To protect yourself from wildfires, plan your evacuation routes and prepare to make your home less vulnerable. Above all, act responsibly to prevent wildfires. Review the following sections for preparation and recovery tips.
Wildfires spread quickly, igniting brush, trees, and homes in their path. To learn about your area’s wildfire risk, contact your local fire department, state foresters office or other emergency response agencies.
- Wildfire Preparation
- Wildfire Recovery
- WildFire Terminology
Human negligence, with actions such as smoking or improperly extinguished campfires, causes more than four out of every five wildfires. Please note the following tips, which will help prevent forest fires:
- Build fires for debris burning, campfires, etc. away from nearby trees or bushes. Embers and firebrands can float in the air and can start wildfires where they fall.
- Be able to extinguish the fire quickly and completely (water, sand, fire extinguisher).
- Never leave a fire — even a cigarette — burning unattended.
Protect your family and home from wildfires by doing the following:
- Clearly mark driveway entrances and display your name and address on your mailbox or home so emergency vehicles can reach you easily.
- Plan and practice two ways out of your neighborhood in the event your primary route becomes blocked.
- Identify and maintain an adequate water source outside your homes, such as a small pond, cistern, well, swimming pool, or hydrant. Keep a garden hose that is long enough to reach any area of the home and other structures on the property
- Keep potential fire tools handy, such as a rake, ax, hand saw or chain saw, bucket and shovel. You may need them to fight small fires before emergency responders arrive.
- Select building materials that can help resist fire rather than fuel it.
- Keep roofs and gutters free of dead limbs, needles, and debris that spread the fire.
- Equip chimneys and stovepipes with a spark arrester. This will reduce the chance of burning cinders escaping through the chimney, starting outdoor fires.
- Have a fire extinguisher and learn how to use it. There is no time to read directions during an emergency.
- Keep a tall ladder handy in the event you need to get on the roof to remove combustible debris.
- Plant fire-resistant shrubs and trees. Fire-resistant plants are less likely to ignite and spread fire closer to your home.
- Have a professional tree service create a 15-foot (5-meter) space between tree crowns and remove limbs within 6 -10 feet (2 to 3 meters) of the ground. This will help reduce the chance of fire spreading from tree to tree or from ground to tree.
- Place stove, fireplace and grill ashes in a metal bucket, soak in water for two days, then bury the cold ashes in mineral soil. Fires can start quickly from hidden cinders or burnt materials that are still hot.
- Fire tends to travel uphill, so keep highly combustible materials above your home. Place propane tanks and firewood stacks at least 30 feet (9 meters) away and uphill from your home.
If there are reports of wildfires, but no evacuation orders have been given:
- Listen regularly to local radio or television stations. Local officials will be able to advise you of the safest escape route, which may be different than you expect.
- Keep your car ready to go by parking it in an open space facing the direction of escape. Shut the car doors, roll up the windows, and leave the key in the ignition.
- Shut off gas at the meter only if advised to do so by local officials. If you have a propane tank system, turn off the valves on the system and leave them closed until the propane supplier inspects your system.
- Open fireplace dampers. Close fireplace screens. Burning embers will not be “sucked down” into a home from the outside.
- Close windows, vents, doors, blinds, or non-combustible window coverings.
- Remove lightweight drapes and curtains and move combustible furniture into the center of the home away from windows and sliding-glass doors.
- Remove combustible items from around the home, such as lawn furniture, umbrellas, tarp coverings, and firewood.
- Connect the garden hose to outside taps and gather fire tools (shovels, hoes, hoses)
If advised to evacuate, do so as soon as possible. Note the following safety tips:
- Wear protective clothing—sturdy shoes, cotton or wool long pants, and a long-sleeved shirt and gloves. Bring a handkerchief to protect your face.
- Do not wait until the last minute. You place yourself at risk and may endanger rescue workers or interfere with emergency responders.
- Take your disaster supplies kit, essential items, and your pets with you.
- Lock your home. There may be others who evacuate after you or return before you.
- Designate and notify an out-of-town contact about what has happened and where you are going.
