The Importance of Being Prepared

By Kate Riley October 10, 2017

You guys, it’s awful. Our beautiful Wine Country is burning. The fires are spreading and there is little containment. Tens of thousands of people have been evacuated. 75,000 acres burned so far. Wineries, hotels, homes, so much devastation. My Catholic high school, burned. My favorite winery, burned.

My aunt and her neighbors were up at 2 a.m. and barely had time to make it out of their houses. Their neighborhood is completely gone. They are living with us now. The shelters are filled with people in desperate need. I’ve been to gas stations and grocery stores and heard so many stories. This has touched everyone’s lives in our community.

I have no pretty pictures to share today. I can’t talk about design or decor when so many people have lost absolutely everything. So today’s message is this: you never know when disaster strikes and and you’re facing emergency. It’s important to be prepared.



A few things to consider:

Roadside Emergency Kit. Have one in your car that includes jumper cables, tire sealer and inflator, tie down cord, flashlight and batteries, signal torch, work gloves, and a SOS sign. Also emergency blankets, a whistle, flares, and a hand crank radio with flashlight/cellphone charger. Have a roadside assistance program like AAA.

Basic Survival: Store in a duffle bag a cell phone charger, tarp, LED lantern with extra batteries, first aid kit, camper’s tool, utilities shut off tool, dust masks, duct tape, waterproof matches, flashlights with extra batteries.

Food & Water: Set aside a few cases of bottled water ready to grab, also some non perishable food: canned goods, a can opener, and protein bars.

Specific Needs: Make a list of essentials you can quickly refer to, things you’ll need right away. Medications, feminine hygiene products, baby formula and diapers, pet supplies, etc.

Digital diligence: Make digital copies of your birth certificates, social security numbers, passports etc. in case you don’t have time to grab them. Back up important documents and your photographs on a cloud or online storage provider like Carbonite. Photograph high dollar valuables to provide later to your insurance company.


My community makes me proud. So many are rallying to help transport people and supplies, provide shelter, pick up prescriptions, share their bedrooms and blankets and food with the thousands displaced by fires. It’s amazing to see and it reminds me of the goodness of people when they come together.


So far, the fires are not near my house but they are not contained and we are on alert and being vigilant. Our air quality is extremely bad, filled with ashes and smoke. We have bottled water and a car packed if it ever becomes necessary to evacuate.

Right now we’re just doing our part to help the people who need housing and supplies. Our community is working together, but it will be a long road to recovery. Keep us in your prayers. Consider donating what you can. We are #winecountrystrong.


  1. Kate, I’m so sorry for this devastation to your community. Keeping you all in my prayers, especially those who have lost their homes.

  2. Sending love and good thoughts! I live in SF but I got married in Santa Rosa and love it there. The winery where we held our wedding burned, and I can’t imagine the loss all the residents must be feeling.

  3. Kate, I feel you. I recently had to evacuate with Hurricane Irma and it was so overwhelming. My husband is a first responder so he stayed behind, while I left with my child and 3 dogs. I never had to evacuate before and was not a great feeling to leave my home behind and thinking that I would not have home to come back to. This is a great a post. There were so many things I forgot or didn’t think of to pack, which added to my stress level. Very good advice to be prepared. Stay safe.

    • Yes so true. So many stories of people not knowing what to grab in an emergency and then coming home to discover it all gone. :( Absolutely heartbreaking. The one thing that is keeping spirits alive are the stories of survival and getting out in time. People’s lives are what’s important, the rest of it is replaceable.

  4. I immediately thought of you when I heard about wine country burning and was checking to see if you posted an update. You and your family are in my prayers.

  5. Is that a picture from your school? It’s heartbreaking. I live in FL and evacuated from Irma. I am a prepper of sorts and unfortunately I was tested and it really showed me where I could be better prepared. I hope people will take all of what has been happening seriously. I get teased a lot but I think this year those who did may listen to me. I think Christmas for my adult kiddos will look a lot different this year!

    • Yes that’s the statue in front of my Catholic High School. :( These situations really do test you. I’ve spoken with people who tried to explain how frantic it’s been and how they couldn’t even think of what to grab under the stress.

