Simple steps you can take to protect yourself, your family, your pets, and your property before, during, and after a wildfire.

Wildfires are the reality of summer in drought-prone Colorado, and so are the inevitable evacuations for those living in fire-prone areas. When the call comes to leave your home during a wildfire, will you be prepared?

There are a variety of steps you can take to safeguard your home and property from wildfires as well as to prepare yourself if worse comes to worst and you must leave, according to the Colorado Division of Homeland Security & Emergency Management. Wildfires can begin with little notice and spread quickly, so taking steps before the danger is evident is key to maximize your safety and minimize your losses.

The best time to plan for a fire is before it even starts.

Make your property and home less vulnerable to fire by removing easily ignitable material, including leaves and debris that may have accumulated on the roof or in gutters, woodpiles, flammable outdoor furniture, barbecue grills, and tarp coverings. Regularly prune trees, remove dead branches, and mow grass to create a safety zone around structures. Fire-resistant shrubs such as hedging rose and bush honeysuckles, as well as rock and mulch, are landscaping choices that may help protect your property during a fire.

Install smoke alarms on each level of your home and check them monthly. Keep a fire extinguisher accessible in your home and make sure all members of your household know where it is and how to use it.

When the time for preparation is past and a wildfire is active nearby, be ready to leave at a moment's notice. Don't wait for an official evacuation order if you feel unsafe. Keep your car backed in to your garage or park outside pointing in the direction of escape.

Prepare your most valuable possessions to leave with you, including pets. The last thing you want to worry about when the time comes to leave quickly is collecting important papers or finding a scared or elusive pet. Confine your pets to one room so you can easily find them during an evacuation, and have a plan in place for where you and your pets can stay until you are able to return home. Put valuable mementos and important paperwork inside your vehicle and ready to go. 

In the pre-evacuation phase, do your best to protect your home by closing doors, windows and vents, shutting off natural gas and propane lines, connecting garden hoses to outside water supplies, and filling pools, garbage cans, and other large outdoor containers with water. Valuables that are not easily transportable but won't be damaged by water can be left in a pool or pond. Run your sprinklers and hose down structures and foliage as much as possible to discourage embers from catching fire. Disconnect automatic garage door openers so the door can still be opened if power goes out.

Once an evacuation order is issued, don't wait. Load your car and leave immediately with your pets, emergency kit, and valuables. Let someone know when you left and where you are planning to go. Do not return to your home until it has been deemed safe to do so by fire officials.

When you do return to your property, use caution, search for potential hot spots and ash pits, and check for smoke or sparks throughout structures. Avoid fallen or damaged power lines. Protect yourself and your pets from potential burns from hidden embers. 

For updates on the wildfires in Colorado, click here.