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Colorado wildfires: Ready an evacuation kit – even if you’re not in a danger area

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When the call or text-message order to evacuate arrives, most people remember to bring their wallet or purse along with a suitcase and a handful of valuables. But what about the rest of the paperwork that governs their lives?

The policy number and phone number for homeowner’s (or renter’s) insurance policy? The policy number and phone number for the mortgage company? Car insurance information?

“It’s a completely good idea to have an emergency evacuation kit even if your home isn’t at risk from a wildfire,” says Steve Lipsher, public information officer for Lake Dillon Fire Rescue in Summit County. He lives in Silverthorne, and keeps emergency supplies in his car as well as next to his front door.

“An electrical short could cause a house fire if you live in the middle of the city. What’s the harm in having a kit? And if you are in a disaster, for whatever reason, and you have to leave your home — or can’t get to it — you can still have access to information and to things you think are really important.”

The American Red Cross gives evacuees “Moving Forward After a Disaster,” a booklet with lists for essential information in addition to your driver’s license, passport and Social Security number. That includes contact information for:

• Family members and other loved ones

• Homeowner’s or renter’s insurance agent

• Mortgage agent

• Car insurance agent

• Health insurance, including a list of prescription medications and dosages

• Credit card issuing institutions

• Employers

• Schools

• Utility companies

• Veterinarian and veterinary records

Most vital documents — marriage, birth, death and divorce certificates — can be recovered or replaced. So can passports, titles to deeds, stocks and bonds, wills, income tax records and citizenship papers.

To be on the safe side, scan vital documents, along with insurance policies and other important papers, and upload the information to a couple of flash drives. (Family photographs and art can be scanned and saved on a flash drive, too.)

It’s also a good idea to take and keep digital photographs of all your possessions. Take pictures of furniture, paintings, CDs and DVDs, recreational equipment and other gear. For special valuables, document details including make and manufacturer. This will help minimize disputes with insurance companies.

Keep one set of flash drives in a safe-deposit box; the other should be in your emergency supply kit.

Michele Steinberg, public affairs officer for the National Fire Protection Association, also recommends keeping a compact stash of 72 hours’ worth of food, water, prescription medication and clothing for every member of the household.

Keep that stash small and easily portable, no larger than a conventional laundry basket, says Lipsher. It can be kept near your front door or in the car. During the summer, Lipsher’s car holds a stash that includes 2 gallons of water, three days’ worth of food (canned tuna and other shelf-stable products) and three days’ worth of food for his dog, Scout.

“Having a plan for animals is just as important,” Steinberg said.

“One girl told me, ‘All I could think about was my goldfish. Who would save my goldfish?’ In house fires, people die because they run back inside to get their pets. A homeowner needs to think about how long it might take to get the cat out from under the bed when things are going haywire, or how long it takes to get large animals into a trailer.”

Lipsher also noted that parents with small children should include the kids’ favorite shelf-stable foods and drinks in the 72-hour stash, along with activity books and games.

“Think about what it’s going to be like to be stuck somewhere for 48 hours or longer,” he warned.

“Because of the nature of my job [with Lake Dillon Fire and Rescue], I might not get a chance to get home if there’s a fire. So I’ve contacted neighbors on both sides, and they each have a key to my house and instructions to save the damned dog. Fortunately, Scout has ingratiated himself to them.”

Finally, sign up for your county’s emergency alert email and text service. (See sidebar.)

“Those alerts are faster than the reverse 911 notification service, which is not flawless, as we saw with the Lower North Fork Fire,” Lipsher said.

“Reverse 911 doesn’t have cell numbers, and that is a real concern we have. We recommend all the time for people to sign up for scalert, a free, text-based service that filters by geographic area so you don’t get pestered with stuff for other areas.”

Claire Martin: 303-954-1477 or

Emergency resources

Go online to for timely, reliable information about fires, floods and other active situations that pose a risk to the public.

ReadyColorado ( has advice on emergency-preparedness kits and paperwork, plus links to the Denver area chapter of the American Red Cross ( Governor’s office of homeland security (, Colorado division of emergency management, ( state fire protection districts, emergency help for pets and animals at

Email and text alerts at are specific to emergencies in Summit County.

Larimer County residents get emailed updates, several times a day during active events like the High Park fire or Woodland Heights fire, at

To catalog your home possessions go to

For a complete county-by-county list of emergency alert notification systems, emergency email contacts and other information, go to

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  • comment avatar VIP S June 28, 2012

    won’t go as far as stashing a few days of food but it makes perfect sense to keep a record of all the good papers and documents. And times such as this are a perfect opportunity to pay attention to this.

  • comment avatar Cindy R June 28, 2012

    Actually some food for thought. I’m sure the people in various subdivisions around CO have thought they are safe but found out otherwise. What would it hurt to have a backpack with all of the stuff mentioned ready to grab? Don’t depend on the government or a church or the Red Cross to lead you around, be self-sufficient. (And people wonder why there’s so much government in our lives – because people can’t or won’t do for themselves.)

  • comment avatar The Duke June 28, 2012

    Seriously, folks… it’s not that hard, and something I strongly believe in.
    At a minimum, I think everyone should have one backpack per person with basic necessities for 72 hours. One additional bag or suitcase per family or group with “shared” resouces such as cooking utinsels, a first aid kit, tarp, etc. is also a good idea.

    It’s not a bad idea to consider changing the contents of your kit a couple times a year. Sunscreen isn’t much good when it’s freezing outside, and hand-warmers are worthless in the summer. Travel-sized personal products such as shampoo, shaving cream, toothpaste and the like can usually be found in your local grocery store at a low cost and are perfect for emergency kits. Common sense goes a long way… think about your objectives when building kits for your family. Every kit will likely be unique, and may change with the seasons.

    It isn’t a big investment and it can save your life (and the lives of your loved ones) in a variety of instances. It may just give you some comfort during a short-term emergency. If nothing else, the peace of mind it gives you every day may be worth far more than you think.

    You don’t have to be a survivalist or a “prepper” to plan for worst case scenarios. At least give yourself 72 hours of food, medicine, clothing, documents, currency and comfort items so you can at least take some time to rationally assess your situation and plan from there.

  • comment avatar Sid James June 28, 2012

    Seems like that widely touted BOB -Bug Out Bag_ that survivalists have harped on for so many years is getting some mainstream recognition.

    Lots of information and suggestions for one available on the internet, way more than can be addressed in a short news article.

    Not a bad idea for many varying reasons.

  • comment avatar Amber Johnson June 28, 2012

    Great article and I think it’s smart to always have a 72-hour kit. We have that and an extensive food storage but this is a reminder I need to do a better job of pulling together our documents. Wouldn’t have thought about mortgage, etc.

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