Sierra Nevada Fires, Blizzards and Earthquakes, Oh MY! …and Other Disasters. Are You Prepared?   Leave a comment

By Michelle Portesi


King Fire

Arial view of the King fire


As I’ve sat here choking on what passes for air here at Donner Lake due to the King fire, it occurred to me that most of us are woefully unprepared for these unfortunate events.  The fire in Weed, California blew through town in a matter of 15 minutes. That’s not a lot of time to grab anything other than your loved ones, especially if you haven’t done some due diligence ahead of time should you have to bug out in a hurry.  We empathize with those for whom disaster has struck, but rarely does that motivate us to do what we know we should preparedness wise, thinking it won’t happen to us.

There but for the grace of God go we…

However, with the fire recently in the Hellhole and French Meadows reservoir area, a mere few miles from Alpine Meadows, Squaw Valley, Truckee and the West Shore of Lake Tahoe, the possibility of evacuation became uncomfortably real. Just a few weeks ago there was a small earthquake recorded outside of  Tahoe Vista. I took those as a cue to get my ‘disaster preparedness’ act together.  Here are a few tips to help us all get started.



Defensible Space. We’ve all heard this before, but get those pine needles, pine cones and other detritus away from the house. They go up like a Roman candle once aflame. The best defense against fire is to not give it any fuel to get started in the first place.

In addition, the forest service has bans on campfires in any back country and restrictions within campgrounds. Check out their latest alerts before you go. And no throwing cigarette butts around. I’m always stunned when I see people doing this out of car windows on the freeway or just tossing them on the ground.  As Smokey the Bear says, ‘Only YOU can prevent wildfires’.







Standard plastic file box can hold your most important papers and a few valuables and/or sentimental items.


A ‘Bug Out’ Box.  My name for it.  As I looked around my home, I realized that most of it was just ‘stuff’.  They were things I would be sad if I lost them, but they weren’t imperative for survival…or at least survival in the modern world.  Take photos of it all and have it on your portable devices or online photo sites for insurance purposes. For the important things though, gather up necessary paperwork like passports, marriage license, social security cards, car titles, medical records, insurance policies, you get the idea…all in a waterproof file box, ready to grab at a moments notice.  These items are a pain in the neck to replace and/or track down if lost. It’s bad enough you are evacuated or even lost your home. Proving to various government agencies and corporate entities that you actually exist is a nightmare you really don’t need on top of it. If you have valuables such as jewelry, or small, sentimental items you’d be heartbroken to lose, consider dropping those into the box as well.








Laptop, Nook Book, Toiletries, jeans, long sleeved shirt, underwear...

Laptop, Nook Book, power cords, toiletries, jeans, long sleeved shirt, underwear…


...and the 15" W x 11"H bag isn't even close to being full yet.

…and the 15″ W x 12″H bag isn’t even close to being full yet.

The Overnight Bag  A refugee who grew up in a war torn area had some insights on how having a few everyday items became much valued luxuries in an emergency. While they wouldn’t be considered necessities for actual survival, they went a long way in keeping her feeling somewhat human and hopeful when everything around her was falling apart. A pre-packed overnight bag in the house or left in the car is handy should you have to evacuate on short notice. Include a change of clothes, underwear, socks, hair brush, travel sizes of toothbrush, toothpaste, shampoo and soap, wash cloth and any other items to make you feel more comfortable. My overnight bag also fits my laptop, nook book, power cords and such, – and no, it’s not huge.



Just another standard sized file box full of emergency items.

Just another standard sized file box full of emergency items.


The Car Box.  Due to our area, most of us are somewhat prepared for bad weather.  I know people who’ve gotten stuck on I-80 overnight, and we’ve all heard about people stranded in their cars in the back country during a freak storm, so my sleeping bag and a warm, wool blanket stay in my car year round.   Along with the emergency box of jumper cables, flares and quarts of oil for the car, why not also have an emergency car box for you?  Mine has a travel rain poncho packet, a gallon or two of water, flashlight, toilet paper, large garbage bags, matches in a jar, candles in metal containers, mess kit, a multi-purpose tool, some canned food, a can opener… AND – this is huge for me! –  some instant coffee and a metal coffee cup… among other items.  I originally started the box as an impromptu camping gear box, but if you’re stranded in your car or have to evacuate, especially in cold weather,  some of these items can be the difference between life and death.
And if you have pets, don’t forget some food for them too!





FEMA suggests a 3 day supply of food and water. A gallon of water per person per day for 3 days worth.

FEMA suggests a 3 day supply of food and water. A gallon of water per person per day for 3 days.

All Through The House.  Not all disasters involve evacuation. Weather and earthquakes can barricade us IN our homes or just cut us off from all access to ‘the grid’  that we’ve become so reliant on. Here in snow country, we’re fairly used to the power going out, sometimes for days at a time.  But the sewer not working? And it’s hard to imagine not having access to water, especially when we have so much of it around us. But what if? It’s always a good idea to have a few gallons of potable water stored, (or at the very least, some chlorine to purify it) and non perishable food stocked up. Here are a few other items that we should have on hand in case of an emergency.

*Emergency radio, preferably battery operated or solar powered with hand crank. Some can be used to power up your cell phone.

*A standard land line phone for when the power goes out.

*Flashlights, extra batteries, candles, oil lamps, matches and such.

*First Aid Kit.

* A stash of Cash


* A 5 gallon bucket or two.  Good for toting water and a variety of other uses. Add a small toilet seat on top and you have an impromptu commode. Keep a bag of peat moss or sawdust for sprinkling over the ‘output’. You now have a compost toilet that doesn’t stink.

* A full, small, propane tank if you have a propane BBQ.  Charcoal briquettes if you don’t.  Hot Coffee!  Hot Grub! You’re golden!

Sadly, I am not currently living in a home with a wood stove, but when I did, I always appreciated that I could do two of the most basic winter needs in life.  Stay warm and cook a hot meal in a pinch. And of course, make coffee!

For more ‘In Case of an Emergency’ ideas and check lists, here are a few sites to visit.

FEMA Emergency Supply List

CDC Emergency Checklist

Sign up for a Nixle account,  or the  El Dorado, Nevada (YubaNet) or Placer County sites for text message alerts to your cell phone about imminent dangers in your area.




Stay Safe, My Friends.




And if you have some great ideas of your own to add to the list, please feel free to leave a comment.





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