How to prepare for a wildfire evacuation

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Wildfire evacuation preparation list
If there's time, here is a list of essentials to take with you during a wildfire evacuation. Above all else, follow instructions given and get out of harm's way.

A wildfire can start at any moment, and they can move fast and unpredictably. Preparing for an evacuation should begin before there is any danger.

If your household is under voluntary or potential evacuations, begin to prepare your home and get ready to leave. If mandatory evacuations are ordered, it's important to leave as fast as possible.

Here are steps to take to prepare for a wildfire evacuation.

Have a plan

Preparations for a wildfire evacuation (or any emergency) should start before there is any danger. Create a family evacuation and communications plan. Make sure to include pets as a part of the plan. Establish a meeting area outside your home if your house is in immediate danger. Stay tuned to phone alerts, TV or radio for the latest emergency instructions or evacuation orders.

"The personal plan should, number 1, be your out-of-state contacts that everyone knows to dial in and report that you're well and, secondly, the meeting places. You want two designated meeting places in case you don't have access to your primary meeting place," says Erica Arteseros of the San Francisco Fire Department.

Prepare your home

If there is time to prepare your home prior to a potential evacuation, follow Cal Fire's pre-evacuation preparations list for inside and outside your home. If your family or your home are in imminent danger, evacuate immediately.

Important steps for inside your home include keeping your windows unlocked, moving any flammable materials or furniture away from windows to the center of a room and leaving your lights on so firefighters can see through the smoke.

Important steps for outside your home include gathering flammable items and placing them inside your home, turning off and moving propane tanks away from structures and checking on your neighbors to make sure they are preparing to leave.

Assemble an emergency supply kit

Having supplies for each member of your household is an important step for evacuation preparation. Cal Fire recommends having a three-day supply non-perishable food and three gallons of water per person. Extra eyeglasses or contact lenses, a seven-day supply of medications and copies of important documents, such as birth certificates and passports, are also important to pack.

Document your possessions

Finally, document your possessions both inside and outside the home with a cellphone camera. If you haven't done this in advance, and you have at least a half an hour, do it before you leave.

Amy Bach is with the consumer group United Policyholders. "The things again you wouldn't be able to replace -- antiques, let's say, 'here's a table that I inherited from my grandmother. Here's another piece of art,'" said Bach.

Don't forget to videotape the exterior of your house as well.

"It's amazing how often people don't have a record of their house. How big was it?" asks Bach.

Watch the video above to see a list of supplies and see Cal Fire's full emergency supply kit checklist here.

VIDEO: Safety tips to remember when returning home after wildfire

As residents return to see what remains, there are some very specific safety precautions to keep in mind.