What to do if a wildfire prompts a power outage

Preparing now can save you valuable time

Wildfires can be terrifying and lead to a lot of uncertainty about your family's safety and worries over protecting your home. Add to that the possibility of losing power, and that makes dealing with the crisis even more challenging.

As with any disaster, preparing before a wildfire can help you take action faster and manage the stress of the moment.

Here are some tips to help you stay ahead of a power outage brought on by a wildfire.

Build a supply kit

According to the California Department of Forest and Fire Protection, also known as Cal Fire, your supply kit should include the following:

  • First aid kit
  • Prescription medications
  • Bottled water
  • Flashlights
  • Batteries
  • Coolers or ice chests
  • Battery packs to recharge your cellphone
  • Extra charging cables for mobile devices
  • Non-perishable food
  • Manual can opener

Know your home

Before the flames are racing toward your home, you should become familiar with the electrical, natural gas and water systems of your home. According to electricity provider Southern California Edison, you should know how to turn each of those systems off and keep the tools to do so nearby.

Cal Fire recommends people shut off the gas to their homes in the event of a power outage. It is also suggested that you turn off propane tanks.

SCE also suggests people unplug electronics until electricity is restored. This will prevent them from being inadvertently damaged by a surge when power is restored.

Electricity company Pacific Gas & Electric also recommends people practice manually opening their garage doors.

Be careful with generators

If you have a generator and want to use it during a power outage, make sure it is being used safely.

According to the Department of Energy, generators should be operated outside and at least 15 feet away from any open windows or doors. This will help keep the poisonous exhaust from getting into your home.

Cal Fire recommends people should also understand the electric load of their generator and only use cables that can handle that type of power. Make sure you are also familiar with the safety features of your generator.

A generator should never be plugged into a wall outlet, according to the DOE.

Keep it cool

According to the Federal Emergency Management Agency, a refrigerator without power will keep food cool for about 4 hours. A full freezer will keep food cold for about 48 hours.

SCE recommends you keep your refrigerator and freezer doors closed as much as possible so that food doesn’t spoil too fast. Even still, you should always check the food before eating to make sure it hasn’t gone bad.

FEMA said non-perishable food should be kept on hand to use when the cold food has turned.

Don’t forget about your pets

Make sure you plan for your pets when developing strategies to deal with a power outage. Think about food, shelter and water, as well as any medications that they might require.

Stay informed

Cal Fire recommends using your cellphone or battery-operated radio to stay updated about wildfires and any power outages that might happen. You’ll also need a way to keep those devices powered, so don’t forget to have batteries and portable battery packs on hand.

Returning after an evacuation

If there was a power outage during your evacuation, FEMA recommends you go through all of the items in your fridge and freezer to check them for freshness. On its website, the agency uses the mantra: "When in doubt, throw it out."

According to FEMA, you should also toss out any refrigerated medication if the power has been out for more than a day unless the drug’s label says otherwise.