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A&A Preparing For Emergencies | RV Living Near The California Wildfires

End of Week #65

Gualala River Redwood Park, Gualala CA

Miles traveled since last week's post = 0

Total miles traveled to date = 7,955 with trailer

It feels like the entire country has quite literally exploded with natural disasters overnight - with fires raging throughout the west and impending hurricane(s) heading towards the south. (Not to mention any and everything else going on at all times.) Needless to say, it's been a tense past week here in northern California as the county just south of us erupted with fires from a dry lightning storm we had. Thankfully for us we have remained safe from danger, with the closest evacuations about 15 miles south of us, and the closest fires about 30 miles or so away, but that safety doesn't come without emergency planning and a whole lot of stress on my end.

Although we have remained out of harm's way for now, there has still been a lot of talk and planning to coincide with the California wildfires - both for us personal and for our workamping positions here in Gualala. Adam and I have personally never been this close to any wildfires before, and most definitely have not been in such a rural location during natural disaster emergencies taking place.

I think it goes without being said, but we obviously did not get to venture down to San Francisco this week, as we had originally planned. At this point we hope there is still an opportunity for us to do so in the next few weeks, but for now we are focusing our attention on the fires burning south of us and what safety measures we have to take to respond to them.

RV Living Near The California Wildfires

Wildfires are a necessary and natural component of life in the wild west of the United States. They typically happen every season, across all the western states, and can help regenerate and maintain the forest and it's unique environment. Prescribed burns even take place throughout the year to help sustain natural environments and ensure the healthy growth of plants and trees for years to come.

However in recent years of our lives, wildfires have become extremely deadly - fed by drought, increased temperatures, increased lightning activity, and everything else that contributes to extreme global weather and environmental changes these days. #ClimateChangeIsReal. California specifically has seen a significant uptick in large fire activity in the recent years, due to climate change, land use practices and other factors. Summers are hotter, vegetation is drier, and conditions enable more fire activity to spread rapidly across various areas. I feel this is something that we as a humanity have to really start paying better attention to (QUICKLY) to figure out new ways to help prevent fires from burning entire states down.

Sonoma County Fires

We have been camping in Mendocino County for 4 months now, just 1 mile from the Sonoma County border. The fires that erupted in Sonoma County the past week are at times just 30-60 miles south of us and throughout areas we have frequently drove through this summer on our trips to Santa Rosa to get groceries. It's hard to imagine these areas burning to the ground, fires that burn all the way to the ocean, and everyone in the vicinity evacuating, but it's real and it's been happening here.

The largest blaze in the state of California has been the LNU Lightning Complex fire, that has spread to more than 500,000 acres (it might be over a million by now?) throughout Napa, Lake, Solano, and Sonoma Counties in the greater Bay area. This is more than twice the land mass burned in the entire 2019 California fire season, according to a UCLA climate scientist, and the fires here are still not completely contained. It is good news for us in Gualala that the closest fire to us, the Meyers Grade, has been contained and as of early this week highway 1 has opened back up - but this area of California is not completely in the clear just yet.

Impact on the campground in Gualala

Here at the campground we have only minorly been impacted or affected by the recent wildfires, thankfully! As a team, we have briefly discussed what would happen if we all needed to evacuate, to keep us prepared, and we have taken proper precautionary measures to reduce the capacity of people here in the park during the red flag warnings we have received this week. The biggest impacts to us in general have been from the closure of highway 1 south of us, connecting us as a route inland from the greater Bay area - but this route has since been reopened. While it was closed, this had left only one route to and from the park, going north on highway 1, which also created a lot longer of a journey for a lot of people trying to come camp with us. Not to mention it also created the stress that if we did have to evacuate there was only one route out of here for everyone in our coastal community and the surrounding area.

Other than that we have primarily reduced the number of reservations we are accepting, and banned all campfires in the park while we await to see what happens next for the rest of our season. Seems to be a trend this year, eh?

California wildfires across the state

The state of California has experienced more than 600 wildfires in the past week, from an estimated 12,000+ lightning strikes and has been under a state of emergency since August 18th - and that is just California alone. I'm well aware that Colorado, Arizona, Oregon and Washington are also on fire lately and the fires in the Denver area alone are enough to make your heart unnecessarily heavy. There aren't many "safe" areas to go right now in California and it is something we have to keep on our radar the next few weeks as our workamping position comes to an end and we start making our way to our next steps and destinations. Some of the most heavily impacted areas in California are the greater Bay area, Santa Cruz area, and the greater Los Angeles area - however a lot can change in one day, one week, or even the next month!

