailer and also how to drive the trailer
- Trailer-train your horses
Time to Evacuate
Evacuation Notification – How you will be notified
- Reverse 9-1-1 (Phone calls made only to your landline at your home)
- Sign-up for Alert San Diego (Notifications sent to your cellphone)
- Neighborhood Phone Tree
Prepare Your Home (Only if there is time to do so)
- Close all windows and doors.
- Shut off air conditioning & heating units.
- Close fireplace doors & damper, if possible.
- Move furniture & draperies away from windows.
- Move combustibles away from home’s exterior (i.e. patio furniture)
- Back your car into the garage, close garage door.
- Disconnect electricity to automatic garage door.
- Automatic gates: Disconnect motor.
- Manual gates: Leave open & unlocked.
- Take your family, pets, “Important Items”, and Emergency Supply Kit
- Evacuate as EARLY as possible!
- Leave before evacuation orders become mandatory (Roads will be less congested with cars and panicked drivers)
- You do not need to wait for the notification to evacuate. If at any time you feel threatened… GO!
When evacuating, use a route that takes you in the opposite direction of the fire. Try to avoid roads encased in dense vegetation and lined with trees; if the fire sweeps through this area while you are in your car, you may become trapped.
Trapped/Unable to Evacuate
- Stay inside your house, away from perimeter walls.
- Shelter in rooms opposite the approaching fire.
- Stay as calm as you can, keep your family together.
- Fire-fronts can take 5 to 15 minutes to pass.
In Your Car:
- Find an area clear of vegetation.
- Close all windows and vents.
- Cover yourself with a blanket or jacket, lie on floor.
- Wait for the fire front to pass.
- Don’t attempt to out-run a wildfire!
Along a Road:
- If caught without shelter along a road, lie face down along the road cut or the ditch on the uphill side (less fuel and less convection heat). Cover yourself with anything that will shield you from the heat of the fire.
- While hiking out of an area where fire is in progress, avoid topographic features like "chimneys" or "saddles."
- Chimneys are narrow, steep canyons that collect heat and explosive gases, drawing them uphill at an alarming rate.
- Saddles are wide natural paths for fire winds. Vegetation in this area will normally ignite first.
- When seeking shelter outdoors, look for areas with sparse ground fuels (i.e., soft chaparral like black sage or grassland instead of chamise chaparral), and a depression in the ground (if possible). While the fire is approaching, clear as much fuel as you can and lie face down in the depression, covering yourself with anything that will shield you from the intense heat and toxic smoke.
Road Closures During a Wildfire or Flood
Road closures around emergency incidents are essential to the rapid movement of people leaving an area and the mobility of emergency equipment into the area. On major incidents, immediate road closures become essential to allow accessibility of firefighting forces, orderly evacuation and the exclusion of unauthorized people.
The Fire District is responsible for determining when the need for evacuation exists and the San Diego Sheriff's Department and California Highway Patrol are responsible for carrying out an ordered evacuation. The purpose is to protect people from life-threatening situations.
During a fire or flood, there may be several different phases of road closures within the disaster area, including:
- An area that could possibly be involved in the disaster, but presently is not. People without purpose will be restricted from entry to reduce traffic problems or the potential for looting.
- An area of imminent danger with limited access or egress. People would be discouraged from entry, even if they live in the area.
- An area presently involved in the emergency where extreme danger to life exists and where traffic must be restricted due to movement of emergency vehicles. People, including residents, will be refused entry.
Sheltering Your Home
Although not recommended, when evacuation orders are given, a person has the right to stay on their property if they so desire provided that in doing so that person IS NOT (1) hindering the efforts of fire personnel, or (2) contributing to the danger of the disaster situation. In fires or floods, people who wish to remain on site may be permitted to do so.
If you do not evacuate in time, or if you decide to stay with your home, the following suggestions will increase your chances of safely and successfully defending your property:
- Evacuate your pets and all family members who are not essential to protecting your home.
- Dress properly during a wildfire. Cotton and wool fabrics are preferred to synthetics. Wear long pants, a long-sleeved shirt or jacket, gloves, goggles, boots and a damp handkerchief to shield your face.
