‘You don’t think of that kind of stuff when you’re coming back’: Coming home after a wildfire evacuation

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(ABC4) – People who live in areas that are prone to wildfires may know to have a bag packed in case of the need for a speedy evacuation. They might know their evacuation route backwards and forwards and to turn off their electricity and main gas line before they go.

But what about returning home after an evacuation?

According to Kayli Yardley, Prevention Specialist for the state with the Utah Division of Forestry Fire & State Lands, there are steps to take when returning home from an evacuation that are just as important to your safety.

Returning home after an evacuation due to any natural disaster has the potential to be emotionally difficult. Here’s a checklist to follow to make the return home a safe one.

  • Wait until fire officials give the okay to return home.
  • Use caution around trees or power poles that may have lost their stability during a fire.

“You don’t think of that kind of stuff when you’re coming back… A burned tree can easily come down by the wind, or if there’s a power line that might be down, that would be one of the first things to look for when entering the property,” Yardley explains.

  • Keep a fire watch

This means watching for any fire hazards. According to ready.gov, the ground may have heat pockets that could start another fire. Be aware of hot ash, charred trees or debris, and embers.

Even if the fire did not come too close to your home, embers can travel a long way and end up on the rooftop or in a gutter, Yardley tells ABC4.com.

  • Check for a natural gas smell before entering your home.

Yardley says she hopes people know that the first thing they should do when evacuating, if time allows, is to turn off the main gas line and electrical box. Gas leaks can occur from fire damages and present a significant danger.

  • Check your drinking water.

Water supply systems can be damaged or polluted during a fire, Yardley says.

  • Be aware of the potential for flash flooding following a fire.

Flash flooding occurs when rain falls over a burned area located upstream from a particular location, readyforwildfire.org says.

They are a real hazard after a wildfire, Yardley warns. “Try to be prepared that there could be some flash flooding and debris flow. That happens because now we don’t have the trees and the vegetation to hold that moisture. And so, what will happen is you’ll start to see that runoff.”

She recommends having sandbags on hand, especially if you live near a creek or river.

  • Take inventory of any damage to your home.

Take photos to document any damage, ready.gov states.

This information may be needed to receive available assistance. Report any damage to your homeowner’s insurance. Yardley says a Fire Management Assistance Program was approved to help those affected by the Parley’s Canyon Fire.

  • Take care of your mental and emotional health.

Ready.gov says that feeling anxious after a natural disaster is normal. Talk to someone if you are feeling stressed and follow the CDC’s guidelines for managing stress.

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