Wildfire Resource Center Part 2: What to do during the dry season, when fire risk is high

The Santa Cruz Mountains are dense with forests, which dry out during the summer season
(Kevin Painchaud / Lookout Santa Cruz)

MAY 1 — NOV. 30, “FIRE SEASON”: This section of Lookout’s Wildfire Resource Center covers wildfire preparedness during the warm, dry months of the year. Tips include creating an evacuation plan for your family, pets and neighbors, signing up for official alerts, and how to be a responsible camper.

This is Part 2 of Lookout’s Wildfire Resource Center — a one-stop guide for everything you need to do to be prepared before, during and after a wildfire.

In this part, you will find resources on:

  • Prepared, not scared: Make a plan
    → How will I stay informed?
    → What will I do if I lose power?
    → Do I need to prepare medication/medical supplies?
    → Do I have N95 masks or air purifiers for smoke?
    → How can I keep my family safe?
    → How can I keep my pets/livestock safe?
    → What essentials do I need for three to 14 days?
    → What are all of my available evacuation routes?
    → What do I own that is absolutely essential, or irreplaceable?
    → Do I have anyone who can check on me? Whom can I check on?
    → Where will I stay if I need to evacuate?
  • Evacuation checklists
  • Weather alerts and more
  • Using fire and water responsibly

“Fire season”


May 1 - Nov. 30


When seasonal rains stop and the sun climbs higher in the sky, plants shrivel and die and an entire forest can become a tinderbox. With a wide variety of ignition sources — lightning, a careless campfire, a power line malfunction — wildfires can start unexpectedly and spread fast, especially in hot, windy weather.

This section focuses on how you can prepare during the dry season to ensure you’re ready before a wildfire breaks out.

Prepared, not scared: Make a plan


Evacuating your home can be scary and emotional. By having a plan in place and by staying in the know about in-the-moment conditions, you can have one less thing to worry about when fire risk is high.

An hour spent on planning each weekend or even one whole day of preparation can ensure you don’t forget valuables and can get everyone out safely.

Here are some questions to ask when making your plan:

How will I stay informed?

What will I do if I lose power? (day or night)

Do I need to prepare medication/medical supplies? (for people and pets)

Do I have N95 masks or air purifiers for smoke?

  • N95 masks: We’re all used to wearing masks now, but the surgical and cloth masks that work well to protect wearers from the coronavirus are mostly useless against smoke particles.
  • Air purifiers: High-particulate conditions can last for days to weeks during fire season and cause both short-term and long-term negative health impacts. During smoky conditions, closing the window often isn’t enough of a barrier to keep the air in your home clean.
The sky glowed red above Felton during the CZU Lightning Complex fire in 2020.
The sky glowed red above Felton during the CZU Lightning Complex fire in 2020. At its worst, the particle pollution air quality index in Santa Cruz reached well above 400, which is designated as hazardous by the EPA.
(Kevin Painchaud / Lookout Santa Cruz)

How can I keep my family safe?

How can I keep my pets and/or livestock safe?

Volunteer Stacey Iverson shuttles evacuated chickens during the 2020 CZU Lightning Complex wildfire.
Santa Cruz County Animal Shelter volunteer Stacey Iverson shuttles evacuated chickens during the 2020 CZU Lightning Complex wildfire.
(Kevin Painchaud / Lookout Local Santa Cruz)

What essentials do I need for three to 14 days?
Consider making an emergency supply kit. Everyone’s checklist is going to look different, so look over the guides listed below for ideas and tailor one to your family’s needs:

What are all of my available evacuation routes?

  • Use Google maps to plan multiple routes, then print copies to keep in each car.
  • Keep the Cruz511 website on hand for traffic conditions and road closures.
  • Check out the last page of this printable wildfire checklist for a map of suggested evacuation routes during an emergency (pictured below).
Depending on the type of emergency or location of a wildfire, different evacuation routes may be safer than others.
Depending on the type of emergency or location of a wildfire, different evacuation routes may be safer than others.
(City of Santa Cruz)


What do I own that is absolutely essential, or irreplaceable?

  • Be sure you have important documents, passwords and identification in one safe location (digitized if possible).
  • Be sure your contact and insurance information is up to date. According to Ready.gov, the federal government’s disaster preparedness website, “having access to personal financial, insurance, medical and other records is crucial for starting the recovery process.” The agency has assembled an in-depth list of all the documents and contacts to keep with you should you need to evacuate.

Do I have anyone who will check on me? Whom can I check on?

  • According to an investigation by the Arizona Republic, of the 85 people who died in the Camp Fire, 62 were older than 65, and 36 of them were older than 75. The elderly are especially at risk during a wildfire because many of them live alone, don’t have transportation, need extra time to evacuate, aren’t connected to alert systems, and are extra sensitive to smoke and heat.

  • Knock on doors.
  • Get to know your neighbors and save their phone numbers. If you prefer to be left alone by your neighbors, tell them so, then share your contact info anyway. Privacy doesn’t have to come at the expense of a life.
  • Make a plan to check in on each other when a wildfire threatens your community.

Where will I stay if I need to evacuate?

  • Download the FEMA app for a list of shelters open during an emergency.
  • Visit Santa Cruz Relief for more information on sheltering options.
  • Call the United Way (211) to find out where you can evacuate to.

For more information on fireproofing your home and creating and maintaining defensible space, see Part 1 of Lookout’s Wildfire Resource Center.

Brian Washburn checks a map of the CZU Lightning Complex fire to see if his house is within the burn zone.
Brian Washburn, a Boulder Creek evacuee, checks a map of the CZU Lightning Complex fire to see if his house is within the burn zone. Washburn sheltered at the Seventh Day Adventist campground during the 2020 blaze.
(Kevin Painchaud / Lookout Santa Cruz)

Evacuation checklists

Local and state agencies have created evacuation checklists and guides, which are linked to below. To ensure you don’t miss something, it is recommended that you check all three lists:

Here’s a printable checklist from the Fire Safe Council of Santa Cruz County, which includes sections on pets, go-bags, and what to do if you get trapped.

Visit Cal Fire’s Ready, Set, Go! wildfire preparedness site, which has links to a downloadable brochure (available in English and Spanish).

Here’s a printable checklist from the City of Santa Cruz, a comprehensive guide from FEMA, a printable sheet from Ready.gov, and a checklist from the Red Cross.

Weather alerts and more


Weather can make wildfire conditions way worse, or in the case of the CZU Lightning Complex fire in 2020, it can also be the source of ignition. To keep an eye on the sky, sign up for weather alerts or check out these websites:

If you see a fire hazard (not an actual fire), email Fire Prevention with your concern at kkumec@cityofsantacruz.com. Examples of fire hazards are tall dry weeds, dead trees, missing smoke detectors, etc. Include specific details and address of the fire hazard. Provide photos if possible.

If you see smoke or any possible active fire, always call 911.

Using fire and water responsibly


Santa Cruz County is officially in a Stage 1 drought as of May 1, which means varying levels of water restrictions may apply to your business or household.

According to U.S. Forest Service data, nine out of 10 wildfires are caused by humans. If authorities can trace a blaze back to you, you could be held 100% liable for all of the damages caused by the fire you started. Play it safe with these tips on how to be a responsible hiker and camper:

If there’s anything you believe was left out of this Wildfire Resource Center, please email Lookout at news@lookoutlocal.com with your suggestions.