The unfortunate truth is that climate change leads to more and more problems like wildfires taking place. Being proactive is key when it comes to natural disasters like wildfires. It starts with familiarizing yourself with the appropriate things to do if a wildfire should break out and always having contact information on hand for emergency services in your area.
What To Do If You’re Trapped Near A Wildfire
One of the most important things in any wildfire scenario is to keep calm because you’re more likely to think clearly and identify solutions when you’re not panicked. You can use deep breathing to prevent your body from going into a ‘fight-or-flight’ mode.
Preparing for a wildfire and learning about them in advance will help you feel more in control during an emergency. It’s important to know what to do during a wildfire, and you should talk with your family about it.
Your next course of action will depend on the details of the situation.
I’m In My Car—What Do I Do?
You need to park your vehicle and use it as protection but find an area without vegetation first. When parked, ensure all windows and vents are closed and identify resources in the vehicle:
- Bottled water
- A towel to cover your mouth for easier breathing—even better if you can wet it
- Wool blankets or jackets to cover yourself, because wool is naturally resistant to fire
Position yourself on the floor of the vehicle and contact emergency services to request help.
I’m on Foot—What do I do?
When on foot, once again get to a place with minimal or no vegetation. If possible, position yourself on level ground but inside a hole or a ditch. Lie on the ground, face down, and cover yourself with what you have, such as jackets or blankets. Call your local emergency services.
I’m at Home—What can I do?
At home, it’s vital that everyone on the property stays together. For one thing, it helps to stay calm when you know exactly where your loved ones are.
After notifying emergency services you can fill containers with cold water—from buckets to bathtubs and sinks. You can use this to wet fabric for easier breathing and you’ll have access to water should normal utility services be affected by the fire.
Here are some tips on what to do during a wildfire near your home:
- Keep doors and windows closed, but not locked, so emergency crews can easily get access.
- Don’t go outside.
- Stay near the center of the house, avoiding outer walls and windows.
How to Stay Safe During a Wildfire?
There’s a lot you can do to control how a wildfire affects you and your property—you can even reduce your risks.
Switch TVs and radios to news channels that will give you updated information on wildfires such as which direction the fire is spreading. Also, use messaging apps to get feedback from the local community, so you can gauge when it’s time to evacuate and which direction to go.
Reduce Risk on the Property
The following wildfire safety tips will help you decrease risks on site and you’ll be empowered to react appropriately if a crisis occurs:
- Position a ladder to give easy access to the roof—for you or firefighters.
- Fill containers—bath, plastic buckets, and sinks—with water.
- Lower the risk of your property catching fire by removing combustible items:
- Garbage or outdoor furniture from the garden
- Curtains inside the house
- Increase visibility—in case there’s thick smoke—by keeping lights switched on in all rooms.
- If you have non-flammable window coverings, close them.
- Switch off appliances that will draw in smoke, such as air conditioning systems.
- Put flammable home content such as upholstered chairs in the middle of rooms, not near doors or windows.
- Place pets in a secure area so you can quickly grab them if you need to vacate the premises.
Ready a vehicle for easy evacuation by positioning it facing an exit of the property and keeping the keys in an easily accessible place for you. You can place emergency supplies in the vehicle and all people on the premises must know how to implement the evacuation plan the moment someone gives the signal.
Allocate responsibilities to specific people, such as identifying who will take the pets to the vehicle.
What Should You Do Before a Wildfire Starts?
Especially for those living in areas prone to wildfires, the precautionary measures below should be standard practice.
Fireproofing Your Property
You can’t make a property completely fireproof, but there’s a lot you can do to limit its impact when it reaches your property and assets. Some guidelines also reduce the risk of a fire starting on your property during dry seasons.
Try and implement these safety precautions for wildfires throughout the year:
- Create a 30ft defensible space between buildings and flammable materials like vegetation, as it reduces the chance of your home catching fire.
- Firewood piles must be far away from buildings and have a clearance area around them.
- Trees and shrubs should be trimmed regularly so they don’t grow near power lines or the house’s chimney.
- Trees near your home shouldn’t have any dead branches and no branches should grow below 8ft from the ground, so prune regularly.
- Remove any debris from the gutters and the roof on a regular basis.
- Schedule a chimney cleaning a few times a year.
- Check your spark arresters every 6 months.
- Acquire appropriate containers for flammable and combustible materials.
- For any new developments or renovations, pick the most fire-resistant materials that are appropriate for the project.
