Wildfire Awareness and Preparedness with Your Child
Wildfires continue to ravage through the Western United States more intensely and frequently than ever before. Directly linked to climate change, the rising global temperatures and drier forest conditions have exacerbated the risk of wildfires, as well as worsening the air quality from the fire’s thick smoke. Although wildfires are beneficial by clearing the overabundance of dead plants and encouraging new plant growth, these fires can spread rapidly and have the potential to cause massive damage to surrounding homes, businesses, and schools. It can be a scary and perplex time for children as they are absorbing the anxiety from adults who are flooded with media coverage of wildfires destroying the nature they are exploring. As a result, it is important to have open conversations about wildfire preparedness within your own homes. According to “Wildfire Resources” (The National Child Traumatic Stress Network), the following are ways in which you and your family can be prepared in the event of wildfire disaster.
Preparing for Evacuation Plan
Careful natural disaster planning with whole family involvement is the best way to educate children on the significance of wildfire preparedness in advance. Have an open dialogue with your child to inform them of the dangers of wildfires and answer any questions they may have. Remind your child why we prepare for emergencies such as wildfires and what agencies are in place to help ensure the safety of our communities. Make an evacuation plan and prepare emergency kit(s) which should include emergency contact information, enough water/ food/ emergency supplies for at least 3 days, survival thermal blanket, medications for at least 7 days, coins to make phone call, check book with a pen, and copies of important documents (family photo, contact list of names and phone numbers).
Avoiding Exposure to Smoke and Ash
In the event of wildfire when you are not in an evacuation zone, be sure to minimize exposure to smoke and ash by closing windows and vents. Change the air condition setting to recirculate inside air, for it is best to remain indoors and limit outside exercise at this time. Remind children of the importance of a mask at this time due to poor air quality (there are ash particles in the air that we breath). Families should continue to monitor risks and discuss the conditions together to quell any fears or anxieties they may have.
Taking Precautions Upon Evacuation
If an evacuation order is placed, remind your child of the emergency kit you have prepared and the evacuation plan that was discussed. Follow any evacuation guidelines given by officials and take necessary steps to protect your property - i.e. turn on lights so that your house may be visible in the smoke if there is time. As a parent, model calm behavior and take care of each other. Children emulate what they see and learn what are appropriate reactions to situations from the adults around them. Reassure your child that emergency response agencies, such as firefighters and local police, are actively protecting you and your community. These are extremely crucial times for everyone, and families will benefit from having open conversations about what is going on as a way to cope and destress together.