Updated: Sep 13
May is Wildfire Awareness Month and marks the beginning of high wildfire season in California. Most communities across California are no stranger to wildfires, whether they lived through a wildfire directly, or experienced a power shut-off due to wildfire risk, or were impacted by severe smoke and poor air quality (remember the Bay Area’s infamous orange sky day in September 2020?). In Alameda County, where The Center for Independent Living is located, over 55% of the county has a moderate or higher wildfire risk.
Preparing before a wildfire is the most important thing can we can do as cross-disability communities and seniors to increase our safety and resiliency. Many disabled people and older adults find, however, that traditional emergency management is often missing important accessibility considerations, and leaves out the experiences and also expertise of our communities. CIL’s Emergency Preparedness and Resiliency program is growing to fill that gap, and provide peer-led services such as individualized emergency planning, starter emergency kits, community education, portable back-up batteries, and more–we are disaster readiness and response by people with disabilities, alongside people with disabilities.
This Wildfire Awareness Month, we want to share safety tips before, during, and after a wildfire, as well as important community resources to have nearby throughout this wildfire season.
What Makes a Wildfire?
Wildfires occur naturally when there is low humidity, dry vegetation, and high temperatures. A study found that climate change and rising temperatures increase the likelihood of these listed conditions, leading to extreme autumn wildfires across California (1). Wildfires can also be caused by human-made fire outbreaks, or when high winds cause tree branches and other debris to contact live electric power lines, sparking fires. To help mitigate wildfire risk from power lines, PG&E schedules Public Safety Power Shutoffs (PSPS), where they monitor for severe weather and turn off power to certain lines to prevent wildfires.
While this is a direct way of reducing wildfire risk, we also know that power shutoffs of any kind can be dangerous, and even life-threatening, to people with disabilities and seniors who rely on electricity for their assistive technology, medical equipment, or mobility devices, including powered wheelchairs, ventilators, CPAP and BIPAP machines, and more. The Center for Independent Living’s Emergency Preparedness team is here to emergency plan with cross-disability communities before wildfires and Public Safety Power Shutoffs occur so that we can all stay as safe as possible! Click here to reach out to our Emergency Preparedness Team here today, or contact us at: DisasterHelp@centerforindependentliving.org or 510-841-4776.
Safety Tips Before, During, and After Wildfires
Our partners at Listos California have created a quick but thorough guide for wildfire readiness, response and recovery, and we have adapted some of their information below to be relevant to Alameda County residents.
Before a Wildfire:
Sign up for emergency alerts. In Alameda County, click here to sign-up for AC Alerts.
Learn what your evacuation zone is for where you live and work so you know when to leave wherever you are. Click here to find your zone on ZoneHaven. Know and practice the main way out of your evacuation zone, plus other ways out in case roads are closed or conditions change.
Pay attention to an Evacuation Warning. This means there is a serious threat. Get ready or go now if people or animals need time.
Plan rides to get yourself and loved ones to safety. If you or your family drives, keep enough gas in your vehicle to evacuate.
Prepare for long power outages, especially for medical or assistive devices that use electricity and refrigerated medicines. CIL has a limited supply of portable back-up batteries for consumers who live in high wildfire risk areas or Public Safety Power Shutoff areas.
Keep phones, devices, and backup batteries charged. If possible, have a battery-powered radio for emergency updates.
Have a Go Bag packed and other items ready to grab. For ideas about what to put in a Go Bag, click here.
If possible, make plans to stay with friends or family should you have to evacuate. During active wildfires or Public Safety Power Shutoff events, CIL can provide hotel rooms and other basic needs for consumers through our Disability Disaster Access and Resources (DDAR) partnership.
During a Wildfire:
Go to safety immediately when officials say you must leave. An Evacuation Order means you must leave — your health and safety is in danger.
Stay alert and keep informed by checking reliable sources of information, such as local news, county websites and alert systems, fire department social media streams, and more.
Even if a fire seems a safe distance away, consider leaving early. Allow extra time for the access and transportation needs of children, older adults, and people with disabilities. Crate pets and prepare service animals for a quick exit.
When there’s smoke, stay indoors as much as possible. If outdoors, wear a mask (such as an N95 mask) that will help protect you from smoke.
Check with neighbors to ask for, or offer, a ride.
Dial 2-1-1 if you need to find exit routes and safe shelter. Know that public disaster shelters and services are free, and no one can ask you for ID.
If trapped by fire, call 9-1-1 and give your location. Turn on lights at home to help rescuers find you, or headlights and emergency flashers if in your car. Be aware conditions might mean that help might not come quickly, or might not come at all if it is impossible to reach you.
After a Wildfire:
Stay out of fire zones until officials say it is safe to return. If you can’t go home, dial 2-1-1 to find free and safe shelter. CIL has a variety of assistive technology and supplies to make shelters more accessible for consumers, and can also put consumers in accessible hotels during an active event.
Get first aid quickly for anyone with injuries.
Check in with family, friends, and neighbors. Send text messages or use social media.
Stay away from burned areas for your health and safety. If it rains, watch for mudslides in burn areas.
Beware of falling trees and damaged structures. Watch for hidden embers in trees and structures and for “hot spots” on the ground. If you can return home, check anywhere in and around your home that was exposed to embers.
Don’t go near ash and debris from structures that have burned.
Visit an available local assistance center to get help and recovery services. All are welcome.
Important Community Resources During Wildfire Season
Keep these community resources close during this wildfire season and beyond:
Alameda County Emergency Preparedness website, where you can sign-up for emergency alerts, get information about what to do during an emergency, and to get the latest information during an emergency
CalFire’s interactive website where you can sign up for text alerts about local wildfires, learn in-depth wildfire preparation and prevention tools, and gain tips to harden your home or apartment building against wildfires.
California Office of Emergency Services serves as the state’s leadership hub during all major disasters and emergencies. They have an Access and Functional Needs Office for people with disabilities, older adults, pregnant people, and more, with a comprehensive resource library of emergency readiness, response, and recovery resources for many needs.
Listos (meaning “ready”) California is a statewide partnership between the Governor’s Office of Emergency Services and tribal and community-based organizations across California, such as The Center for Independent Living. Listos California also has a resource hub with guides and toolkits for various disasters in dozens of languages and accessible formats. Check out all there is to offer!
This guide has tips on how people with disabilities and older adults can prepare for and survive wildfires, as well as information on how Disability Rights California can assist you in exercising your legal rights to accessible emergency alert systems, accessible shelters, and accessing medicine or assistive technology if you have been displaced from your home.
The Center for Independent Living is an official Disability Disaster Access & Resources Center (DDARC), affiliated with the California Foundation of Independent Living Centers (CFILC) and PG&E. DDAR is a collaborative, community-based effort to provide the disability communities with resources and training for disaster preparedness and scheduled Public Safety Power Shutoffs (PSPS).
We are also a Listos California partner through the Governor’s Office of Emergency Services, and we build resilience among our communities living in areas most susceptible to wildfires, earthquakes, floods, and other natural and climate-driven disasters.
Goss, Michael, et al. “Climate Change Is Increasing the Likelihood of Extreme Autumn Wildfire Conditions across California.” Environmental Research Letters, vol. 15, no. 9, 2020, p. 094016., https://doi.org/10.1088/1748-9326/ab83a7. Accessed 17 May 2023.