Category Archives: Fire

Minnesota Wildfires

A 100,000 acre wildfire in northern Minnesota’s Boundary Waters Canoe Area (called the BWCA) is being fanned by winds and dry wood, according to the state’s largest newspaper, the Star Tribune.

What began as a mid-August fire erupted in the past day or so when strong wind. The Star Tribune reports that the US Forest Service models indicated a .2% chance of the fire reaching the size it is now.

Authorities have begun evacuations in key areas. If you’re ever asked to leave your home right away – here’s a list of items to take with you from our Grab-n-Go kit.

Leave Your House in 3 Minutes – What to Take?

If you were forced to evacuate your home and you only had 3 minutes, what would you grab?

The Grab-and-Go kit came about after readers sent us what they wished they’d had after they had to evacuate. Here are 10 things you should have ready to go at any moment.

  1. Cash (at least $100 – ATMs might not work in an emergency), credit cards, checks, IDs
  2. Cell phone and extra charger
  3. Clothing for each family member for a week (grab extra items for winter)
  4. Extra set of house and car keys
  5. Family heirlooms, jewelry, art, anything else that has sentimental value and is “irreplaceable”
  6. Home videos and photos, digital camera memory cards
  7. Important papers (i.e. birth certificates, insurance policies, marriage certificates, house deeds, passports, address book
  8. Medications and other special needs (enough for a week or two)


  1. Put these items in a backpack, duffle, plastic container, etc.
  2. Make sure it is sturdy and possibly water-proof in case of flooding or other water damage (i.e. water from fire hoses).
  3. Tell your family members about the location and importance of this kit and when to grab it!

Remember to update your kit or check on its  location at least once a month.

BBQing? Read These 6 Grilling Safety Tips

It’s warmer here in Minnesota, and the grills are coming out in droves.  This is the perfect time to review these grilling safety tips from the Home Safety Council.

  1. Designate the grilling area a “No Play Zone” – keep the kids and pets well away until grill equipment is completely cool.
  2. Stay by the grill and pay attention while you’re cooking. This will help enforce the No Play Zone early on in the grilling season.
  3. Before using, position your grill at least 10 feet away from other objects, including the house and any shrubs or bushes.
  4. Only use starter fluid made for BBQ grills to start the coals in a charcoal grill.
  5. Before using a gas grill, check the connection between the propane tank and the fuel line to be sure it is working properly and not leaking. Never use a match to check for leaks. Instead, rub the hose line with a dishwashing liquid and water solution. If you see any bubbles or detect a leak, immediately turn off the gas and don’t attempt to light the grill again until the leak is fixed.
  6. Never bring a barbecue grill indoors or into any unventilated space. This is both a fire and carbon monoxide poisoning hazard.

Cleaning up after grilling? Don’t put the coals in a paper or plastic bag. It’s a major fire hazard – no matter how cool you think the coals are, they’re not. I did this, the bag caught fire and nearly set my porch on fire.
– Reader who requested his name not be used because he still lives in the apartment

Be safe and happy grilling!


National Social Workers Month

Social workers help you with any psychological and social needs in a stressful situation.

It’s a broad definition, but the field is broad. You’ll find social workers in hospitals, senior living homes, government organizations, and community services.

Here’s an article talking about what services social workers offer for seniors and hospice care.

And, another good article describing how social workers may help you after a fire or natural disaster.

– Susan

Our (small) House Fire – Lesson 2

We had a house fire a couple of weeks ago – and we’re still working through the aftermath.  We’ve learned some lessons along the way that we’re sharing here.

Brief recap – We saw smoke filling the house, called 911, and learned lesson #1.

As the Newport Volunteer firemen arrived, I was outside with our dog, Lovey. The policeman who responded to the call was out with me as well.  He was the picture of calm, I think all the first responders knew this wasn’t bad. Within minutes, they had located the source of the burning rubber, metal and acrid smoke smell – the fire was in the furnace and soon it was out.

For such a small fire, the furnace had pushed the smoke and smell throughout the house and out to our neighbor’s house. The firemen brought an industrial fan and ran it for a few minutes. But as it was 26 degrees out, we couldn’t have it on long.

The firemen packed up and left.  We felt so lucky that it was a small fire and no one was hurt.

We walked through the house, it smelled terrible – like a tire fire mixed with other bizarre man-made chemicals. We called a friend who gave us the second lesson of the evening – get as many clothes, linens, towels, pillows and rugs out as possible.  The smell would permeate them and it would be almost impossible  to get out.

We did this – and it saved us hundreds of dollars in cleaning bills.

– Susan

Our Own House Fire

Haven’t been posting because we recently had our own house fire.  It was small and contained, but nonetheless, a fire.  We were very lucky that we were home and awake.

It was around 8:30 at night, and smoke began filling the house.

Erik, my husband, and I were asking each other – are you cooking? did you leave something on somewhere? – and we’re running around trying to find the source of the fire. The smoke is getting thicker, the smell is awful, he’s feeling the walls for heat, I run into the pantry to grab this little fire extinguisher, the smoke is getting worse, and I realize ‘We’re not professionally trained to handle a fire…’ and call 911.

