SALT LAKE CITY — On July 3, Doug Parrish watched as the Quail Fire above Alpine, aided by the wind, worked its way toward his home.
He and his wife decided to drive closer to the blaze to see if it was, in fact, coming nearer. Not long after they parked, police arrived and told them to return home and prepare to evacuate if necessary. Two minutes later, officers with loud speakers alerted them they needed to leave.
"We had what seemed like five minutes, but was probably more like 10," Parrish recalled Tuesday. "We just tried to figure out what we were going to do."
With more than 1,000 fires in the state this year, Parrish's story is one that has become increasingly common. Thousands have been evacuated from their homes and in some cases, homes have been destroyed.
The evacuation notices can come quickly and many residents reported having only minutes to get out of their homes as wildfires moved closer and closer.
As she was driving from her Eagle Mountain home Monday evening due after an evacuation order from the Pinyon Fire, an emotional Maryanne Redding asked, "Why wasn't I prepared? What do you take? How do you know what to take?"
Joe Dougherty of the Utah Division of Emergency Management spends his days answering that question and working to get the word out. There a few basic things everyone should do to prepare for any emergency situation, fire or otherwise.
"The main things to keep in mind are that people need to make a plan, they need to have an emergency kit and they need to be informed," he said. "Being informed is really your first and best weapon."
One of the first steps is identifying the major potential dangers in your area. For example, he said, those living in the foothills are more prone to face wildfires than those in the suburbs. From there, determine the best way to get information in the case of an emergency, including getting your phone number on an emergency notification calling system.
"Emergency responders are going to use every tool available to them to get the word out there," Dougherty said. "Watch TV newscasts, read the newspaper, look at websites and social media. We urge people to locate their local dispatch center ... and ask if there is a way to be alerted in case of emergency."
Dougherty said the crucial steps in any emergency are: get informed, get an emergency kit and make a plan. But so much of it can come down to the individual.
Kim Osborn, a fire information officer working the Pinyon Fire, said each family should work out an emergency situation plan.
"It's important they have a plan — what they were going to take, where they should go, what the fire plan is for the family," she said. "Take the important things. ... Often times people rush out and forget medication or leave their pet because they're not thinking."
Even the way one reacts in an emergency situation can vary from person to person, said Dr. Rene Valles, a psychiatrist for Valley Mental Health. Previous experience and the example of others can all impact the way people respond to emergencies.
It can also affect the way they prepare for them. Someone who has endured one emergency situation is more likely to prepare for another. But why not prepare regardless?
"Sometimes it's denial," Valles said. "A lot of people are in denial because these thoughts make them feel uncomfortable. Sometimes even preparing for them makes them feel more uncomfortable. It makes them see their lives as more vulnerable."
Dougherty said the task may also seem overwhelming, but can be tackled in small steps. He suggested setting weekly goals, even those as simple as writing down emergency contact numbers for all family members.
"There are so many things that take up people's lives and take up their priorities," he said. "Everybody is busy and they're on tight budgets and they don't want to spend money on this thing you might not use. It's just an ounce of preparedness."
Valles said there are also advantages to mentally preparing for an emergency situation. Panic is a natural reaction, but trying to stay calm can provide an advantage.
"I think really understanding what you have control of versus what you don't have control of can help you prepare," he said. "We have no control of the emergency that is at stake, but what we do have control of is our response and how we react to the situation."
Parrish said he and his wife did panic and grabbed items both practical and impractical. He was able to take the backup systems that are crucial to his work as a software engineer, family photos that had been digitized and others that were printed on canvas and were hanging in his home — and their 72-hour kits.
Those provided their own learning experience, Parrish said, as he realized the sleeping bags, tent and water purification packets they held were not as useful in the family's two-night hotel stay as a bag carrying essentials for a local stay would have been.
Parrish said there were numerous other lessons learned. The family decided to make better use of an enclosed concrete bunker in the future. He decided to get more involved in the community and has since taken part in a town meeting to suggest further fire restrictions until the risks subside.
"What I feel bad about is that I didn't use it as an opportunity to check on our neighbors," he said, adding that there is a "fine line" between being obedient to law enforcement commands and being prudent while accomplishing certain, important tasks.1 comment on this story
"The final piece of the whole thing is, that at the end of the day, all that really matters is our lives."