Wildfire Evacuation Guide
REGISTER TO RECEIVE EVACUATION NOTICES & Fire Information
During wildfires, Marin residents should be prepared to monitor multiple sources for fire and life safety information. Emergency managers will use several methods to distribute fire information: Alert Marin, Nixle, Social Media, local TV and radio, and social media (Facebook and Twitter) are the primary outlets. Don't neglect to use your own senses - look, listen, and smell for signs of fire and changing conditions!
During a wildfire, "Alert Marin" is used to provide notice by phone, text, email, or app when an ACTION must be taken at a SPECIFIC ADDRESS.
If a wildfire requires evacuation in Marin and time allows, emergency managers will use the Alert Marin system to send out notifications by telephone, cellular, VOIP, and text message users who have pre-registered specific street addresses. If you live, work or go to school in Marin County, you should register to receive emergency alerts sent by voice, text, email, or smartphone application. You can register to receive notices for several locations you are likely to spend time at, or monitor family member's addresses as well. Register every address, phone number, and device in your household. Don't delay.
IMPORTANT! ALERT MARIN IS USED WHEN ACTION MUST BE TAKEN AT A SPECIFIC ADDRESS! ALERT MARIN IS NOT A GENERAL PUBLIC INFORMATION SOURCE! Alert Marin will not be used to provide routine updates or fire information!
You MUST pre-register to receive Alert Marin evacuation messages by cell phone or VOIP (Comcast, DSL, or satellite home phones, for example).
Alert Marin messages are infrequent and important. Please be sure to set the Alert Marin contact numbers for "Emergency Bypass" on your mobile phone (see below).
Other Fire Information RESOURCES
During a wildfire, "Nixle" is used to provide INFORMATION by text message targeting ENTIRE ZIP CODES when new INFORMATION becomes available.
Register for Nixle by texting your Zip Code to 888777 or register online to configure and fine-tune your messaging options.
Please understand that during a wildfire, initial messaging may take time to develop as firefighters focus on attacking the fire and gather information. Do not expect frequent updates by Nixle (or Alert Marin). Information will be updated only when conditions change or updates are warranted. Social media or TV and radio are good options to monitor for "play-by-play" updates.
It is important to understand that Alert Marin and Nixle are different, complementary systems, and currently require separate registrations! Nixle is an opt-in text message service used to announce local information, targeting zip codes. You are likely to receive frequent, low-level, non-emergency texts from many local public safety agencies by Nixle. Nixle may be used to provide general fire information or rebroadcast evacuation alerts, but Alert Marin is a separate and distinct system targeting specific street addresses with the ability to send voice, text, or email ACTION messages. FIRESafe MARIN recommends that everyone register for Alert Marin and Nixle, and understand the difference!
Social media such as Facebook and Twitter are excellent sources of public information and may be used by local agencies during emergencies. Be sure to follow your local fire department, Marin County Fire Department (@marincountyfire), Marin County Sheriff's Office (@marinsheriff), and your local police department to monitor fire information and receive updates during local wildfires.
Local TV and Radio
Monitor local news and radio stations for fire information. In Marin, AM 740 (KCBS), 810 and FM 88.5 are good options. In West Marin, KWMR FM 90.5 Point Reyes & FM 89.9 Bolinas are excellent local options. KPIX, KRON, KTVU are good local TV news sources.
Wireless Emergency Alerts
Wireless Emergency Alerts are well know as the system used to distribute "Amber Alerts." These are sent to large geographic areas, and may be used to send information for large scale emergencies and disasters. Be sure to verify that Wireless Emergency alerts (Amber alerts and Emergency Alerts) are turned on in your cell-phone's settings. For example, on an iPhone, under settings/notifications, scroll to the bottom of the page and ensure all alerts are turned ON.
NEW - Alert Marin registrants can send a test notification to ensure the system works properly!
Log in to your Alert Marin account to verify your contact information and send a test alert.
Please be sure to enter the Alert Marin contact numbers in your smartphone (415-473-6376 and 893-61) and configure this contact to use your phone's "Emergency Bypass" mode to allow ringing even when your phone is set to silent (iOS set ringtone to "Emergency Bypass" set ringtone to "Emergency Bypass"; Android may vary by phone manufacturer - start here).