  6. It’s been heartbreaking to watch from a distance. I cannot imagine. It seemed like there was no warning, unlike the fires I’ve been through here in San Diego. One thing to add to your excellent list: not just photos of valuables, but photos of every drawer, cabinet, etc. A friend who was an insurance adjuster said people always underestimate how much stuff they had. Just think of what it would cost to replace the contents of every kitchen cabinet (or your underwear drawer!) After a fire burned to our back fence, I take these photos twice a year. Prayers for your family and everyone up there.

  7. This is on the news even in New Zealand. It looks dreadful, and it makes me feel sick just knowing what those folk are going through now and will be going through for years to come, with rebuilding and all the associated stress. I don’t even know what to say. Just know that someone in Christchurch, NZ understands what it’s like to have your community destroyed, and is thinking of you and yours.

    • Yes Beth I recall the horrible earthquake and devastation of Christchurch, still evident when I visited two years ago. Thank you for your thoughts on those of us on this side of the world.

  8. My thoughts and prayers are with you, your family and your community. Our family went through the Waldo Canyon Fire in Colorado Springs. The thing that I will forever remember is the way our community stood strong and wrapped their arms around those that lost so much.

  9. You’ve been in my thoughts since I first heard about the fires. I’m glad you’re safe. I am so sorry for the devastation.
    One preparedness tip I try to follow is to keep your gas tank at least half full. If you have to evacuate at the last minute, you don’t want to worry about running out of gas.
    Blessings to you.

  10. I have visited Sonoma twice now and have fond memories. My thoughts are with you all. We went through devastating floods in 2011 so know what it is like to lose almost everything. Fire is far worse as there is nothing left but ashes. As Beth commented the fires are on the news and were last nights lead in Brisbane Australia. I am wishing for rain for California. Stay safe.

  11. This is just so horrible. Such a beautiful place and such devastation. I did think of you so I’m glad you wrote. The type of loss reminds me of the many F-5 tornados that have occurred where I live that literally wipes the earth clean. We have them every year and it’s devastating. But people pick up and rebuild and recover and it’s amazing. Prayers for your community.

  12. So sorry Kate. God bless you for coming to the aid of your Aunt and family. Prayers that you and yours do not suffer any more loss. Vikki in VA

  13. I popped over to check on you. I am glad you and your family are safe thus far. My heart aches for wine country right now. Stay safe and I continue to pray that they get these fires contained.

  14. Living in the Sacramento area, it is been a long time since tragedy has come so close. Is there any organization excepting donations of clothing in good condition? I’m thinking coats etc. While many people might not be able to donate cash, many of us have way too much in regard to clothing.

    You’ve shared some excellent advice and I’d like to repost your post onto my blog, to share with my readers. You can never be too prepared. I need to get busy.

    God bless all of you!


    • I read that evacuees are settling in Sacramento now, the Cal Expo is open to receive them. Very devastating these out of control fires.

  15. Once I saw the news I thought of you Kate. Praying for you. So sorry for this tragic loss to your community.

  16. How awful . I can’t even imagine what they are going through. Prayers to all. Stay safe.

  17. Totally feel your pain. I live in Kelowna BC Canada ?? We were on fire all summer long this year.

  18. Being from the mid-west you are the first person I thought of when I head the news. So glad you are safe but sending you good thoughts to your community.


  19. It breaks my heart to see all the devastation and homes and lives lost. Excellent advise about being prepared as you just never know when disaster can strike.

    Praying for you, your family, friends and community and that the fires are contained soon.

  20. I will pray for you and your family, your relatives and neighbors in this terrible disaster. So glad to hear that you and yours are safe. We moved to the SC low country in June of last year and evacuated for hurricane Matthew in October of last year (and thought we might have to evacuate again last month for Irma, but didn’t need to). I put two plastic bins in the attic with lists of the “irreplaceable” things to take with us in the car. What a tricky process figuring that out last year so at least now it’s written down! It’s probably a good mental exercise to decide just what one would take in such a situation. Love your admonition for us to be prepared and your practical approach to it as well.

    • Thank you Karen, and that’s so smart to have those bins ready to go. I too looked around my house and realized the only things I’d grab are my external hard drive with my old photos and three paintings. Everything else I could leave behind.