We were told by the 911 operator to evacuate. I leashed our dog, Lovey, and grabbed my camera and cell phone. Just two weeks earlier, I had taken pictures of EVERYTHING in the house to begin a home inventory update.  Of course, I hadn’t downloaded a single shot. Everything was put in my purse, I took a flashlight and ran out telling Erik I was going to steer the first responders to our house.

It’s impossible to find our house. We live down a dirt road, and there is no address visible anywhere.  As Lovey and I ran down our steep driveway, down the road, I thought of WhatHappensNow and the item I had posted for at least two weeks about making sure your address is clear from the road so first responders can find you.

And I was running to the end of the drive, frantically waving a flashlight so fire and police would know where to go.

Lesson #1: Make sure your address is visible!

More lessons to come ….

– Susan

Time Off? Scream Fire and See What Happens

This is usually a week where family hangs out after the holidays.  In a calm moment at the house, scream ‘Fire’ and see who knows gets out of the house quickly and safely.

If no one knows how to get out, create a home emergency exit plan this Saturday or Sunday.

Here’s how:

  1. Draw a floor plan of your residence. Mark two escape routes from each room, in case of flooding or fire. If your home has more than one story, make sure there is a way to safely exit the upper floors.
  2. Place a copy of each plan in each room in an obvious location – like on a door (just like hotels do!).  
  3. Practice your escape plan every month using two exits. Make sure windows and doors aren’t stuck (winter freeze?) and that screens can be removed.
  4. Practice at night to see how long family members take to wake up. You should also practice blindfolded. Why? This mimics the darkness of smoke. Smoke makes it very difficult to see anything as you try to get out.
  5. Designate a place for everyone to meet outside. Make sure everyone knows the address and phone number of this place (so you can call if the emergency happens and you’re not there). Consider a neighbor’s house or nearby gas station.

Also, get your kids involved with this; they’ll need to know how to get out as well.  Here are some good tips:

  1. Have your kids choose the place where to meet in case you need to leave the house immediately. Make a deal with your kids that they will stay in that spot until they are told by firefighters or police that it is OK to move. Make sure this meeting place is away from the road and driveway – first responder vehicles will drive on these.
  2. You’ve done the family escape plan – have the kids color in escape routes (remember they have to have two exits to color in).
  3. Have your kids choose where they’d like to place the escape plan in their room (you need to make it easily accessible) as well as other rooms in the house.

Also, you may not be home when an emergency or fire strikes – so ….

  1. Know the emergency response plan adn phone numbers for your workplace, your children’s school or day-care center, as well as other places where your family spends time.
  2. Also, meet with neighbors either informally or through a neighborhood group to create a neighborhood preparedness plan. Learn what neighbors or relatives may require extra assistance.

OK, that should fill a couple of hours this weekend.  Have a safe and happy new year!


How to Trim a Tree Safely

Yesterday we posted some info from the US Fire Administration and Safe Kids USA on fire safety around the holidays.  Today we’re looking at what they have to say about trimming the Christmas tree:

If you decorate a tree, Safe Kids USA and the USFA recommend these precautions:

  • Never leave a lighted Christmas tree or other decorative lighting display unattended.
  • Inspect lights for exposed or frayed wires, loose connections, and broken sockets.
  • Do not overload extension cords or outlets and do not run an electrical cord under a rug.
  • Natural Christmas trees always involve some risk of fire. To minimize this risk, get a fresh tree and keep it watered at all times.
  • Do not put a live tree within three feet of a fireplace, space heater, radiator, or heat vent.
  • Do not burn Christmas tree branches, treated wood, or wrapping paper in a home fireplace.

Decorate with children in mind:

  • Do not put ornaments that have small parts or metal hooks, or look like food or candy, on the lower branches where small children can reach them.
  • Trim protruding branches at or below a child’s eye level
  • Keep lights out of reach.

Safe Kids USA offers these tips to prevent poisoning (take note of the berries for pets as well as kids!)

  • Keep alcohol (including baking extracts) out of reach
  • Do not leave alcoholic drinks unattended.
  • Color additives used in fireplace fires are a toxic product and should be stored out of reach.
  • Artificial snow can be harmful if inhaled, so use it in a well-vented space.
  • Mistletoe berries, Holly Berry and Jerusalem Cherry can be poisonous. If they are used in decorating, make sure children and pets cannot reach it.
  • In a poison emergency, call the national Poison Control Center at 800-222-1222.

USFA and Safe Kids USA – Don’t Burn Down the House

Here’s a stat that wakes you up: the top four days for candle fires are around Christmas and New Years, according to a release from the US Fire Administration.  They’ve joined with Safe Kids USA to talk about fire safety and kids this season.

They also say that candles started over 15,000 house fires in the US in 2005.  That would probably wipe out a good portion of your neighborhood.

Also – from their release – Wintertime is the most dangerous time of the year for injuries and deaths from fire. Each year, approximately 450 children ages 14 and under die in residential fires; children under the age of 5 are at the greatest risk.

Here are their tips:

  • Battery-operated flameless candles are an alternative that does not have a fire risk.
  • Decorative lighting should be labeled with the seal of an independent testing lab and should only be used outdoors if it’s labeled for outdoor use.

And some tips from Suzanne Morton, Safe Kids USA fire and burn safety program manager:

  • Never, never leave lit candles unattended
  • Don’t put candles on a tree or a natural wreath, or near curtains or drapes
  • Keep matches and lighters locked out of reach of children

– Susan