What You Should Do Before Evacuating Your House

Article Written by:
Glenn Nader, University of California Cooperative Extension, Yuba City, CA
Ed Smith, University of Nevada Cooperative Extension, Reno, NV


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The first step is to make sure every body and everything is ready to leave. Park the vehicles facing toward the road and load important documents and items. Prepare elderly, children, pets and any livestock for evacuation. If there is enough time, prepare the house for exposure to embers and flames. Accomplishing these items will be doable only if you have planned and prepared long before the evacuation order comes. The list below is separated into things that can be done, both inside or outside the house. With limited time, preparation on the outside is more critical for home survival.

It is important to remember that, in the right conditions, fire can travel very fast so it is necessary to continually monitor the fires progress as you prepare. It is always safer to leave as early as possible, as this limits the possibility of getting stuck in traffic or being overtaken by the fire.


  • Close all home exterior doors and windows and leave them unlocked.
  • If your house does not have ember resistant vents, close or cover outside attic, eave, and foundation (crawl space) vents. Vent openings can be covered by screwing in pre-cut plywood or stapling or taping aluminum foil folded several layers thick.
  • Remove combustible materials from the porch and deck including; plastic and cloth pads for patio furniture, firewood piles, cloth awnings, brooms, newspapers, wicker baskets, door mats, pine cones and dried flower arrangements.
  • Sweep plant debris off the deck.
  • Close the garage door. If there are gaps between the floor and trim and the door, block them with plywood or metal to prevent ember entry.
  • If the rain gutters contain plant debris (leaves, pine needles, etc.), remove it if there is time. If not, block the gutter outlets with a sock in a plastic bag or duct tape and hose down the roof and allowing water to drain into and fill the gutter. Clean around the down spout to provide for the best seal if using tape or other plugging device.
  • Move wheeled vehicles or equipment away from structures to make sure that fire engines can access the house. Roll up windows on any vehicles that may be remaining at the residence.
  • If you have a wooden fence that connects to the exterior of your home, prevent flames from spreading from the fence to your house by propping open the gate, or removing the portion of your fence that touches your home.
  • Remove plant debris, such as pine needles, leaves, branches and bark, from the roof and under the deck.
  • Wet swamp cooler or remove pads; if possible, to keep embers from igniting them
  • Shut off natural gas and propane unless needed for running a generator.
  • Place metal (not wooden) ladder against side of house in clear view for fire fighter to quickly access the roof of the home.
  • Make sure that all garden hoses are connected to faucets and attach nozzles set on “spray”. Fill any pools, hot tubs, garbage cans, tubs or other large containers with water, so that they could be used by fire fighters.
  • If power and water are available, wet down wood shake or shingle roofs and around the base (from the siding out 5 feet) of the home.


  • Shut off all attic fans, whole house fans, swamp coolers and interior fans to keep smoke and ash from being drawn into house.
  • Leave exterior and interior lights on. If electricity remains on it will make your home visible in the smoke for fire fighters to find during the fire.
  • Turn off all pilot lights.
  • Remove light curtains and other easily combustible materials from windows or draw draperies and window coverings wide open, well past the perimeter of the window. Close any fire-resistant drapes or shutters.