In 2013, Arizona’s Yarnell Hill Fire moved so quickly that it killed 19 firefighters who couldn’t outpace it. It was the greatest loss of firefighters since 9/11. In 2017, California’s Tubbs Fire crossed out of the wildland and into the Santa Rosa city center. It melted cell towers and killed 22 people, becoming the deadliest blaze the state had ever seen at the time. In the aftermath, metal mailboxes and car parts dotted the ground in mercury-like puddles. I know because I was there.
Now I’m a resident of Lake Tahoe, 80 miles from where the Camp Fire transformed a small mountain town into what The New York Times called “a zone at the limits of the American imagination.”
Fire season swings into high gear in July and can last well into fall, depending on weather conditions. The National Interagency Fire Center (PDF) offers predictions for each wildfire season, and 2020 is shaping up to be dry in large parts of the Southwest. The Hog Fire, one of the first this year, is currently burning in California’s Lassen County, just north of me, and has left a cloying veil of smoke over the hills. This is hardly special—according to data analytics firm Verisk, 4.5 million homes in the United States are at high or extreme risk of wildfire.
To identify the most helpful items to have on hand should a wildfire threaten your home, we reviewed recommendations from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), the American Red Cross, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). We spoke with fire professionals, including Jenn Helvey, a senior wildland firefighter in Nevada, and Laura Brown, the public information and safety officer for the Truckee Fire Protection District in California. This list was also informed by interviews and research we conducted for our larger guides to emergency preparedness gear and the supplies you’d pack in a bug-out bag. And if you should find yourself in a shelter due to an evacuation, things have certainly changed because of the COVID-19 pandemic.