The nightmare prospect of a wildfire in the Tonto National Forest has finally hit so close to home that everyone in the Rim country must be armed with knowledge of what to do in the event of an emergency evacuation.
Payson Fire Marshal Jack Babb said there are very specific things to do and, equally as important, things not to do.
The first step, if an evacuation appears to be forthcoming, is to make a list of and perhaps set aside in advance the items you will take from your home.
"It's recommended that you take a couple of changes of clothing; important documents such as birth certificates, mortgage and vehicle information; items that are hard to replace or irreplaceable; medicines, both prescribed and unprescribed; and maybe some entertainment, such as a book or a chessboard, to help break the monotony of wherever you end up," Babb said.
Keep a battery-powered radio tuned to Payson's KMOG radio station for updates on fire position and evacuation notices. KMOG will be the one and only source of all emergency information.
The Payson area's first evacuees will be relocated to the Rim Country Middle School. Once that facility reaches capacity, Babb said, evacuated families will go to Payson High School.
"We are prepared to take large animals and livestock, which will be routed to the Payson Event Center where we have two arenas. People are going to be encouraged to bring panels for pens, if they would like. If they do that, they need to bring an additional water trough. We're also working with the humane society to help accommodate small animals."
Once a family has evacuated their home, Babb said, paper door hangars which identify the house as evacuated available through the Payson Fire Department should be hung on the door knob.
Unlike other towns, Payson does not have a "white towel policy," wherein the residents of evacuated homes place a white towel or sheet on their front door to indicate that it is empty of residents.
Above all this, the most important action to take in the face of an evacuation order is to heed it, the fire marshal said.
"Those who choose to ignore evacuation orders put their own lives in danger, but that's not all," Babb said. "If and when the fire gets to them, they'll be leaving in a big hurry, trying to save themselves. Our concern is that such a rapid evacuation is not orderly, and it could endanger firefighters and equipment that are trying to enter the area to combat the blaze.
"Also, the longer you wait to evacuate, the greater the chances that you'll be surrounded by fire and will not be able to evacuate."
The reason most people ignore evacuation orders, Babb said, is to "wet down their house, their out buildings and their grounds in hopes of slowing down or stopping the fire. What a lot of people don't realize is that when fire is moving especially when it's wind-driven the heat is being pushed in front of the fire, drying out all of the vegetation ahead of it, making it more combustible."
In other words, Babb said, "when you get the order to evacuate, evacuate immediately."
According to Sgt. Tom Tieman of the Payson Police Department, the town's evacuation plan does not include a plan to keep the roadways from becoming chaotic should there be a mass vehicular exodus out of Payson.
If the threat becomes real
The American Red Cross offers these additional tips in the event your family faces an emergency evacuation:
If you are warned that a wildfire is threatening your area, listen to your battery-operated radio for reports and evacuation information. Follow the instructions of local officials.
Back your car into the garage or park it in an open space facing the direction of escape. Shut doors and roll up windows. Leave the key in the ignition. Close garage windows and doors, but leave them unlocked. Disconnect automatic garage door openers.
Confine pets to one room. Make plans to care for your pets in case you must evacuate.
Arrange temporary housing at a friend or relative's home outside the threatened area.
Wear protective clothing: sturdy shoes, cotton or woolen clothing, long pants, a long-sleeved shirt, gloves, and a handkerchief to protect your face.
Leave your home unlocked in the event fire crews need to enter your home.
Tell someone when you left and where you are going.
Choose a route away from fire hazards. Watch for changes in the speed and direction of fire and smoke.
Protecting your home
If you're sure you have time, take these steps to protect your home, inside and out:
Close windows, vents, doors, Venetian blinds or non-combustible window coverings, and heavy drapes. Remove lightweight curtains.
Shut off gas at the meter. Turn off pilot lights.
Open fireplace damper. Close fireplace screens.
Move flammable furniture into the center of the home away from windows and sliding-glass doors.
Turn on a light in each room to increase the visibility of your home in heavy smoke.
Seal attic and ground vents with pre-cut plywood or commercial seals.
Turn off propane tanks.
Place combustible patio furniture inside.
Connect the garden hose to outside taps.
Set up the portable gasoline-powered pump.
Place lawn sprinklers on the roof and near above-ground fuel tanks. Wet the roof.
Wet or remove shrubs within 15 feet of the home.
Gather fire tools.
When wildfire threatens, you won't have time to shop or search for supplies. Assemble a Disaster Supplies Kit with items you may need if advised to evacuate. Store these supplies in sturdy, easy-to-carry containers such as backpacks, dufflebags, or trash containers. Include:
A three-day supply of water (one gallon per person per day) and food that won't spoil.
One change of clothing and footwear per person and one blanket or sleeping bag per person.
A first aid kit that includes your family's prescription medications.
Emergency tools including a battery-powered radio, flashlight, and plenty of extra batteries.
An extra set of car keys and a credit card, cash, or traveler's checks.
Special items for infant, elderly or disabled family members.
An extra pair of eyeglasses.
Keep important family documents in a waterproof container. Assemble a smaller version of your kit to keep in the trunk of your car.
For more tips, check out the Red Cross's website at www.redcross.org.