September 8 has always been my favorite day of the year for the very simple reason that it is my birthday. I LOVE celebrating my birthday. Some may not like celebrating theirs, especially as they get older, but that is not me. I started enjoying it more after turning 30. So, on September 8, 2020, I woke up full of excitement and ready to celebrate ME.  

Fire season had other plans for that day. I vividly remember the moment I heard reports of the Almeda Fire. The library staff, especially those in Ashland, Phoenix, and Talent, were on high alert. Then, news broke of the South Obenchain Fire, putting more of our libraries and community members, literally, in the line of fire. Of course, I still ate cake, but it was while standing in front of a window in my kitchen, ready to drop it in the trash if an evacuation order was announced.  

I’m sure there are many in the area who, like me, did not have their go-bag ready on September 8. It is so easy to say, “I’ll be able to pack quickly if I need to.” Don’t fall into that trap this fire season. If you don’t have your bag ready as you are reading this, please do it now. (You can come back to the blog post!)  

“But, Carrie, what do I need to pack?” Think about what you will need. The obvious items are clothes, food, water, medications, cellphone, and charger. Some of the less obvious things, though, include copies of important documents, first aid supplies, sturdy shoes, toilet paper, recent photos of pets as well as your pets’ medications, food, and water. For a more detailed list of items to include in your go-bag, download the Family Emergency Preparedness Handbook published by Josephine and Jackson Counties, and look at Chapter 4. This document covers a wide variety of emergency situations with wonderful detail. You can find it on the Jackson County Emergency Management website, under the “Preparedness” tab, or click this link

In addition to having a go-bag ready, there are a number of ways to stay informed. Jackson County Emergency Management provides access to Citizen Alert, an emergency notification and community information service. Now is the time to sign up if you haven’t already; not when a fire comes to your town. You can also follow Jackson County Emergency Management and the Oregon Department of Forestry- Southwest Oregon District on Facebook for frequent updates on current fires and fire dangers.  

Before disaster strikes, there are a number of things you can do to protect your home and family. The first thing you can do is assess your property for the potential to catch fire. When is the last time you cleaned your gutters or cleaned your roof? Check these areas for leaves and other debris that can easily ignite when exposed to firebrands or embers. Also check vents that lead inside the house. Firebrands can enter through these vents, causing a fire inside. One remedy is to add a fine mesh to the inside of the vent.  

Next, look on the ground around your home. Now is a great time to rake up dried leaves and pine needles and remove dead bushes. Do you have mulch around the base of your home? Now might be a good time to consider placing rock in that area instead of the highly combustible material. Check any healthy shrubs or plants that are next to your home for dead twigs and dried leaves at the base. While the healthy plants are not quite as big of a threat, anything dry around them could ignite. I know it sounds like I’m telling you to do a lot of yard work. Maybe I am. But a little yard work can go a long way in protecting your home and family during fire season. The day that a wildfire starts is not the time to evaluate these things. And it is also not the time to water your yard or roof. That precious water is needed by the brave people fighting the fire, and we do not want to take any of that valuable resource away from them.  

Wildfires will happen. That is an unfortunate reality we all must face. It is how we prepare and react that will determine the safety of our homes, families, and, ultimately, ourselves. Below is a list of more resources to help you prepare.  

Your Home Can Survive a Wildfire.” National Fire Protection Association. YouTube 

SWO Fire.”  Official Blog of Southwest Oregon District, Oregon Dept. of Forestry. 

Rogue Valley Emergency Management. 

Home Fire Safety.” American Red Cross. 

Evacuation Zones.” Medford, Oregon. 

Know Your Zone.” Ashland, Oregon. 

I have no clue what each day might bring. I do rest easier knowing that I have my go-bag ready, have checked for debris around my apartment, and know where to look for up-to-date information when a wildfire starts. September 8 has a whole new relevance, not just to me, but to the whole Jackson County community. Many lost their homes on that date and saw their world come crashing down. This fire season, let us all be prepared. But let us not just be prepared for any coming disasters. Let us also be prepared to come together as a community and help those who, despite their best efforts, may lose property this year.

Guest post by Carrie Turney-Ross