  21. Such good planning – even though I hope and pray that you all will be safe and not have to use any of it. You’re wise to think ahead, and very kind to offer shelter to family and friends who may need it. I’m so sorry that this is happening.

    • Thank you Christy. The entire community is on edge but everyone is helping everyone, it’s good to see that side of humanity.

  22. I am so sorry for all of you and what you are going through. My niece and her family live in Santa Rosa and said it is just horrible. They live in the valley and yesterday she could see the fires just over the hills. They are packed and ready to evacuate at a moments notice. You are all in my prayers and please keep my niece and her family in your prayers.

    • Thank you Debbie. Santa Rosa is suffering so much, also Calistoga, Napa, and Sonoma. I read winds may pick up today and tomorrow, this is not good.

  23. Oh no!!! This is terrible, yet another natural disaster that we can only pray will stop soon .. Thoughts and prayers with those in this difficult moment, as well as for the brave men and women firefighters that are risking their lives to contain the fires and rescue those in danger… #winecountryisstrong

    • Thank you Eva. They are the bravest souls, I’ve seen video footage of them driving and running into these blazes as everyone else flees. My prayers are with them for their safety too, the fires are continuing to burn and they are exhausted on Day Four.

  24. I have wondered how you guys were. Praying for your family. Keep your internet friends posted. ❤️???

  25. I’m so glad that you posted Kate, as I’ve been been thinking of you all the way from Sydney, Australia. It has been heartbreaking seeing the news and devastation of such a beautiful area. We are on the verge of a hot dry summer here, after a record-breaking dry winter, with virtually no rain for months. We’re being urged to be prepared, so your tips are very timely. Stay safe.

  26. You and your friends and family have been on my heart and in my prayers. May He show you immeasurable peace and blessings in the midst of these heartbreaking times.

  27. SO glad you are safe, I am so sorry your Aunt lost everything, how devastating! They are lucky to have you. These tips are great thank you, we have been evacuated 3 times over the past 10 years and it is so scary. The last time we had time to pack, my insurance friend called and said take a video of the house and belongings. So while I prepared I had my oldest walk around and video everything, Sadly I think its time to update it again. I pray you continue to stay safe and they can gain some containment soon!

  28. Having prepared for Hurricane Irma evacuation, hers one tip for pet owners. Take their records for shelter use. So many folks couldn’t take their pets to a shelter without shot and vaccination records. Also, a travel crate is essential. We have all our important documents in two small plastic bins and they will live there now for good. Be careful and sending hugs to you all in CA from FL. We are still in a state of recovery here and know of the horror of losing your home.

    • another excellent tip for pet owners, thank you :) the loss of a home is devastating. I do like my Aunt’s attitude, she says “It’s a fresh start!” and “I hated that old dresser anyway, the drawers always stuck.”

  29. Praying for you! I was just listening to the news of all this devastation and wondering if anyone I knew of was being affected by these fires. I am so sorry for you and for everyone on the west coast in possible harms’ way. Very sad to hear of all that has been destroyed and the lives that have been lost. I am praying for everyone. =(

  30. Kate…I’ve followed your blog for years and this morning remembered to check that you were ok. I’m nearby in Livermore. How can I help? I’m collecting clothes for a friend of a friend whose kids sizes are similar to mine. Please email me if I can help your community. Xo, Julie

    • Thank you for thinking of my community. There may be a need for clothing, I do know the shelters have enough donations for now. I believe the best way to donate is to the local food bank (Redwood Empire Food Bank) they are busy feeding the thousands that have been displaced.

  31. We are in Santa Rosa and safe I thank God and ask for safety everyday. What a nightmare. I am glad that you are safe.

    • Glad you escaped Alison. I’m so sad for the other parts of Santa Rosa that are burned to the ground. I grew up there and it’s heartbreaking to see.

  32. I went through this last year. My city burned in Fort McMurray AB. Mass evacuation for 6 weeks. I am sending you so much love and strength. Hang in there. I’m so sorry for your loss.

  33. This post has sparked conversations with 3 different friends and my spouse. What would we do if we had 10 minutes notice to leave the house? We all had different ideas, and we all learned from each other. So far, the best idea is to put your shoes on first thing b/c you can’t flee barefoot. Take cash and medications and kids/pets. Take cell phones and laptops and chargers. Then get out of Dodge.