Will you notify me every time a fire is burning nearby?
It’s important to understand that you will NOT receive routine notifications whenever the fire department responds to a fire in your neighborhood. In most cases, firefighters are able to quickly extinguish fires without the need for evacuations. Alert Marin will normally be used only when there is threat or need for evacuation, and messages will only be sent to the addresses impacted!
Nixle and Twitter, as well as local tv and radio, are also good sources for local information, but are NOT the official evacuation notification system in Marin. Do not rely exclusively on these alternate sources for evacuation information!
When a severe weather watch or warning is issued by the National Weather Service, many NOAA Weather Radios are able to alert you with a loud warning tone or siren, giving you the seconds you need to evacuate or seek shelter. Local agencies may issue evacuation notices through this radio based system as well, providing a backup notification system to homes that may be without power or out of cellular communication range.
California law authorizes officers to restrict access to any area where a menace to public health or safety exists due to a calamity such as flood, storm, fire, earthquake, explosion, accident or other disaster. Refusal to comply is a misdemeanor. (Penal Code 409.5)
The terms Voluntary and Mandatory are often used by the media to describe evacuations. In Marin, fire agencies and law enforcement will use the terms Evacuation Order, Evacuation Warning, and Shelter In Place. These terms are used to alert you to the significance of the danger and provide basic instructions. All evacuation instructions provided by officials should be followed immediately for your safety.
SHELTER IN PLACE
Fire expected to arrive in less than 1 hour, with threat to civilian life. Evacuate immediately, do not delay to gather belongings or prepare your home.
Fire expected to arrive in 2 hours or more, with threat to civilian life. Evacuate as soon as possible. A short delay to gather your evacuation kit and prepare your home (see Evacuation Checklist) may be ok.
Community members should stay secured in current location. Sheltering in place may be used when evacuation would cause greater threat to life.
When an evacuation is anticipated, follow these checklists (if time allows) to give you and your home the best chance of surviving a wildfire.
Before a Fire Threatens
At all times during fire season, prepare an Evacuation Kit. Keep the evacuation kit in your vehicle or near an exit. Your kit should include:
- Critical medications
- Important personal papers, photos.
- Essential valuables.
- Pet and livestock transport, limited amount of pet food.
- Change of clothing, toiletries.
- Cell phone.
- Spare batteries and chargers.
- Critical papers and effects in a fire-proof safe.
- AM/FM radio.
- An Evacuation Route Map with at least two routes (if possible).*
- Drive your planned route of escape before an actual emergency. This is most likely the route you normally take to leave your community, as that's typically the shortest and is the route you're most familiar with.
*During an evacuation, law enforcement or emergency personnel may direct you to an alternate route. Always follow their directions.
When Evacuation is a Possibility
- Complete our Evacuation Checklist if time allows.
- Locate your Evacuation Kit and place the items in your vehicle.
- Park your vehicle facing outward and carry your car keys with you.
- Place your pets in crates or carriers BEFORE evacuation is ordered and keep them nearby.
- Prepare large animals for transport.
- Place connected garden hoses and buckets full of water around the house. Attach "grip" type nozzles to hoses if you have them. You should have multiple garden hoses long enough to reach all corners of your home. Firefighters will use them.
- Move propane BBQ appliances away from structures and close valves.
- Cover-up. Wear long pants, long sleeve shirt, heavy shoes/boots, cap, use a dry-bandana for face cover, wear goggles or glasses. 100% cotton or wool is preferable to synthetic fabrics.
- Leave all lights on in and around the house and unlock all doors.
- Close all windows and turn air conditioning and fans off.
- Check on neighbors and make sure they are preparing to leave.
- Patrol your property and monitor the fire situation.
- Evacuate immediately if you feel threatened. Do not wait for an evacuation order.
The Evacuation Process
Fire officials will determine the areas to be evacuated and the routes to use depending upon the fire’s location, behavior, winds, terrain, etc. Law enforcement agencies are responsible for enforcing an evacuation order. Follow their directions or the directions of firefighters promptly.