What has been the most difficult for me to think about is the impact these fires have had on nature and on wild animals. I think about the 2,000 year old Redwoods burning south of San Francisco in Big Basin State Park (the first California State Park), and I absolutely lose my emotions. (Not to mention how close the fires are also getting to another Redwood park, Armstrong Redwoods State Park near Guerneville in Sonoma County.) I think about the displaced wild animals that have no idea what is going on and have nowhere to go and I can't hold it together. I think about beautiful places I have got to enjoy and make memories, and other amazing places I never got to enjoy - all just completely charred to the ground and it just breaks my heart into a million pieces. I know nature is resilient and she will always rebuild herself, but that doesn't take away from the pain of the devastation these fires cause, and it doesn't take away from my love of nature and all things wild!

Preparing For Emergencies

It's nothing new for Adam and I to be discussing worst case scenarios for life on the road, or talking about what our plans will be if a certain weather event or natural disaster takes place. These are things we have been discussing for a couple of years now - well before we even moved into the RV to begin with. But at the same time, we have only now encountered a small amount of emergency related events firsthand and everything is always different when you are going through it then it is when you are just talking about it. We have dealt with our fair share of severe weather and thunderstorms with high winds - all which took place last summer, but this is our first experience being so close to wildfires. This has brought up a lot of new conversations and preparations for us as we have to plan for what could happen at all times.

Here are some of the key ways we have prepared ourselves for the fires burning in California this summer:

  • Having a route - This was definitely one of the first things we talked about, as the routes out of here and away from the coast are super limited these days. We talked about where we would try to go, which would likely be the next nearest and largest town - Fort Bragg - and what other areas we could try to get to from there. All of the routes off the coast right here involve traveling through some windy roads to cross over the mountains in between us and "inland" California, which could be difficult during extreme fires. Nevertheless, we made a plan and put some routes into place that would ideally help guide us to safety!

  • Packing up - I would say this is probably one of the harder things to prepare for, unless you fully pack up the trailer right away and just sit and wait with everything ready to go for days on end. We did not end up going this route but verbally discussed what would need to be done and what would be the quickest timeline we could have it done by in case of an evacuation emergency. Mostly, this would entail putting things away in the trailer so it is travel ready, and getting everything outside of the trailer in the van as fast as possible. From there we would do a shortened version of our regular safety check with everything related to the van and trailer, and we would hook up and be on our way. As usual, Adam would take care of the outside and I would handle the inside. In estimating how much time we would need we think that we could be packed up and out of our spot in 1 hour if it was a real emergency taking place (that still provided enough advance notice to prepare).

  • Making A, B, and C plans - It's important to have more than one plan in place, for any kind of emergency you would ever encounter. It would never be guaranteed that your first plan would be your sure plan, and it's never promised that things will even go according to any plan at all. Having multiple routes, multiple endpoints, or multiple options for what you would do in any emergency is the best way to go to ensure the most amount of safety.

  • Discussing worst case scenarios - As hard as it is to think about and talk about these things, it's important that we do it anyway. In our situation, some of the worse case scenarios could involve a fire breakout right here in our campground that limits the amount of time we have to respond. Or it could also involve fires breaking out throughout the middle of the night and being woken up at the wee hours of the morning and having to act quickly in the dark. Another worse case scenario would be that we don't have enough time to pack up and take the trailer with us and we have to cram in the van and leave it behind. This would obviously be very devastational to us and it is something we would try to avoid at all costs!

  • Food, water & supplies - With discussions of fires all around us this past week, I have been taking inventory of what we have and how long we would be able to last on it to help ensure we would be set in the sudden case of an evacuation emergency. The most important things are gas for the van, food, water, and any other supplies we need to survive for a couple of weeks, or to take care of the cats. If fires really did rip through this community we would be at a loss to our food and water resources in town and would have to ensure we have enough with us to keep us going until we can get somewhere safer.

Life on the road will always be more stressful and more dangerous than any other life I've ever lived. Being out here in the west has really showed us how "safe" our home area of Minnesota and Wisconsin really was. Aside from freezing to death and having the occasional tornado, there wasn't much we ever really encountered otherwise. Now, out here in the wilderness, and in living in a literal wobbly box, we are subject to so much more disaster or danger in every way, and this means we have to think on our toes more than we ever have before.

I obviously don't plan to live my life in any state of constant fear of what could happen or what kind of weather or disaster might be waiting for me around each corner, but I think it's best that as full-time RVers we learn to adjust and adapt to our surroundings - wherever we are. And with that comes planning for what types of scenarios can take place in those surroundings and reacting accordingly. At the end of the day I know Adam and I will both do our best to keep each other safe and we are lucky to have each other on this crazy journey through life!


Depending on how the next week of life goes, my next post will either be about San Francisco or some other aspect of RV living and our life on the road. Our next few weeks here in Gualala are a little uncertain for what we will be able to do, and where we will be able to go, so it's hard to plan out exactly when I will get to post what. :) But that just seems to be a theme these days!

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