What to Take When Evacuating

Debra Holland
10 min readSep 14, 2020

How to Stay Safe and Sane When a Firestorm Threatens Your Neighborhood

Photo: SvetlanaSF/Shutterstock

Many years ago, I dated a firefighter who stood on my backyard patio and looked down at the brushy, tree-filled slope leading to a local golf course. He turned to me and pointed to the bottom of the hillside.

“If a golfer tosses a cigarette on a windy day, you’ll have about five minutes before the flames reach your house. Before then, make sure you’re prepared to evacuate.”

That warning prompted me to create a mental list of what to take with me — from most to least amount of importance. Since then, I (as well as my extended family) have experienced wildfires coming near to where we live in Southern California. In addition, I’ve worked as a crisis and grief counselor for individuals, families, and companies, as well as a mental health counselor for disasters.

From these experiences, I’ve learned:

If you don’t have a mental list already thought out, in an emergency you may forget what’s important and grab stuff that’s not useful or is easily replaced.

The more you mentally rehearse the actions you’d take in a crisis, the more likely you’ll follow your plan in an actual emergency.

My emergency list begins with:

1. Grab the cat and dog and put them into the car. (If you plan to take your pets right before you leave, they might hide or struggle, slowing down your escape. If you’re not leaving soon, keep them in the bathroom nearest the door.)

2. My purse. (It’s big and can hold a lot of stuff.)

3. My laptop. (Fits in my purse.)

4. A bag of toiletries. (I always keep one packed and ready.)

5. The tiny childhood photo of my late, beloved grandmother. (I have the original.)

My grandmother at age five. Photo by Debra Holland

My list goes on for about thirty items, which I’ve memorized. Every time there’s a fire in California, I mentally practice running through a scenario where I have to grab what’s on my list and race out the door. (When I renovated my house, I had to adjust my mental…

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Debra Holland

Debra Holland, M.S., Ph.D, is a psychotherapist, corporate crisis and grief counselor, and New York Times and USA Today bestselling author.