The interesting thing about forest fires is the powerlessness one feels when placed kissing distance from an inferno.
I never really understood the underlying threat of forest fires until 3 days ago, but folks, I learnt that lesson pronto.
First things first, forest fires have zero chill. It started off with a faint whiff of an amateur BBQ whilst I was pacing in the garden and within 10 minutes, ash was swirling in the air, a toxic imitation of a winter’s snow.
The time my mind went from vague curiosity to full blown – pack the fucking cats and grab the passports – was measured in seconds.
Never before have I been so thankful to have bug out bags at the ready and a mostly solid set up (more on this later) for dealing with environmental emergencies. It’s times like this being prepared really pays off.
Situations like this are tough to handle – when do you flee? What do you take? I have no real advice on what you should do because it’s very situational, but I’ll just detail what I did.
First things first, I grabbed the two bug out bags, placed ’em in my office and proceeded to throw in my passports & cash from the safe.
Whilst I was doing that, the girl grabbed all 5 cats, split them up into 2 rooms (not all of them get along yet) with the windows and doors closed and placed the carriers open and ready to go.
When it comes to pets and making a quick getaway, you gotta eliminate variables, so isolation (making the cats easy to find & grab) with transport methods at the ready is the optimal set up.
Like life in general, you can’t go at it half-cocked. Gotta have a plan and thresholds in place. The first thing to assess is the immediate danger.
If the danger is close enough that the risk of dying is very real, then get the fuck out and plan when you are in a safe location.
As it stands, the area was full of firefighting planes, helicopters and fire trucks screaming down the street. On top of that, the wind was blowing away from my house and the firefighters brought their A-game, which gave me reasonable grounds to have bug out plans ready, but be able to assess the situation as it escalated.
I observed 6 of my neighbours, all of which reacted, but in very different ways, and thus for your reading pleasure;
The Neighbours’ Reactions
Got in the car with his wife, stayed outside the driveway and kept the motor going.
Analysis: The smartest course of action, sadly not viable to idle with 5 cats in the Portuguese July heat, but definitely worth figuring out a solution that works for our family.
Called friends who lived nearby. They parked their car and kept her company in the comfort of her home. Probably in front of the TV for updates.
Analysis: She is 85 years old. Makes sense from her perspective. It’s important to be self-aware of your limitations and ask for help preemptively.
Seemingly chilled inside the house, zero action plan in place as best as I could tell.
Analysis: I don’t want to be too harsh or judgmental because they may be badass preppers like me. I know from an outside perspective I was chilling on the patio smoking a cigar and taking photos of the shitshow (y’all are welcome).
All of this to say that just because you are calm and watching the situation unfold doesn’t mean you are unconcerned or an idiot. It may just mean you already have plans in place.
I have to admit that a lot of my chill was as a consequence of the overwhelming response from the firefighters. True heroes.
Spent the entire time on the street talking on the phone. Kids were also outside, seemingly no real plan of action – just mild concern.
Analysis: I said Hi to her, she looked horrified. Zero idea if she was planning on leaving or calling for a pick up, seems to me that she just didn’t know what to do.
Don’t know exactly what was hit, but some idiot driver likely couldn’t help looking away from the road to oogle the shitshow of smoke. Hubris slapped him back to the Quinta – drove his car into a wall? Or another car?
Analysis: Don’t be a fucking idiot when behind the wheel. Especially when a forest caught fire. Seriously.
Now this one was comical, as I was chilling on the patio, Elise saw this bloke get on his roof and water it with his garden hose.
I shit you not.
Analysis: Folks, if an out of control fire wants to give you a kiss, a hose ain’t gonna save you or your house.
Pragmatically I don’t know why he acted that way. Best I can come up with – it’s an action and when scared, humans want to act. Even if its stupid.
Climbing the roof of a house and watering it when emergency services are stretched is moronic.
As for the girl and I, we masked up (breathing in smoke for extended periods of time isn’t great) and kept people in our lives updated whilst snapping photos. Objectively, having a plan of action in place means that I felt relatively confident that I could escalate or de-escalate as needed without any ensuing panic due to everything being packed and ready to go.
What I learnt.
My preps & response time are on fucking point, I would guesstimate that enacting our protocols after we decided this was a serious situation, took us less than 3 minutes.
Not exaggerating. And that is with 5 cats. The only thing that I wish we had was 2 more cat carriers. One is a kitten and would have shared a carrier whilst another would have gone in the backpack. Not ideal and this is a situation I have already resolved (or will be resolved within a few days when Amazon delivers).
The girl always had the carriers ready to go in a closet and shit like this is so important it can’t be overstated.
Having pets is a responsibility, being a responsible owner means having a plan to protect them when shit goes south.
Another thing worth keeping in mind is having your passports/cards/important docs in a central location.
I have a filing cabinet for the stuff that matters, but can be replaced and a small fire safe for my grab and go must haves. This includes all passports + binder with all my bank cards and copy of our birth & marriage certificates. You gotta have this stuff on hand folks because a fire is stressful enough to not add searching for shit into the mix.
It’s important to plan for loss as well, because it’s not possible to get everything out. I am happy(ish) to let my PC burn because I have offsite backups of my data.
Same with belongings. That’s what insurance is for. So many stories of people getting trapped and injured because they were packing when they should have been running.
Don’t be stupid.
Have bug out bags. Have plans in place for those you love. Ignore the rest.
On that note, I hope you enjoyed this little story and accompanying photos. Let me know in the comments what you would have done or if you have any experience with similar events!