Image of a wildfire evacuation route sign on a forested highway.

How to Plan for a Wildfire Evacuation

Updated January 1, 1 . AmFam Team

Use our tips to create a customized plan for your home so you’re prepared should a wildfire evacuation be declared.

Your family’s safety means everything to you, which is why being prepared for the unexpected should be a priority. If you live in an area that is prone to wildfires, the first step to peace of mind is creating a wildfire evacuation plan. Much like a fire escape plan, having a set list of steps and practiced routine creates a proactive approach to the threat of wildfires.

What Are the Stages of Evacuation Notices?

Navigating an evacuation can be a stressful time. You’ll want to have everything you need in place in case you have little warning to drive to safety. Take a look at the various stages of evacuation so you’ll be familiar with what needs to be done when one’s announced for your neighborhood.

Evacuation Warning

This is a fire warning that’s issued through the Emergency Alert System in the US. It’s typically used to inform the public of major and uncontrolled fires that threaten populated regions and may block major roadways and arteries.

Stage 1 Wildfire Evacuation Notice

Wildfires are either in your area or they’re approaching quickly, and your job is to be ready for an evacuation if ordered. Here’s part of what you’ll need to do when your area is threatened by a wildfire:

  • Monitor the situation closely through emergency services websites and local media
  • Get your supplies and emergency provisions into your car
  • Prepare your emergency "go bag" and gather all medications/other supplies you may need
  • Distribute news of the notice through your designated social media channels
  • Review mandated evacuation routes as provided by emergency services

Stage 2 Wildfire Evacuation Order

This condition is declared when a significant risk of fire to your area is possible. Residents are ordered to leave the area. It’s best to leave voluntarily, upon issue of the notice. Relocating to a Stage 1 area or into an officially designated region immediately is mandated.

  • Map out your evacuation route now and have a hard copy with you in the car
  • Stay updated with local media and radio on changing conditions
  • Contact family and friends
  • Evacuate to a safe area at earliest opportunity

Stage 3 Wildfire Evacuation Order

This is the final and most severe statement of imminent fire in your area. A Stage 3 Evacuation simply means “GO!” Leave immediately, as emergency services and first responders may not be able to assist you.

  • Exit your home immediately
  • Grab your “go bag” and get out
  • Text or call family and friends informing them of your route and target destination
  • Drive safely according to designated evacuation routes that are provided by emergency personnel
  • Be aware that no further warnings may be announced
  • Re-entry into Stage 3 zones may be limited until first responders have extinguished fires in the area
  • Tune into local radio and TV for updates on nearby road closures and conditions

Wildfire Evacuation Checklist

Time is of the essence when an emergency evacuation announced. And if you wait until the last minute, you may not be able to exit with important documents, priceless heirlooms and other key items before you’ll have to evacuate.

One great way to be ready for wildfires is by investing a few hours each week in preparation for just such an event. You’ll have the time to create an accurate home inventory for insurance purposes. Take a look at these tips to customize a plan for your home and family — you’ll be more prepared to head out with a moment’s notice.

Communication is key

It’s important that you listen to local authorities if a wildfire is spotted and take the precautions to heart when crafting your wildfire evacuation plan. Consider these ideas to help ease communication during a wildfire event:

  • Leave your contact info in a visible place in your home in case others come home and need to reach you
  • Keep your cell phone charged and be sure you’ve got a charging system in your car
  • Download a weather or wildfire warning app to keep you updated on alerts and changing conditions
  • Designate a rallying point where family and friends can regroup after evacuating

Learn about designated evacuation routes before you need them

Once an evacuation order is given, the authorities will usually identify a route that steers you away from fires and towards a safe zone. Here are other ways you can manage evacuating from a fire:

  • Pick the safest path out of your neighborhood
  • Practice taking these routes frequently so they are familiar — when visibility is limited by smoke, you’ll be glad you did

Make an emergency "go bag"

A lot of last-minute haste can be avoided with a pre-made emergency “go bag” full of your essentials. Check out (Opens in a new tab) for a handy list of supplies.

What to do right before you evacuate

If your area is under a Stage 1 wildfire notice, take the time to prepare your home, if it’s safe to do so:

  • Turn off your air conditioning
  • Shut of any gas lines or propane tanks
  • Close all doors and windows
  • Check your fresh air intake vents to see that no combustible material is nearby and that they are closed

Prepare your property for wildfires

If you are warned of the likelihood of a wildfire early enough, get to work by removing burnable debris from the outside of the house, roof and gutters. Try to clear combustible materials from a 5-foot perimeter around your home.

Get the Right Homeowners Insurance Protection

A proactive wildfire emergency response plan can give you peace of mind that you’re prepared for the unexpected. And that’s really what good home insurance is all about. With the right coverage, you may be provided additional living expenses after filing a claim and meeting your deductible. It’s key coverage if you need to relocate while contractors are rebuilding your home.

Your agent will help you customize the amount of protection you’ll need for personal property. Because natural disasters come in many forms, you’ll also be able to tune your policy with added flood insurance and additional coverages that fit the exact needs of your home.

Talking to your American Family Insurance agent (Opens in a new tab) to make sure you have the right homeowners protection can boost that sense of security. Get started on taking these smart steps today.

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