Building homes in rural areas, mountainous regions, forests, and other wilderness areas is currently very popular. Although wilderness areas are beautiful places to live, residents must take special precautions to prepare for wildfires.
Annually in the United States wildfires destroy numerous homes. These wildfires also contribute to multiple deaths and serious injuries. However, steps can be taken to minimize damage to health and property during an uncontrollable wildfire.
Wildfires often occur without warning. Lightning strikes, accidents, and arson are just a few of the causes of wildfires. Wildfires spread rapidly, torching trees, homes, and anything else in their path. Minimize risks by staying aware and preparing for wildfires. Review the following list and take action to safeguard human and animal health and property in the event of a wildfire.
Table of Contents
What to Do Before
Follow these steps to prepare for a wildfire:
- Develop a family communications plan and create an emergency survival kit.
- Landscape your property to minimize fire hazards. Use plants and objects that do not fuel fire.
- Use roofing and exterior materials that are noncombustible and fire-resistant. Place fire-retardant chemicals on decks and other combustible surfaces.
- Plant fire-resistant trees and bushes. Hardwood trees are more fire-resistant than fir, eucalyptus, evergreen, and pine trees.
- Clean gutters and roofs frequently.
- Inspect chimneys twice annually, and clean them once at a minimum annually. Ensure dampers are working properly. Use spark arresters on stovepipes and chimneys adhering to National Fire Protection Association Standard 211 requirements. Details about these standards are available at local fire departments.
- Place 1/8-inch mesh screen underneath floors, decks, and porches and insert screen openings to attics, roofs, and floors.
- In every room in your house, install dual-sensor smoke alarms. If it’s not possible to place one in each room, ensure smoke alarms are installed in bedrooms. Annually change batteries and frequently test smoke alarms.
- Teach young children how to operate fire (ABC type) extinguishers.
- Place tools, such as shovels, buckets, axes, chain saws, and other tools that can be used to extinguish fires in easily accessible areas.
- Own a ladder long enough to reach the roof.
- If possible, purchase fire-retardant drapes and install protective shutters.
- Clean up wood piles and other lawn debris and place combustible items, such as barbeque propane tanks, away from the house.
Plan Your Water Needs
- Maintain a plentify outside supply of water such as a small pond, well, cistern, swimming pool, or hydrant.
- Have a sturdy garden hose that is long enough to reach any part or room of your home.
- You may want to have a portable gasoline powered water pump in case electrical power goes out.
- It is recommended that you install freeze proof exterior water outlets on at least two sides of your house and near other structures that you want to protect.
Preparing Your Home for a Wildfire
We recommend that you create a 30 to 100 foot safe zone your home. Inside this area, you can take a number of precautions to reduce your home to exposure from flames and radiant heat. If your home is built in a pine forests it needs to have a minimum safety zone of 100 feet. However, if your home sits on a steep slope then a 100 foot safety zone may not be big enough. It is recommended that you contact your department or forestry office to determine an adequate safety zone for your area.
- Remove rubbish and leaves from around and underneath structures.
- Keep dead leaves, tree limbs and twigs cleaned up and make sure no flamable vegetation is located near any structures.
- Removing all tree limbs that are withing 15 feet of the ground.
- Remove dead branches that extend near or over your home’s roof.
- Remove any vines from the walls of your home.
- Prune tree branches and shrubs within 15 feet of a stovepipe or chimney outlet.
- Keep trees and hanging branches away from powerlines.
- Make sure to keep your lawn and any weeds cut and well maintained.
- Clear a 10 to 15-foot area around your barbeque and any propane tanks on your property. Keep a metal screen over your grill.
- Properly dispose of any stove or fireplace ashes.
- Store gasoline and any other flammable materials in approved safety contains in a location away from your home and away from the base of any structures.
- Store firewood at least 100 feet away from your home (and uphill from your home.) Remove any thing that will burn from around your home.
- Review your homeowner’s insurance policy and also prepare/update a list of your home’s contents.
What to Do During
Call 911 immediately if a wildfire is visible. Never assume that emergency operators have already been notified. Provide the details and location of the fire to emergency operators. Always remain calm.
- If an evacuation order is issued, stay with family members or close friends until it’s safe to return home.
- Wear long pants and shirts, handkerchiefs, masks, gloves, and other protective gear.
- Gather buckets, shovels, saws, rakes, axes, and other equipment needed to contain fire.
- Shut outside basement vents, attics, windows, and doors. Close blinds, shutters, and window coverings to diminish radiant heat.
- Close doors to eliminate draft. Shut fireplace screens while keeping the damper open.
- Shut off propane tanks, natural gas lines, and other flammable gas lines.
- Make sure garden hoses are attached to faucets. Fill large containers, garbage cans, tubs, and pools with water.
- Hose your roof down and place lawn sprinklers above fuel tanks and on the roof.
- Prepare and fuel gas-powered water pumps.
- Ensure a ladder is resting against the house in plain view.
