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When are we past the point of preparing?

(Photo by East Pierce Fire)

By Kiana Kabanje
Disaster Preparedness Outreach Program Manager

It was Labor Day evening and I was cleaning my garage. As I moved the trash bins out to the street for pick-up and stuffed cardboard boxes into the recycle bin, I noticed that the sky was quickly becoming smokey. Knowing there were wildfires occurring in eastern Washington, I didn’t give the smoke much extra thought. I became more aware of the air condition when the sky seemed to turn from blue to orange in about 30 minutes. At this point I was curious – what’s going on? Is there another fire? Throughout the afternoon and into the evening the wind had picked up quite a bit, but I had been expecting that from hearing in the news about a wind event. When my neighbors began joining me outside to admire the pretty colors in the sky and the smell of smoke made me cough, I closed the garage and headed indoors to learn what was happening. Below is a checklist of the thoughts and actions I took; did you take similar steps over the past few days? Did I miss anything?

  • Moved indoors, closed doors and windows.
  • Since I have signed up for local emergency alerts, I kept my phone nearby.
  • Did an internet search for my local fire department’s Twitter page (no account necessary) to look for any information.
  • Did a similar internet search for my local sheriff’s office Twitter page (no account necessary) to look for more information.
  • Checked the Washington Smoke Blog & DNR's fire info page for any other updates or alerts.
  • Noticed my phone only had 15% battery left – started charging it.
  • The wind caused the electricity in my house to flicker a few times; added a portable phone charger to my go-bag.
  • Learned the smoke was possibly from the start of what is now named the Sumner Grade Fire.
  • Thought about how close I live to Sumner – pretty close.
  • Moved my family’s grab and go bags to be beside our vehicle.
  • Wanted Taco Bell for dinner. Thought we should probably stay home. Ate a salad.
  • Checked local first responder Twitter accounts again. No update.
  • House was too warm. Didn’t open a window. Turned on a fan.
  • Texted our neighbors: “Hey, there’s a fire in Sumner: link to first responder Twitter account.”
  • Time for bed soon. Wanted to be ready in case the fire came our way during the night.
  • Moved two tubs from our 2 Weeks Ready kit from garage shelves to the floor by our vehicle.
  • Talked with my husband about where we would evacuate to, if necessary.
  • Found the dogs’ extra leashes; put them in the car.
  • Ate bowl of ice cream while watching a TV show.
  • Checked the internet again for any more fire information. Update: fire was near Highway 167 moving south.
  • Forwarded the fire update to our neighbors.
  • Learned my husband’s place of employment had lost electricity.
  • Texted a few co-workers and friends in the Sumner area: they were okay.
  • Went to bed – with the windows closed.

Well, how did I do? Have you taken similar steps over the past few days? As 2020 continues to throw curveballs, make sure your family stays prepared for whatever comes. Keep your disaster kits stocked and ready to go. Review your disaster plan with your family; has everyone signed up for emergency alerts? Does everyone know where you will evacuate to if necessary? Check in with your out-of-area contact and make sure they are aware of your plans. Connect with your neighbors and ask if they need help being prepared. Once your family is prepared, take a minute and send a thank you note to your local first responders. Lastly, please be kind to others and thoughtful of your fellow Washingtonians whose lives are severely disrupted. Let’s take care of each other.

For more information about preparing for disasters before they arrive, visit