As the Daily Press kicks off three consecutive Sundays of anniversary coverage of the Pilot and Bluecut Fires today, it is prudent to reflect on the lessons learned from those two giant wildfires that terrorized many in the High Desert a year ago.

First, they reminded us all that disaster can strike at any time. Whether it is a fire, flood, earthquake, windstorm or some other natural disaster, those two blazes reinforced the importance of being prepared.

In the case of fires, being prepared means clearing a defensive space around your home, leaving enough space between your home and plants, trees and brush so that flames naturally stop short of structures and all that is in them.

Being prepared also means being properly insured. Residents who have mortgages generally have no choice, as lenders what to ensure their investment is protected in the case of a fire, at the very least. However, if you paid cash for your home or have paid off your mortgage, there is no requirement to buy insurance. It only takes one fire to turn a decision not to buy hazard insurance into a bad decision that can wipe out hundreds of thousands of dollars in property and your living space.

Unfortunately, we have heard from First District Supervisor Robert Lovingood’s office that this is exactly the predicament many Bluecut Fire victims in the West Cajon Valley found themselves. According to Lovingood and his staff, many of those who lost homes in that blaze were uninsured and therefore lost everything.

It was heartbreaking enough to see people lose their homes in that fire, but knowing that many were uninsured only magnifies the tragedy. We’re told many of those victims, particularly Korean immigrants, simply left the West Cajon Valley.

Being prepared also means having the foresight to plan an escape route, whether from flames or flooding, and being able to quickly gather family, pets and valuables. Many people choose to keep their most valuable possessions and papers in safe deposit boxes at their local banks. That can lessen the stress of being forced to evacuate considerably.

But it isn’t a bad idea to keep a suitcase or duffel bag full of clothes packed and ready to leave with, whether inside your home or car. Most pet owners have pet carriers, but if you don’t it is never to early to get one. That will make rounding up Fido of Fuzzy a lot easier if you have to leave your home quickly.

Cellphone chargers often are overlooked in an emergency, but certainly come in handy. Many people keep a spare in their cars. A couple of blankets or a sleeping bag or two also can come in handy if you have to evacuate. Keep them somewhere you can quickly grab them if you need to leave in a hurry.

Medication also can be overlooked in an emergency preparedness plan. If you are on regular dosages of any medication, keep a small supply in a travel case, clearly marked, so you can take it with you. Or keep your most important medications in an easy-to-remember location so you can gather them into a bag quickly if you need to do so.

The most important thing to remember is to leave your home if the authorities tell you to do so. During last year’s fires, more than half of the 82,000-plus residents who were asked to evacuate failed to do so. Thankfully, there was no loss of life. But if firefighters hadn’t been able to get lines around these blazes as well as they did, flames easily could have spread through Hesperia, Oak Hills, Phelan and Wrightwood and resulted in mass casualties or deaths. If a firefighter or deputy sheriff tells you to leave your home, don’t hesitate to do so. Your life is worth much more than your home or anything you own.

We never know when the next disaster will strike, as the Pilot and Bluecut fires showed. But if you’ve taken steps in advance to protect yourself and your property, and listen to authorities, you’ll get through just fine.