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Fire break

Pardon me for being a bit parochial today, but most of my Labor Day weekend was consumed by Central Texas' wildfires.

I'm not trying to be flip using a variation of firebreak for a headline or the term consumed. There's no room for wise-ass remarks when firefighters are working 24/7 on dozens of wildfires raging in my home state.

This weekend, the dire situation got way too close for comfort. And because of that, those words are at the top of my mind right now.

As folks who follow me on Twitter and Facebook know, the neighborhood just northwest of us ignited on Sunday afternoon. Residents of all 4,000 homes there were evacuated shortly after flames erupted. Twenty-five homes were destroyed. Twenty more damaged. 

Our community and the one on fire are separated by a wilderness area, a lovely section of undeveloped canyons and hills that we are fortunate enough to look out on from our house.

It's gorgeous and was the main reason we bought our house six years ago. But that landscape is also a highway for fire. And we have spent the last day and a half watching the smoke rise from the top of the ridge.

Steiner Ranch fire smoke Sept 4 2011 from our upstairs balcony

On Monday, high winds from a cold front moving into the area pushed the smoke and flames southward and we didn't smell anything.

Today it's calm. The lack of wind is good for firefighters here in Central Texas, but I could really smell the smoke from the adjacent neighborhood.

With no directional impetus, it's permeating the air, but I'll take the trade-off. At last report, it looks like the firefighting crews are winning.

Disaster preparation: We went through a couple of hurricanes when we were in South Florida. In preparation for that, we had a waterproof box full of the financial papers and other items we needed to take if we had to evacuate.

That's a good idea regardless of what type of natural disaster is prevalent where you live.

Put together a Go Bag as the Federal Emergency Management Agency calls it or even just a plastic box or large Baggie filled with the things you'll need to get by if you have to leave your house and which will help you recover if your property does sustain damage.

Since this is a tax/personal finance blog, let me reiterate those materials you need to take with you or have at your fingertips in case of a catastrophe:

  • Will, insurance policies, contracts, deeds, stocks and bonds
  • Photo IDs, passports, social security cards, immunization records
  • Bank account numbers
  • Credit card account numbers and companies
  • Inventory of valuable household goods, important telephone numbers
  • Family records (birth, marriage, death certificates)
  • Photocopies of credit and identification cards

Don't forget to add copies of your most recent tax return to your Go Bag.

If your area is declared a major disaster, you might be able to file an amended return with a casualty loss claim and get some tax money sooner to help your start repairing your damaged property. To do so, you'll need to reference your previously submitted tax forms.

Here's hoping you never need to access any of these disaster preparation items. But definitely have them ready just in case.

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Brian, so sorry to hear of your grandparents' property loss, but so glad they and their pets are OK. It's such a terrible time here. I just keep repeating, this too shall pass. You and yours take care! Kay

Brian in Texas

Great advice. I started thinking about this topic this weekend, too, as I watched the Steiner fire build while I was on Lake Travis. I also learned yesterday that my grandmother's house was lost in the Bastrop fire. They got out with a change of clothes and their pets.

At this point in time it would take me well over half an hour to find all the random documents scattered around my house if I had to evacuate. I learned this weekend that I need one place where it is stored and easily grabbed in the case of an emergency. This will be my post 9/15 project (as soon as ACL is over).

Thanks for the great post.

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