When time allows, emergency managers will attempt to advise you of potential evacuations as early as possible. You must take the initiative to stay informed and aware. There is no guarantee that you will receive notification of an evacuation order (for example, if the fire spreads too rapidly to allow for notification, if a power failure or the fire itself disables communication infrastructure, if your phone battery is dead or if you failed to "opt-in" to emergency alerts). Listen to your radio or TV for announcements from law enforcement and emergency personnel.
Be sure to have signed up for the Alert Marin system BEFORE a fire threatens you.
You may be directed to temporary assembly areas to await transfer to a safe location. Evacuate to the nearest major community AWAY from the fire.
WHEN TO EVACUATE
Leave immediately if you receive a notification or alert to avoid being caught in fire, smoke or road congestion. Don’t wait to be ordered by authorities to leave if you are unsure, feel threatened, or lose power or communications. Law enforcement will direct the evacuation, and they will keep intersections open and moving, but their resources may be limited. Evacuating early (before evacuation is ordered) helps keep roads clear of congestion, and lets fire apparatus move more freely to do their job. If you are advised to leave, don’t hesitate!
- The fire Incident Commander will issue the evacuation order through the Sheriff's Office, and will determine the areas to be evacuated and escape routes to use (if there are options) depending upon the fire’s location, behavior, winds, terrain, etc.
- Law enforcement agencies are responsible for enforcing an evacuation order. Follow their directions promptly.
- You will be advised of potential evacuations as early as possible by Alert Marin. YOU MUST REGISTER TO RECEIVE ALERTS.
- You must take the initiative to stay informed and aware. Listen to your radio (AM 1610, AM 840, and others) and TV for announcements from law enforcement and emergency personnel.
- You may be directed to temporary assembly areas to await transfer to a safe location.
All evacuation instructions provided by officials should be followed immediately for your safety.
Install BATTERY BACKUPS FOR GARAGE DOORS AND COMMUNICATIONS
It's very common for the power to go out before a fire strikes, since fire and winds can damage electrical infrastructure. You need to be prepared to communicate and escape, even without power. How will you receive warning at night if the power is out, and how will you open your garage door to evacuate if there is no power?
For garage doors, a battery backup should be installed. They typically cost less than $100, and can be installed by homeowners.
Check with your garage door opener manufacturer to see if they make a battery specific to your opener model, although universal models are available.
For home phones and internet connections, a "UPS" Uninterruptible Power Supply is a good option (link is for Amazon, however they are available locally, in-stock at Best Buy, Costco, and other electronics stores).
The larger the UPS is, the longer it will last when the power goes out (consider the 1500VA model, about $150). Consider keeping one dedicated to your home phone, and another dedicated to your internet cable modem. A 1500VA model will last about 2 hours when attached to a cable modem and router, and a home phone may last up to 24 hours, depending on usage.
Please consult with the manufacturer for specifics and installation instructions. Test regularly to confirm function.
WHAT IF MY ROAD IS BLOCKED?
Law enforcement can move a large number of vehicles through intersections.
- Drive calmly and safely.
- Visibility will be low, proceed carefully.
- Turn your lights on.
- You can safely drive when there is fire burning on the roadsides.
- If the road is blocked, try to clear the obstruction (if it's safe to exit your vehicle).
- If an alternate route is available, take it.
- Do not leave your vehicle unless there is no other option or your car is on fire. Leaving your car is a last resort and may prove deadly. You are almost always safer in your car or a building.
- Do not abandon your car in the roadway. Park it off the road if there is no other option.
- Take shelter in a building if no quick escape route is available. Close doors and windows, stay low (lay on the floor, crawl to move if there is smoke or heat in the building, and stay near a door. Stay inside until the fire passes or conditions become untenable.
MY NEIGHBORHOOD IS ONE WAY IN, ONE WAY OUT!
If you live in a "one way in, one way out" neighborhood, as is common in Marin, your escape route is predetermined.
- Use the one-way-out direction and leave! Drive towards your neighborhood's exit, and to the nearest town away from the fire.
- Follow instructions in the alert messages if they provide evacuation shelter or escape route information.
- Do not flee to fire roads or vegetated open spaces. Fire roads are more dangerous than being in your car on the pavement, even with fire burning around you.
- But fire engines will block my escape!
- When evacuation has been ordered, the fire's Incident Commander will instruct fire engines not to enter areas where evacuation is occurring and two-way passage is not possible. Evacuation is the number one priority for firefighters.