- Remove all combustible items from around the exterior of your home including lawn and poolside furniture, umbrellas and tarp coverings. If these items are left outside they may catch fire; the added heat could ignite your home.
- Close outside attic, eave and basement vents. This will eliminate the possibility of sparks blowing into hidden areas within the house. Close window shutters.
- Place large plastic trash cans or buckets around the outside of the house and fill them with water. Soak burlap sacks, small rugs and large rags; these can be helpful in beating out burning embers or small fires.
- Inside the house, fill bathtubs, sinks and other containers with water. Water from toilet tanks and water heaters can also be used.
- Place garden hoses so they will reach any place around the house. A spray-gun type nozzle works best; adjust the nozzle to the spray position.
- If you have portable gasoline-powered pumps to take water from swimming pools or tanks, make sure the pumps are operable and in place
- Place an aluminum ladder against the roof of the house opposite the side of the approaching fire. If you have a combustible roof, wet it down.
- Back your car in the garage, keeping the windows closed and keys in the ignition. Close all garage doors and disconnect the automatic garage door opener (so you can still remove your car in the event of a power failure).
- Place valuable papers and mementos inside your car in the garage for quick departure, if necessary. Any pets still with you should also be put in the car.
- Close windows and doors to the house to prevent sparks from blowing inside. Close all doors inside the house to prevent draft. Open the damper on your fireplace to help stabilize outside-inside pressure, but close the fireplace screen so sparks will not ignite the room.
- Turn on a light in each room to make the house more visible in heavy smoke. Turn on porch and yard lights, as well.
- Turn off pilot lights once the gas and propane have been turned off.
- If you have time, take down your drapes and curtains. Close all Venetian blinds or fire resistive window coverings to reduce the amount of heat radiating into your home. This gives added safety in case windows give way to heat or wind.
When the Fire Approaches:
- As the fire front approaches, go inside your home, take a deep breath and remain as calm as possible.
- Shelter in a room opposite the direction from the which the fire is approaching.
- Do NOT go outside until the fire passes.
After the Fire Passes:
- Check the roof immediately. Extinguish any sparks or embers.
- Check inside the attic for hidden burning embers. Extinguish any fires with remaining water from your pool, sinks, toilet tanks, garbage cans, etc.
- Over the next several hours continue monitoring your home for signs of smoke and embers.
Important Tips During a Wildfire
- If you see a wildfire, Call 9-1-1
- During large fires 9-1-1 dispatchers become inundated with hundreds of non-life threatening calls.
DO NOT CALL 9-1-1 for the following:
- To ask if you should evacuate or stay in your home. If you're unsure, be safe, not sorry…EVACUATE.
- To ask for directions out of town. Plan a minimum of at least two escape routes out of town well in advance. Be sure your entire family is familiar with this plan.
- To ask what roads are closed. Dispatchers do not have this information. For updates, stay tuned to local news radio KOGO AM-600 or KFMB AM-760, or ask law enforcement officers or firefighters in the area.
- Take a deep breath and stay in control of your situation. With adequate planning and practice you can be confident in your skills to survive the disaster.
- If you decide to stay with your home during a wildfire, evacuate all family members and pets that are not essential to protecting your home.
- Dress properly to shield yourself from the heat, embers and flames. Wear cotton or wool long pants, a long-sleeve shirt or jacket, gloves, boots and a damp cloth to cover your nose and mouth. Do not wear a short-sleeve shirt or synthetic fabrics.
- Take steps to prepare your home for the approaching fire.
- If caught in the open, seek shelter where fuel is sparse.
REMEMBER: Wildfire is ERRATIC, UNPREDICTABLE and usually UNDERESTIMATED. Life safety is always the most important consideration!
Download our preparation and evacuation guide "Getting Out Alive." (pdf)
Download "Making Your Home Wildfire Ready." (pdf)
NOTE: If you are a resident of The Bridges, The Crosby, Cielo, 4S Ranch or The Lakes, please see our Shelter in Place program, which is specific to your communities.