4 Prepping Lessons Learned Following a Near Disaster

Before the smoke got really bad

Gaye Levy
Activist Post

Living in the Pacific Northwest, you become accustomed to the occasional earthquake. I still remember the earthquake of 1964 as well as the big Nisqually quake of 2001. I especially remember that there was a lot of destruction during the 2001 quake, and that our neighbor’s house slid off its foundation.

There is no way to anticipate these sudden, unexpected events. But we can do our best to prepare for them not only as individuals and as families, but as communities as well.

Here in my own small community, we experienced our own unexpected event on Wednesday morning when an 85’ yacht at our marina burst into flames. For those of you not familiar with boats and marinas, let me explain the danger.

First of all, boats these days are made of fiberglass. When burned, fiberglass produces heavy toxic fumes and smoke – lots of it. Then there is the matter of fuel. Typically, diesel fuel is flammable but not explosive. On the other hand, gasoline is both highly flammable and explosive. In this case, the burning yacht was adjacent to a fuel dock where both diesel and gasoline are pumped to visiting vessels…

And then there is the fragile marine environment. This yacht held 2,500 gallons of diesel fuel. A spill of this magnitude would be devastating to our little harbor. I doubt that there would be crab, shrimp and edible fish for many years to come.


The boat here at Roche Harbor burned for most of the day and it eventually sank. The smoke throughout the day was thick and based upon first hand reports, was seen as far away as Pender Island in British Columbia.

I first learned of the fire when I heard the fire trucks zoom by shortly after 10 AM. Looking out my window, I realized that there was a potentially dangerous fire down at the marina two football fields away. A single fireball and we would be grabbing our bug out bags and heading for higher ground!

As luck would have it, our community was well prepared for this event. Through drills and practice, the mostly all-volunteer fire department and EMS crew knew what to do when they reached the scene and were successful at isolating the fire to the vessel itself, insuring the safety of the local residents as well as the hundreds of tourists that visit this time of year.

You know that I have strong feeling about having a sense of community, about knowing your neighbors, and about learning preparedness skills so that you can deal with the unexpected bumps in life. Wednesday was a fine example of why I feel that way as I witnessed the community, its citizens and its local businesses pitching in to avert what could have been a major holocaust of an explosion and fire.

Today I am sharing some lessons learned from this incident – lessons that can translated into action by all preppers, no matter where you live, near the water or not.


Survival and preparedness skills need to be practiced

Clearly, the skill of our volunteer fire department in fighting this blaze was due to practice, drills, teamwork and coordination. Although the blaze was the largest ever of its type in our community of 7,000, they were on spot, working as a team through out the day. Teams were rotated in and out to avoid exhaustion and decisions regarding what to do and how to do it were made quickly and decisively. 

For anyone with a prepping mentality, having the ability to switch our brains into autopilot immediately after an emergency is critical. There is no time to check the rule book and certainly there is no manual at your fingertips telling you what steps to take and when to take them. All of this must come from instinct that has been learned through disciplined practice.

Identify an escape route in case you need it later

Bugging in is always preferable to bugging out but if a fireball, a tsunami, or a marauding gang of thugs is headed your way, know when it is time to leave and how to get to where you are going. Don’t simply make a plan and stick it away in a binder somewhere. Practice grabbing your bug-out-bag and getting out of your home quickly. It also is a good idea to have two or more escape routes – you just never know.

Know your neighbors and help when you can

Smoke was everywhere. After going to the scene and shooting some video (which by the way was aired by a Seattle TV station), we were advised to close our windows and to wear protective masks both in our homes and out. Volunteers were handing out N95 masks but of course, as prepper’s, we had some as well. 

Because we knew our neighbors, we were comfortable in alerting them to the dangers of the smoke and to advise them that they needed to stay indoors along with their pets. Had we needed to bug-out, we would have let those that we know and trust tag along with us. 

Can you imagine, however, doing the same in a neighborhood, an apartment building or a condo where you know no one? I know that if they were in real danger, I would sound the alert but the situation would be extremely stressful and I would have my hand in my pocket along with some pepper spray just in case. Harsh, I know, but these days you can not be too careful.

Don’t underestimate the value of protective masks

This is the one that caught me by surprise. I put a supply of masks away right after Fukushima. In my mind, I also knew they would be useful in the event of a biological hazard or chemical spill but the likelihood of that seemed rather remote here on San Juan Island (Washington State).

Having a protective mask (such as an N95) at the first sign of fire and smoke makes good sense. And even if you can not see the smoke due to atmospheric conditions, it can still be there along with toxic fumes. These masks are cheap, about $10 for a box of 20. You can bet that I am going to get some extras.


After the fact, it is easy to think of yesterday’s fire as a big adventure. On the other hand, tonight the winds have shifted and now, more than 24 hours later, I can still smell smoke. Still, a little smoke is a lot better than the potential disaster that was averted through a combination of skill, luck and the capable, quick acting members of my community. No one was hurt and loss of property was isolated to the burning boat itself.

This event made me grateful that I am prepared, with the goods, skills and mental mindset to prevail in an emergency. Furthermore, it reconfirmed that crazy, unpredictable events do indeed happen to ordinary people, living ordinary lives, in ordinary places.

Read other articles by Gaye Levy here.

Enjoy your next adventure through common sense and thoughtful preparation!

Gaye started Backdoor Survival to share her angst and concern about our deteriorating economy and its impact on ordinary, middle-class folks. She also wanted to become a prepper of the highest order and to share her knowledge as she learned it along the way. She considers her sharing of knowledge her way of giving back and as always, we at Activist Post are grateful for her contributions.

If you would like to read more from Gaye Levy, check out her blog at http://www.backdoorsurvival.com/.  You can also visit her Facebook page or sign up for updates by email by clicking on Backdoor Survival Updates.

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