If you Are Unable to Evacuate on your own
- Ask a neighbor to assist you or give you a ride. Pre-plan a list of neighbors who may be able to assist you.
- Call 911 if you are disabled or need assistance to evacuate.
- If first responders are in your neighborhood, attempt to notify them that you require assistance.
Fire roads (or other unpaved or locked roads leading to open spaces) are NEVER safe or viable evacuation routes during wildfires! Stay on pavement and evacuate towards major roads and away from the fire, unless instructed otherwise by emergency personnel.
Even if your evacuation route is blocked, you're almost always better off remaining in your car or taking shelter in a house until the fire passes. Walking into unburned, open areas surrounded by vegetation is the MOST DANGEROUS THING YOU CAN DO during a wildfire.
During wildfires, always follow the instructions of law enforcement officers or firefighters.
Unless instructed otherwise, you should ALWAYS plan to evacuate downhill towards major roads and away from the fire.
If You Become Trapped
INSIDE THE HOME
- Keep all family members together.
- Stay inside the house until the fire front passes. Although it may be very hot in the house, it may be unsurvivable outside.
- Stay near an exit door, low to the floor.
- Plan for the loss of power and have water stored by filling the sinks and tubs along with buckets inside your house to put out burning embers or small fires.
- Have your fire extinguishers out and in convenient locations.
- Shelter in a room at the opposite end of your home from where the fire is approaching; making sure you have two possible exit routes.
- Close all windows and doors.
- If you have an automatic garage door opener, disconnect the unit and operate the door manually. Close the garage door when evacuating (you may not be able to reopen if the manual latch has been operated. Become familiar with manual door operation BEFORE a fire strikes!).
- Close metal Venetian blinds.
- Remove light curtains and other easily combustible materials from windows or draw them well past the perimeter of the window. This will prevent radiant heat from catching the window coverings on fire.
- Move furniture away from windows and sliding glass doors to prevent radiant heat from catching the furniture on fire.
- Shut off all attic fans, whole house fans, swamp coolers and interior fans to keep smoke and ash from being drawn into house.
- Bring pets inside and place in pet carriers to control their movement in the house as the roar of the fire comes.
- Put livestock and horses in an area where fuels have been removed or in an irrigated pasture.
- Leave exterior and interior lights on for as long as you have power. This helps firefighters to find your house in the dense smoke during a fire.
- Move wheeled vehicle or equipment away from structures.
- Shut off natural gas and propane unless needed for running a generator.
- Connect water hoses and lay them out for best use where they will not get burned during the fire front passing.
- If you have a wooden fence that connects to the exterior of your home, prevent flames from spreading from the fence to your house by propping open the gate.
- Move anything that can easily ignite at least 30 feet away from the exterior of your home, including patio furniture and cushions, cloth awnings, barbecues, portable propane tanks, trash cans without lids, and firewood.
OUTSIDE THE HOME or On Foot
- Find an area clear of vegetation, far from dry grass, brush, or trees. Look for a ditch, depression, or body of water such as a pool or lake, if possible.
- Lie face down, cover up your body. Protect your airway, by breathing close to the ground, through a dry towel or cloth.
- Use your cell phone to call 911. Advise officials that you are trapped and provide your location (an address or intersection is best).
IN YOUR VEHICLE
- A structure offers more protection than a car so if there is a building nearby get inside it.
- If there is no building, park and stay in your car, where it is safer than being out in the open where you could be directly exposure to flames and radiant heat.
- Find a safe place to park that has little or no vegetation.
- Turn on headlights and emergency flashers to make your car more visible during heavy smoke.
- Close all windows and doors, shut off all air vents, and turn off the air conditioner.
- Get below the windows under blankets, preferably wool, and lie on the floor to shelter yourself from the intense radiant heat.
- Stay in the vehicle, as it will provide you with some insulation from the heat.
- Wait until the fire front passes and temperature has dropped outside then get out and into a safe area that has already burned.
Fire officials will determine when it is safe for you to return to your home. This will be done as soon as possible considering safety and accessibility.
When you return home:
- Be alert for downed power lines and other hazards
- Check propane tanks, regulators, and lines before turning gas on
- Check your residence carefully for hidden embers or smoldering fires