A Wildfire is Coming—Is Your Church Prepared?
When it comes to wildfire preparation, many churches have an it’s-not-going-to-happen-to-me mentality. However, during unusually hot, dry summers, wildfires are a natural disaster that can be sparked in any part of the United States. According to The National Interagency Fire Center, on average, 76,468 wildfires are reported annually. Generally, those fires burn more than six million acres.
If emergency officials broadcast a wildfire warning in your area, take steps to protect your church from the blazing embers that fly ahead of a wildfire’s flames. They pose the largest threat to buildings as the wildfire progresses.
If your church is unprepared, it could catch fire when embers land in vulnerable areas of the property. Brotherhood Mutual’s Wildfire Preparation Checklist can help you prepare your building for an approaching fire. Some tips include:
- Cover single-paned windows with shutters or ½ inch-thick plywood.
- Leave a light on in each room to aid firefighters.
- Place tennis balls in downspouts and fill the gutters with water.
For more information on preparing your building for an impending wildfire, go to www.livingwithfire.info.
Evacuation: What to Take With You
When local authorities predict the possibility of wildfires in your area, gather everything you’ll want to take in case you need to evacuate. Place the church’s important documents in an “evacuation box” in preparation for a disaster. This will allow you to spend more time preparing your own home and family, in the event of an emergency departure.
After authorities order an evacuation, it’s important to follow their directions and leave the area. If you have time, take the following items with you:
- Computer hard drives
- Church credit cards and cash
- Insurance policies
- Mortgage documents and rental agreements
- Financial statements/account numbers
- Tax records
- Items of sentimental value that are kept in the church building
- Contact information for church members and regular attendees
Look through this checklist for more evacuation tips. Although it was written with homeowners in mind, much of the information also applies to evacuating church buildings.
Returning to Your Church
Coming back to your church building in the aftermath of a wildfire can be stressful and overwhelming. Your first instinct may be to enter the building and assess the damage, but entering a site damaged by wildfire can be extremely dangerous. Smoldering remains may rekindle, and the building’s structure may be weakened in ways you can’t see with an untrained eye.
Rely on the authorities to determine if your church building is safe to enter. If you’re given the go-ahead to do so, here are some tips:
- Do not attempt to turn on the water, electricity, or natural gas if any of these utilities aren’t working. The fire department will usually check to make sure utilities are safe before it leaves the site, and will disconnect them if they are unsafe.
- Try to locate any important paperwork or items that you were unable to take before the evacuation.
- Create an inventory before throwing away any damaged goods. This inventory will help your insurance company know how much property you lost in the wildfire.
- Save receipts for all expenses related to your building’s damage. Your insurance company will want to see how much you spent due to your fire loss.
- Do not consume food, beverages, or even medicine that was exposed to heat, smoke, soot, or water. Frozen food should be safe to eat, if frost or ice crystals are still on the packaging.
If your church’s building is destroyed or severely damaged, contact your local police to let them know that the building will be empty. If windows were broken by the heat, consider boarding them up to deter trespassers.
Your next step is to determine where you will meet in the future, and inform church members of your plans. You should also contact your insurance agent, local fire and police departments, and your utility companies to inform them of your move.
When a wildfire threatens your church, knowing how to respond can give your building the best possible chance of survival. If you have time, there are steps you can take to protect your building from the flames, but always remember that safety comes first. Preserve what you can, but if the authorities say it’s time to leave, then the best thing you can do is to go. Your church building can be replaced. Your first priority is to do whatever you can to protect yourself and others inside your church.