How to Stay Safe during Disasters and the Dry Heat
By Laurel Way
Arizona Diocesan Disaster Preparedness Coordinator
April 20th, 2022 – Over the weekend there have been several reports of wildfires throughout Arizona. This includes south of Prescott, Bisbee, and north of Flagstaff. Arizona no longer has a “Wildfire Season,” rather we are vulnerable to devastating fires throughout the year. This is due to a prolonged drought and rising temperatures throughout the state. In 2021, the monsoon season had record rainfall, however, it has been followed by a very dry winter. Now, as we approach the scorching summer heat, public lands around the state are filled with dry vegetation that can easily catch fire and spread quickly.
But many times, these fires can be avoided. According to the Department of Forestry and Fire Management, “9 out of 10 wildland fires are started by humans.” In addition, during 2020, “2,520 wildfires burned nearly 980,000 acres of state, federal, and tribal lands in almost every corner of the state.”
Wildfire Prevention is Crucial
Now more than ever, preventing wildfires is crucial to maintaining and healing the environment. Many fires begin at campsites when a campfire is not extinguished correctly. When planning to camp, check the weather and your food supply and see if there is a way you can camp without creating a fire. Make sure to have a shovel and a water supply with you at the campsite. If a fire is needed, make sure it is completely extinguished before leaving the campground. Never leave a burn unattended.
Most people don’t realize that towing a car or trailer improperly can spark a flame that can spread quickly. Make sure to secure your tow chains and check your tires prior to hitting the road. Tire blowouts and overheated cars can also cause fires that can get out of control. Never pull off onto tall dry grass if you need to pull over. The bottom of your car gets very warm (especially during the summer) which can ignite the grass without you even knowing.
For more information on fire prevention, check with your local county’s fire department and forestry services.
Disaster Preparedness and Relief Resources
While wildfires can be disastrous, fortunately, countless programs in Arizona assist with disaster preparedness and relief.
The Arizona Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster is a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization that connects people in times of crisis. Their network of government and volunteer programs is extensive with a mission to provide disaster-related services. The Episcopal Diocese of Arizona is just one of the organizations part of this membership. Others include:
- Arizona Humane Society
- American Red Cross
- Arizona Food Bank Network
- United Way
- Team Rubicon
- The Salvation Army
For a full list of their members and how to connect with them, you can visit their website.
Crisis and Disaster Plans
For many of us, we don’t think about a crisis or natural disaster until it is at our doorstep. The Diocese of Arizona and the Episcopal Relief and Development have created crisis plans for both churches and individuals.
Communication during a crisis can often be overlooked. However, a good communication strategy can save lives. One thing that a church can do is form a Crisis/Disaster Preparedness Communications Team. You can find a step-by-step process on the Diocesan Crisis Communications Plan. This plan will help you develop a strategy in difficult times that can keep everyone safe in your congregation.
For individuals and families, Episcopal Relief and Development have created a resource page with helpful tips such as:
- Start with the basics – Water, food, and cash
- Memorize your emergency contact’s phone number
- Make copies of important documents
- Sign up for disaster alerts on your phone
Families can prepare by making a plan. Talk through what to do after a sudden crisis and make sure everyone knows where to meet, who to contact, and where to go for safety. You can view more tips and information through the Episcopal Relief and Development website.
What To Do in an Evacuation
In the event that you or your family needs to evacuate because of a natural disaster, there are a few things to remember:
Prepare Ahead of Time
Before an evacuation, you should understand the types of natural disasters that are prominent in your area. Here in Arizona, we face wildfires, drought, flash floods, monsoon storms, dust storms, and extreme heat. If you are aware of thespecific impact of each of these disasters, you can plan accordingly. Check with local officials and organizations in your area and find out where local shelters can be found.
During an Evacuation
During an active evacuation, you can download the FEMA app on your phone for a list of open shelters and alerts. Follow local evacuation instructions and take an emergency supply kit with you. If you have pets, plan to take them with you, but keep in mind that some shelters will only allow service animals. In that situation, you can reach out to the Arizona Humane Society or other pet rescues to board your pet until you can return home.
After an Evacuation
Always check with your local officials before returning to your home. There may still be restrictions in place or debris that have not been cleared that you are not aware of. Avoid downed power lines as they may be live with a voltage that can spark a fire or even cause a deadly shock. If you see any, immediately call your utility company and report it. Communicate with family and friends when you are returning and bring supplies, water, and food as your home may no longer have those items.
Other Disasters Local to Arizona
As mentioned above, Arizona has a high number of flash floods, extreme heat, droughts, and storms. These disasters are interconnected with wildfires and can be just as devastating. Extreme flooding can happen after a fire has burned, causing the ground to lose its water retention properties. Thus, rainfall from monsoons collects swiftly and will overwhelm a dry creek or river bed. Arizona has been experiencing a drought for over 20 years, which has caused crop shortages and disruption to our water and food supply. All of these threats are multiplied due to the effects of climate change.
How to Get Involved
There are many ways that you can get involved with caring for Earth’s creation and help heal the damage from climate change-induced disasters. The Creation Care Ministry for the diocese of Arizona provides a wealth of information to take action. This weekend, Earth Day events will be happening all over the state and can be a simple way to get involved. Other ways to help can be to support local legislation that will protect our environment from further harm done by companies that are not sustainable. You can also get involved in your local church or community to create a disaster plan and be prepared for future events. Every small action makes a difference.
For more information on disaster preparedness and relief, you can contact Laurel Way, the Diocesan Disaster Preparedness Coordinator.