- Choose a route away from the fire. Watch for changes in the speed and direction of fire and smoke.
- If you are trapped, crouch in a pond, river, or pool. If there is nobody of water, look for shelter in a cleared area or among a bed of rocks. Lie flat and cover your body with soil. Breathe the air close to the ground to avoid scorching your lungs or inhaling smoke. Moist air causes more damage to airways than dry air at the same temperature, so don’t cover your nose and mouth with wet cloths.
Be sure to remain cautious when cleaning up after a wildfire. The following suggestions will help ensure you and your family’s safety:
- Obtain permission from officials before entering a burned area.
- Use caution. Hazards may still exist, including hot spots, which can flare up without warning.
- Avoid damaged or fallen power poles or lines and downed wires. Immediately report electrical damage to authorities.
- Watch for ash pits. These holes full of hot ashes are caused by burned trees and stumps. You can be seriously burned by falling into an ash pit or landing on one with your hands or feet.
- Take precautions while cleaning your property. Debris should be wet down to minimize health impacts from breathing dust particles.
- Wear leather gloves and heavy-soled shoes to protect hands and feet from sharp objects while removing debris. Wear rubber gloves when working with outhouse remnants, plumbing fixtures, and sewer piping which can contain high levels of bacteria.
- Check with local authorities for hazardous disposal assistance. Hazardous materials such as kitchen and bathroom cleaning products, paint, batteries, contaminated fuel, and damaged fuel containers need to be properly handled to avoid risk.
- If you turned off the valves on a propane tank system, contact the propane supplier and leave the valves closed until the supplier inspects your system. Tanks, brass, and copper fittings, and lines may have been damaged by the heat and can be unsafe.
- If you have a heating oil tank system, contact a heating oil supplier for an inspection of your system before using it. The tank may have shifted or warped, fuel lines may have weakened and fittings and filters may be damaged.
- Any tree that has been weakened by fire may be unstable. If the fire has burned deep into the trunk, the roots have been burned or the bark on the trunk has been burned off or scorched completely around the circumference, the tree will not survive.
- Wells at undamaged homes should be safe unless affected by a fuel spill. If you use water from a public well, have a water sample collected and tested before consuming it.
- Stay out of a canyon below a burned hill or mountain. Risks for mudslides and debris flows are high in such burned areas for three to five years after a wildfire..
broadcast burning – allowing a prescribed fire to burn over a designated area within well-defined boundaries for reduction of fuel hazard, as a resource management treatment, or both.
convection column – an ascending column of gases, smoke, water vapor, and particulate matter produced by a fire.
crown fire – a fire that advances by moving among crowns of trees or shrubs.
fire whirl – a spinning, vortex column of ascending hot air and gases rising from a fire and carrying aloft smoke, debris, and flame. Fire whirls range from a foot or two in diameter to small tornadoes in size and intensity. They may involve the entire fire area or only a hot spot within the area.
flame length – the average length of flames when the fire has reached its full, forward rate of spread, measured along the slant of the flame from the midpoint of its base to its tip.
fuel – combustible plant material, both living and dead that is capable of burning in a wildland situation.
glowing phase – phase of combustion in which a solid surface of fuel is in direct contact with oxygen, and oxidation occur, usually accompanied by incandescence, and little smoke production.
ground fire – a fire that burns the organic material in the soil layer (e.g. a “peat fire”) and often also the surface litter and low-growing vegetation.
heading fire – a fire front spreading, or ignited to spread with the wind, up a slope, or influenced by a combination of wind and slope.
smoldering phase – a phase of combustion that can occur after flames die down because the reaction rate of the fire is not high enough to maintain a persistent flame envelope. During the smoldering phase, gases condense because of the cooler temperatures, and much more smoke is produced than during flaming combustion.
spotting – production of burning embers in the moving fire front that are carried a short distance ahead of the fire, or in some cases are lofted by convective action or carried by fire whirls some distance ahead.
surface fire – a fire that burns surface litter, dead woody fuels, other loose debris on the forest floor, and some small vegetation.
wildfire – a free burning and unwanted wildland fire requiring a suppression action.