Skip to content
Wildfire Evacuation Basics

Before, During, and After: Wildfire Evacuation Basics

Heatwaves and unrelenting droughts created the perfect fire starter to ignite wildfire season in 2022. Millions of acres burned, and tens of thousands of people were forced to evacuate their homes, businesses, and communities to flee from danger.

“Fires are burning faster and hotter than ever before, and complex socio-economic factors result in more people being affected by smoke, debris flows, and other wildfire effects,” according to the Center for Disaster Philanthropy. “It is becoming more common for areas to suffer a subsequent catastrophic wildfire before recovering from an earlier wildfire.”

To be better prepared for the 2023 wildfire season in your area, here’s a list of actions to take before, during, and after evacuating.


0323-Gates-Wildfire-Checklist-Checkmark.gifIn your vehicle, keep the fuel tank at least half full and store a flashlight, portable radio, and first aid kit inside.

0323-Gates-Wildfire-Checklist-Checkmark.gifDesignate a neighbor or friend who might assist you by loading or driving a second vehicle during an evacuation.

0323-Gates-Wildfire-Checklist-Checkmark.gifHave nonperishable food items (such as snacks) and one gallon of water per person on hand and ready to transport.

0323-Gates-Wildfire-Checklist-Checkmark.gifFor pet owners, keep carriers, food bowls, food, litterboxes, litter, and other needs in a staged area so they can easily be loaded into a vehicle.
0323-Gates-Wildfire-Checklist-Checkmark.gifCreate a documents box that includes backups of important files, insurance policies, life and investment files, bank records, legal documents, and a list of phone numbers and addresses of family and neighbors.

0323-Gates-Wildfire-Checklist-Checkmark.gifCreate a sentimental items box for photograph albums and mementos.

0323-Gates-Wildfire-Checklist-Checkmark.gifPack a suitcase with a few changes of clothes and extra shoes, as well as toiletry items and medication to last several days.

0323-Gates-Wildfire-Checklist-Checkmark.gifIf possible, gather camping equipment—sleeping bags, pillows, water bottles—to be used if you need to sleep outdoors as part of the evacuation process.
0323-Gates-Wildfire-Checklist-Checkmark.gifPlan several escape routes from your home.

0323-Gates-Wildfire-Checklist-Checkmark.gifDraft an email to friends, colleagues, and family members detailing your evacuation plan and designated emergency meeting location outside the fire area.


0323-Gates-Wildfire-Checklist-Checkmark.gifPut on sturdy shoes and clothing that provides some protection (long pants and long-sleeved shirts).

0323-Gates-Wildfire-Checklist-Checkmark.gifLoad all staged items from the above list into your vehicle.

0323-Gates-Wildfire-Checklist-Checkmark.gifClose all windows and interior doors of your home, but do not lock them so firefighters can gain access.

0323-Gates-Wildfire-Checklist-Checkmark.gifUnplug electrical equipment, except for freezers and refrigerators.

0323-Gates-Wildfire-Checklist-Checkmark.gifRemove curtains from all window areas.

0323-Gates-Wildfire-Checklist-Checkmark.gifMove flammable furniture to the center of rooms, away from doors and windows.

0323-Gates-Wildfire-Checklist-Checkmark.gifShut off gas at meters and turn off all pilot lights.

0323-Gates-Wildfire-Checklist-Checkmark.gifTurn on lights in your home so it is visible in smoky conditions.

0323-Gates-Wildfire-Checklist-Checkmark.gifShut off air conditioning.

0323-Gates-Wildfire-Checklist-Checkmark.gifRemove grill propane tanks and place them away from your home or load them into your vehicle.

0323-Gates-Wildfire-Checklist-Checkmark.gifConnect outdoor hoses to water valves or spigots for firefighters to use.

0323-Gates-Wildfire-Checklist-Checkmark.gifEnsure you have copies of all keys (house and car keys), plus wallets, cell phones, and personal identification on your person or in your vehicle.
0323-Gates-Wildfire-Checklist-Checkmark.gifCollect your pets and secure them so they cannot escape while putting them into a vehicle (especially important for cats).

0323-Gates-Wildfire-Checklist-Checkmark.gifSend your pre-drafted email.

0323-Gates-Wildfire-Checklist-Checkmark.gifFollow the recommended evacuation route to leave your home.



0323-Gates-Wildfire-Checklist-Checkmark.gifOnly prepare to return to your home or office after receiving an all-clear from authorities.

0323-Gates-Wildfire-Checklist-Checkmark.gifLet friends, family, and colleagues know your plan to return home and provide them with updates on your progress.

0323-Gates-Wildfire-Checklist-Checkmark.gifCharge your devices and take charged backup batteries with you.

0323-Gates-Wildfire-Checklist-Checkmark.gifTake food supplies and water with you.

0323-Gates-Wildfire-Checklist-Checkmark.gifOnly use a generator outside and away from your home.


Sources: Cal Fire, The U.S. Forest Service, and the U.S. Department of Homeland Safety.