With temperatures rising every year, wildfire season becomes more and more treacherous. So having a wildfire safety plan in place could not only give you peace of mind but also save the lives of you and your family.
Given the destructive power of forest fires, their potential for destruction rivals earthquakes and hurricanes as natural disasters. The frequency of western U.S. wildfires has increased by 400% since 1970. According to the National Interagency Fire Center, the United States experienced 33,917 wildfires burning over 2.3 million acres from January 1 to August 10, 2020. States with dry climates like California, Colorado, Arizona, and New Mexico experience the worst damage. Sadly, California has experienced the most detrimental effects of increasing wildfires in the entire country, with over $11.4 billion in damage in 2018. Although the firestorm in Northern California this August has been caused by lightning strikes, that’s just one of the ways forest fires can get started.
How Does a Wildfire Occur?
As of 2017, nearly humans cause nearly 85 percent of wildfires in the United States. Whether it’s from cigarettes, campfires, or negligence, they’ve led to hundreds of billions of dollars in damage. With summers heating up and more frequent droughts, the potential for the destruction caused by dry conditions is increasing. Therefore, it’s important to be aware of wildfire safety precautions if you live in an area that is prone to them.
What Are Some Wildfire Safety Tips?
There are a few wildfire safety tips you should know to make sure you’re ready. The first safety precaution you can take is learning about your community’s risk for wildfires. Try contacting your local emergency management office, planning and zoning department, or forestry office for more info and resources.
If your area is experiencing a potential threat of wildfire, stay tuned in to your local news. While an evacuation alert means you should be prepared to leave, an evacuation order means you’re at risk and evacuation is mandatory. In the event of an order, it’s important to follow the guidelines so you and your family can stay safe. This means being aware of two routes out of your neighborhood or community and any applicable road closures.
You’ll want to pack up the items needed in the event that you have to leave your neighborhood quickly. Also, ensure that you wear protective clothing and footwear. Before leaving your home, remove any combustibles like firewood, barbecues, and fuel cans from your yard. Close all doors and windows, as they’ll only strengthen a fire if left ajar. If your risk of evacuation is high, keep an emergency bag handy with your cell phone, a change of clothes, charger, water, food, face masks, prescriptions, copies of important documents, credit cards, flashlight, and a portable radio.
Where Should You Go if There Is a Wildfire Threat?
Have a checklist prepared so you can efficiently evaluate the steps you need to take to prepare your family and home. If evacuation becomes necessary, you should plan to stay with family, friends, or in a hotel. With the current circumstances with COVID-19, you’ll need to be extra cautious about traveling and risking exposure to other people. If you do need to evacuate and plan to stay with friends or relatives, ask first if they have symptoms of COVID-19, have people in their home at high risk, or have a compromised immune system. If that is the case, make other plans. Also learn your community’s response plan and see if these plans have been affected or changed because of COVID-19.
What Do You Do After a Wildfire?
When you return home from a wildfire safety zone post-evacuation, there are steps to take to ensure your well-being. If your home has experienced severe fire damage, you should contact officials for information on temporary housing options. Financial assistance may also be provided in certain situations. However, if you are going home, make sure that it’s safe for you to do so before proceeding. There may still be hot spots so wear protective gear when cleaning up and watch for hazards. Before eating or drinking anything that may have been exposed to fire, make sure it’s safe and hasn’t been exposed to extremely high temperatures. You’ll also want to check your water supply for signs of contamination.
As you clean, take pictures of any damaged goods in your house. You’ll need these for insurance purposes. If you evacuate, you might even want these photos before you leave, so you can prove that any damaged items came from the fire. If the area is smoky and air quality remains poor, small children, pregnant women, and the elderly should be particularly cautious.
When a federal disaster is declared, often a phone “hotline” is created to provide the public with info about programs and resources that can help you recover after the fire.
How Can We Prevent Wildfires?
With so many human-caused fires, it’s important to ensure we’re taking steps to prevent them. If you’re camping, make sure not to spill any flammable liquids and let them cool before refueling. A campfire may look like its out, but douse it with lots of water, stir the embers, then douse again. Make sure it’s completely out. If you’re using matches or cigarettes, extinguish them before you discard them.
When local fire bans are in place, be cautious, and stick to the posted restrictions. If you do come across a fire or irresponsible behavior, contact the local fire department or park service. While there may not be a lot one can do when wildfires burn, prevention and caution are the best steps to take.
With the summer heat and a changing climate, it’s wise to be educated on wildfire preparedness and prevention. If you have experience with wildfires and other evacuation procedures, please share them in our comments section. While we may not all be able to fight the fire, having a wildfire safety plan can make all the difference if the time comes. Stay safe out there!