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Preparation Key to Wildfire Survival

February 11, 2009

Tucson, AZ – Authorities in Australia say some of that country’s 200-plus wildfire victims might have survived if they'd evacuated immediately, and an Arizona expert agrees. La'Tresa Jester, disaster services director for Lutheran Social Services of the Southwest, says people in areas prone to wildfires should prepare escape kits.

"You should have enough things stored away to survive for 72 hours, because that's the average time that it will take responders to get to you."

Jester says an emergency plan should include evacuation routes and means for notifying relatives in the event of a disaster.

She recommends a wildfire escape kit that is assembled and ready to go, and says her own mother, who lives alone, sets a good example.

"She has an ice chest on wheels with three days worth of non-perishable foods, clothes, water that is already stored, so if she has to get out of her house she's not going to have to go pack it; it's ready for her to move. She can evacuate her house in just a few minutes."

Jester says an escape kit should also include a three-day supply of prescription medications, or at least the empty bottles so you can get refills. And, she says, include some cash, because sometimes credit cards won't work in an emergency situation.

Jester, who has experience helping victims of Southern California wildfires, says recovery efforts start after three days and can last up to five years.

"We'll assess your needs, give you so many dollars up front just to make sure that your immediate needs are taken care of. And then we'll assign you a case manager to help you just go through the steps of getting yourself back to some sense of normalcy."

Jester says long-term recovery help for victims is a group effort, often involving FEMA, the Red Cross, faith-based organizations and churches.

Doug Ramsey, Public News Service - AZ