Live Updates: Grass fires burn hundreds of homes in Colorado

The fast-moving wildfires in Colorado on Thursday, forcing tens of thousands of people to flee and destroying hundreds of homes, were a sober reminder that forest fires have become a year-round phenomenon in the American West.

It is never too early to plan a possible evacuation, even if you are not in an area immediately affected by smoke or flames. Natural fires can spread very quickly, move irregularly and travel great distances – especially when driven by the wind, as Thursday’s fires were, experts say.

Here is some suggestions to prepare for such an emergency.

Before the fire

Make a plan. Families should set up a meeting place in case they get separated and map out at least two evacuation routes.

Prepare an emergency supply set. Think beyond a flashlight, batteries and food and water. Cal Fire, the California Fire Department, a state that records thousands of forest fires a year, recommend gather a three-day supply of non-perishable food and three liters of water per person. Also pack a change of clothes, prescription medication and extra glasses or contact lenses. If you have pets, do not forget pet food and medicine.

Save important documents together. Collect birth certificates, property titles, insurance records and other crucial paperwork. In addition to being difficult to replace, some of the documents may be necessary to raise claims after the fire.

When the fire approaches

Prepare your home. If you have time, move flammable items such as piles of wood, brush and propane tanks at least 30 feet away from your house. Close all windows and doors, but leave them unlocked once evacuated so firefighters can enter. Turn on outdoor lights so firefighters can see the house through the smoke. Turn off the gas at the meter and turn off the air conditioner.

Fill up. Keep the family car filled with gas to avoid delays.

Go to the ATM. Cash is the key to emergencies. Also, keep your credit cards handy.

Listen to local media. There is no better source of information on evacuation orders, routes and shelters, said Brandi Richard, public affairs officer for Federal Emergency Management Agency. “Monitoring their websites is really important, because as things get in, they share them on social media.”

When you decide to evacuate

You do not have to wait for an order. This is especially true in densely populated areas where there may be traffic jams.

Pack and “go bag”. Make sure you have the essentials, especially if you can not get to your emergency supply set. Denvers Office of Emergency Management suggests that you pack the following: medicines, important documents, clothes, cash, a blanket, face masks, hand sanitizer and snacks.

Grab your electronics. Mobile phones, personal computers, backup hard drives and chargers should all go into the car along with the emergency equipment, personal documents, family memorials, cash and credit cards.

Do not forget the pets. They will be scared.

Be smart in the car. Close your windows and use recycled air conditioning. Tune in to local radio to hear about safe routes.

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