    I’ve been horrified by the damage, by how many people are left with a chimney and nothing else, and by how difficult it will be for them to find a new normal.

    Good luck to you and your family.

    • Thank you Ann. My next door neighbor’s parent’s had 1 minute. A fireman knocked on their door and said, “You have 1 minute to get out” and it was true. If they had waited they would have died. They left with the clothes on their back and bolted out in their car, with 30 ft trees on fire all around them. I spoke with them yesterday, their story of escape is so frightening.

  34. Thank you for sharing this insight. God bless you all with peace. I’m sorry for the losses. These pictures are mesmerizing. Wow. Great advice of how to prepare.

  35. Thank you for sharing these tips. I stopped by because I thought of you and hoped you, your family and your home are okay. Grabbing laptops and the external hard drive is a great idea – that’s today’s version of photo albums and it also has important household documents. I am going to go around my house and videotape everything, including in drawers, closets, cabinets. Then keep that video in multiple places – even in “the cloud” like on Dropbox. Because everyone that this happens to surely thought it won’t happen to them, then it does. It doesn’t even have to be weather or a natural disaster – fires and plumbing floods can happen in any home.

    • Yes it’s true, fire is a danger to us all but so are the regional natural disasters like flooding, tornadoes, earthquakes, hurricanes. You never think it will happen and yet it can and it does.

  36. Kate, I have followed you for years! Now I don’t spend as much time at the computer and only occasionally look at your site. However, with the fires in your area I wanted to know that you and your loved ones were okay. You, your family and the people of California are in my prayers.

  37. The pictures from the internet and television are so devastating to watch…. Thousand of homes, businesses, communities have been destroyed. Heart and gut wrenching…Prayers to all from the East coast. Being a NP I worry about the long term effects of the air on everyone from the brave crews battling the fires to the neighboring residents .

    • Air quality is a big deal right now, many people are wearing the masks around town it’s so bad. I’m closer to the coast so it’s breathable here but elsewhere in my county, not so much. Ash and soot and particles in the air, very dangerous.

  38. Kate, I was in Anaheim when the Anaheim Hills fire began. Although I was 18 miles from Anaheim Hills, the skies were orange and eerie. I have been watching the devastation in Northern California and my heart breaks for everyone affected. Thank you for your ‘preparedness’ list. Don’t forget to have items for your pets so that you can evacuate them quickly as well. So many photos of singed animals have made me weep. My prayers are with my NoCal Americans — donate and help!

    • I can’t take the animal photos… I have to turn away. I’ve been watching the fires rage in Southern California too, it’s bad for them as well.

  39. Dear Kate, so sorry to hear about those crazy wild fires which have devastated your entire community! A fire wipes out everything on the surface, leaving a charred, monochrome, pain-filled landscape… Yet look out for those little grass blades and flowers that will pop up before the end of this year and with them bring back tiny touches of life and hope in their own meaningful way. Nature’s coping mechanism is a wonderful force to be reckoned with when you are rebuilding your neighbourhoods.

    All the best to you and your community all the way from Corsica, France, where we too have been sorely affected by wild fires at some point! Best wishes. x

  40. Hi Kate, my family lives in Santa Rosa and this week has truly been awful and heartwarming at the same time. We are safe and our home is safe but countless friends have lost everything. My heart is just breaking for our beautiful community. Thank-you for putting into words what some of us can’t. I haven’t been able to look at any of my favorite blogs or even follow what is happening in the rest of the county & world; it has been all consuming. Thankful I popped into check your blog today and for your thoughtful words. Stay safe.

  41. I’m so sorry for the loss your family is experiencing, it’s truly terrifying. So thankful for people like you who are taking care of family. My heart aches for their loss and am having a hard time understanding how this happened, and took everyone by such surprise. I am praying for those affected. :(

  42. I’m so sorry for the loss your family is experiencing, it’s truly terrifying. So thankful for people like you who are taking care of family. My heart aches for their loss and am having a hard time understanding how this happened, and took everyone by such surprise. I am praying for those affected. :(

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