Of all natural disasters, wildfires are among the most dangerous. They can spring up quickly and spread very fast.
The United States averages over 73,000 wildfires every year. They cause 2 billion dollars worth of damage annually. Over 7 million acres are burned annually. They kill over 340,000 people worldwide each year.
All fires start small. All fires go out. Eventually. What is key is what happens in between.
A wildfire is an unplanned, unwanted fire. They can be caused naturally, usually by lightning. However, most are human-initiated, either by campfires, cigarettes, broken power lines, outdoor burning that gets out of control or arson.
They can occur any time throughout the year. The potential is greatest during periods of drought. High winds make a wildfire very dangerous and unpredictable. They can move very fast!
Make sure you know what your local wildfire alert system is. Normally, alerts are broadcast to all cell phones within range. However, because wildfires are unpredictable and can shift quickly depending on winds, be proactive in tracking any wildfire. There are several maps that indicate threat levels. Here is a page that collects several.
They kill humans and animals They destroy buildings and structures They destroy far from the actual fire— embers can be blown by the wind and set fire to structures over a mile away Smoke can kill and cause health issues, even many miles away Wildfires affect the land for years after with lost vegetation and the subsequent greater threat of flood and landslides.
A fast-moving wildfire has a wall of heat in front of it that you cannot see. But you will feel it. It will spontaneously combust flammable material even when there is no visible flame. The larger the fire, the more it makes its own wind.
Keep your roof and gutter free of leaves. Store firewood at least thirty feet away from structures (do not pile up on an outside wall). Outdoor furniture should be made of noncombustible material. Clear the area around your house of combustible material, such as leaves, bark, pine needles, and underbrush. The optimum clear area is 100 feet.
If constructing in a wildfire area, carefully choose fire-proof materials not only for the building, but also gates, fences, landscaping, etc.
Know your evacuation routes. Plan your transportation. If you need to share, make preparations now. Realize public transportation is likely to be disrupted. Find out what your community has planned in case of evacuation. Have a pre-planned place to stay if evacuated. Have your IRP (Immediate Rally Point), ERP (Emergency Rally Point) and out of area contact ready and everyone updated on them. (explained in Survival Guide)
There are wildfire apps listed on my free Slideshare page in the Wildfire slideshow.
Know how to use fire extinguishers, evacuate your house, etc. as you would in normal fire preparation. More on that in my slideshare on FIRE, on the slideshow page.
Use caution any time you start a fire. Do not use welders or equipment that sparks on dry, windy days. Do not park in tall, dry grass or piles of leaves; the heat from your exhaust system could ignite them. Keep propane and gas away from structures.
Be ready to evacuate. Besides your Grab-n-Go bag here are special considerations and advice from those who’ve been affected by wildfires: fuel your car and keep it topped off, even if you think you are not under direct threat. Make a video of everything in your house and store it in the cloud or elsewhere for insurance purposes. Have key documents in a secure fireproof box packed and ready to be grabbed. Also, uploading the information into the cloud gives you a backup. Load copies onto a thumb drive kept elsewhere.
Pack enough supplies (Grab-n-Go) but water is the most critical! If evacuated, call your insurance company ASAP so they can start a claim #. Keep receipts of everything you buy while evacuated.
Key things to pack: Drivers license/photo ID/Passport Social Security Card Bank and credit cards Health insurance card Roadside assistance card Cash Extra fuel WATER
Key things to have packed and ready to go: Phone charger. Deed for house. Insurance paperwork. Prescriptions. First aid kit ( a complete list is in Survival Guide)
Leave as soon as you get notice. You cannot defeat a wildfire. People are more important than a house or objects. Leave gates open for firefighters and others. Drive with headlights on. If it’s smoky close all windows and set recirculate.
If trapped in your car, park in an area clear of vegetation— parking lot, gravel area, dirt. Close all windows and vents. Cover yourself with a blanket or coat and lie on the floor. Car tires may burst from heat.
If trapped in your house: Use a hose or sprinkler to wet the yard. Wet the roof. Turn off all propane and gas. Close all windows and doors and fireplace flues. Move fabric furniture away from large windows or glass doors. Turn off everything that circulates air in the house. Close all interior doors.
Turn on all lights to make the house more visible from the outside for rescuers. Disconnect automatic garage door openers so you can open by hand if you lose power. If you have a pool, put outdoor furniture in it. Fill everything possible with water (tubs, sinks, etc)
Wildfires are one of the most frightening and dangerous natural disasters. Being prepared can bring peace of mind. And save your life!
A free slideshow on this topic and many others about interesting history, survival, writing and other topics is on my web site at www.bobmayer.com/workshops