Here’s a quick video guide about Home Wildfire Preparedness by National Fire Protection Association.
24/7/365 Plan to Evacuate in Case of Fire
Create a fire evacuation plan with the following characteristics:
- It offers various escape routes
- You have one gathering place
- A main contact person
- Available radios and flashlights with spare batteries
- Everyone using the premises must know the evacuation guidelines and how to stay safe from wildfires in the area. As part of wildfire preparation, practice your evacuation plan regularly.
- Also consider features that will benefit you and emergency services when a fire does break out, such as having house numbers displayed clearly, even in low-light conditions.
You can also check the helpful video on Wildfire Preparedness Tips by Liberty Mutual below.
What to do AFTER a Wildfire?
After wildfire events, only return if fire officials give the go-ahead, and then first inspect the property using this list to identify possible risks:
- With buckets of water in hand, check the grounds and look for vegetation still smoldering and hot spots. Douse the areas if found.
- Look for any sparks or embers on the roof and outside the buildings.
- Systematically check inside buildings, starting in attics, for burning items or sparks. Moisten areas where you discover leftover embers.
- Always move cautiously, because a flare-up is possible. You’ll need to stay vigilant and check for problems even during the few days after returning. If a problem escalates or you feel it’s dangerous, ask for emergency assistance immediately.
Wildfire Preparedness FAQ
What causes wildfires?
Wildfires can be the result of natural phenomena like lightning striking or after a volcanic eruption. The chance of a wildfire increases when conditions are dry and if there’s high wind. There are also wildfires caused by humans, whether it’s intentional—arson—or by accident. With half of the recorded wildfires, the cause is never confirmed.
What happens during a wildfire?
Wildfires impact nature as well as various aspects of human life. Wild animals flee fires and in an attempt to avoid fire, they may migrate in search of a new place to live. For humans there are risks to infrastructure, farmers’ crops can be burned and property can be damaged or completely destroyed. Living things can also struggle to breathe because of bad air quality.
What happens after a wildfire?
After a wildfire there’s the risk of soil eroding and floods may occur. However, there are also positive aspects such as dead trees’ nutrients going back into the ground, and with less foliage, seedlings get more sun exposure which leads to new growth.
What can we do to prevent wildfires?
To prevent wildfires, humans should make it a high priority to keep vegetation trimmed around their homes. Also, implement good safety guidelines whenever lighting a campfire and ensure you douse it properly, only leaving it unattended once it’s cooled down. Drivers should keep off the grass that’s dry.
What is the government doing to prevent wildfires?
The US government is taking several measures to prevent wildfires, particularly in areas that are prone to them. Here are some of the actions being taken:
- Prevention: The government is working to prevent wildfires by reducing the risk of ignition. This includes measures like controlling campfires and smoking in certain areas, restricting the use of fireworks, and implementing restrictions on outdoor burning during dry or windy conditions.
- Forest management: The government is working to improve forest health by managing forests through thinning, prescribed burns, and other techniques. This helps to reduce the risk of wildfires by reducing fuel loads and increasing the resiliency of forest ecosystems.
- Early detection and response: The government is investing in early detection systems that use satellites, drones, and other technology to detect wildfires as early as possible. This helps to ensure that firefighting resources are deployed quickly to contain the fires before they can spread.
- Public education: The government is working to educate the public about the dangers of wildfires and how to prevent them. This includes efforts to teach people about fire safety, how to properly extinguish campfires, and how to report wildfires when they are spotted.
- Collaboration: The government is working with local communities, non-governmental organizations, and private industry to develop collaborative approaches to wildfire prevention and management. This includes efforts to build partnerships that leverage the expertise and resources of different stakeholders to reduce the risk of wildfires and improve forest health.
What state has the highest wildfire risk?
According to the National Interagency Fire Center, some of the states that typically have the highest wildfire risk during the fire season (typically May to October) are California, Texas, Arizona, New Mexico, and Colorado. California, in particular, has seen some of the largest and most destructive wildfires in recent years. [Source]
Other states that are prone to wildfires include Washington, Oregon, Montana, Idaho, Utah, and Nevada. However, the risk of wildfires can vary greatly within these states, depending on factors such as terrain, weather conditions, and human activities.
Wildfires are frightening and carry lots of risks—for people, animals, and property. Be proactive and implement wildfire precautions to give you and your loved ones the best chance of staying safe, even if you need to evacuate, and limit property damage.