- Park your vehicle in the driveway and roll up windows and double check to make sure doors are closed. Unlock the vehicle and keep the key in the ignition.
- Remove automatic garage door openers in case the power goes out. While vacating the house, shut all garage doors.
- Place irreplaceable items, such as pictures, important documents, jewelry, and other valuable items inside the garage or a vehicle in case you’re required to vacate on short notice. Additionally, keep pets in a vehicle while preparing to evacuate since you may be required to leave before planned.
- Place valuable, water-resident objects in a pool or container filled with water.
- Move combustible furniture away from glass doors and windows.
- Keep outside lights on and turn on at least one light in each room to improve visibility in case of heavy smoke. Close doors but keep them unlocked. Locking doors makes it more difficult for firefighters to enter the house. Police officers typically patrol areas where evacuation orders have been issued
Evacuate immediately if advised to. Leave with an emergency preparedness kit and evacuate via the safest route. Pay attention to changes in smoke and fire direction and intensity. Notify family members and friends of the time and end location after evacuating. If advised to evacuate, do so immediately. Take your disaster supply kit, lock your home and choose a route away from the fire hazard. Watch for changes in the speed and direction of the fire and smoke. Tell someone when you left and where you are going.
Surviving a Wildfire
Survival in a Vehicle
- Trying to survive a firestory in your vehicle is dangerous and should only be done in an emergency, but it can be done. Survinging a wildfire in your vehicle is still much less dangerous than trying to run from a fire on foot.
- First, roll up of your car’s windows and close the air vents. Drive slowly with headlights on. Make sure to watch out for other vehicles and pedestrians that may be in the area. Do not attempt to drive through heavy smoke as you may crash, drive into a fire or run out of oxygen.
- If you’re not able to drive your vehicle then park it away from brush and tree that could catch on fire. Turn your ignition off but keep your headlights on.
- Get on the floor of your vehicle and cover yourself up with a blanket or coat.
- Stay inside your vehicle until the main fire passes.
- Again, stay in the car. It’s imperative that you don’t try to run! Stay calm. Your engine may stall and start. Air currents from the fire may rock your car. Expect that some smoke and even sparks may find their way inside your vehicle. The temperature inside will your vehicle is likely to increase. (Note: Metal gas tanks and containers in a car rarely explode.)
If You Are Trapped at Home
- If you end up trapped by wildfire inside your home, stay inside and away from outside walls. Close all your home’s doors, but leave them unlocked. Keep your entire family together in one spot and try to remain calm.
If Caught in the Open
- The best place to be if you’re caught in the open during a wildfilre is an area or shelter that doesn’t provide any type of fuel for the fire.
- If you’re on a stepp moutainside then the back side is safer.
- Don’t hide in canyons as they’ll act as natural chimneys for the fire.
- If there is a road nearby, lie face down along the road cut or in the ditch on the uphill side of the road. Cover yourself if anything that will help protect you from the fire.
What to Do After a Wildfire
Follow these tips immediately once a wildfire ceases to burn:
- Visit a public shelter after being ordered to evacuate, or it’s still unsafe to return home. Text SHELTER + your ZIP code to 43362 (4FEMA) to locate the closest shelter in your region (example: shelter 84003).
- If you were burned, or come across someone burned during a wildfire, call 911 ASAP and begin running cool water over burns to alleviate pain.
- If you stayed at home, inspect the roof ASAP once it’s safe to do so. Extinguish embers, sparks, or small roof fires. Inspect the attic for sparks or embers.
- Stay alert for additional fires hours after the fire has ceased burning. Thoroughly inspect the house for hidden sparks and embers.
- Do not return home following an evacuation order until it has been lifted.
- Never re-enter homes with color-coded signs. Contact the fire department for information about these signs and additional instructions.
- If advised to evacuate after a building inspection, have a friend watch over your house.
- Be cautious while moving through burned areas since hazards, such as sparks, embers, and hot spots may still be present.
- Leave immediately if you smell smoke or feel heat when reentering a burned building.
- Do not open strong boxes or safes. These objects typically retain extreme heat for hours. Likewise, hot safes or strong boxes often burst into flames after being opened.
- Steer clear of damaged power lines and frayed wires.
- Identify ash pits and mark them to notify others of their presence.
- Closely monitor pets and keep them in a safe area. Hidden hot spots and embers could cause injuries to paws and hooves.
- Adhere to fire cleanup safety guidelines issued by local authorities.
- Keep debris wet to minimize lung exposure to dust particles.
- Wear boots and leather gloves for feet and hand protection.
- Properly dispose of damaged fuel containers, batteries, paint, and cleaning products to reduce health risks.
- Throw out food exposed to soot, smoke, or heat.
- Never use contaminated water to cook food, bathe, and wash dishes.
- Stay calm and do not overextend yourself. You may be forced into a leadership role. Listen carefully to others and be patient with irritating or demanding people.
Last update 2020-10-20. Price and product availability may change.