Here's everything you need to know about wildfire survival to keep you and your family safe!
In 2016 alone, there were over 65,575 wildfires in the United States. According to the National Interagency Fire Center, these fires destroyed over 5 million acres of land!
Wildfires are a serious threat. They destroy large areas of land and can kill the people and animals living on them. Your family needs to know what to do before, during, and after a wildfire.
Read on and arm yourself with the most important wildfire survival tool: information!
Wildfire Survival Tips: How to Survive a Wildfire!
[Video] Wildfire Preparedness & Prevention Tips:
Every year, wildfires burn through more than a million acres of woodland. They can spring from cigarettes, matches, sparks from a train’s exhaust, or campfires. The sad thing is that 90% of the time, humans cause wildfires.
Whether wildfires are man-made or natural disasters is subject to discussion, but our concern as a prepper community is to prevent these from happening. Losing your property or family to this kind of calamity is just as difficult as any other unexpected accident or emergency.
Wildfire survival is a shared responsibility. Nobody wants to be caught in the middle of a large fire, let alone deal with the damage after. Like we always say, preparedness is the key.
Defensible Space and Wildfires
- Increase your chases of surviving a wildfire by leaving a space between your house and the wildland area. Via napafirewise.org
For natural catastrophes, it’s important to consider the concept of “defensible space.” From a wildfire survival perspective, a defensible space is an area around a structure where wood and vegetation are treated, cleared, or reduced to slow the spread of flames towards a structure. Having a defensible space will also provide room to work for those fighting the fire.
The amount of defensible space you’ll need depends on whether you’re on flat land or on a steep slope. Flatland fires spread more slowly than a fire on a slope (hot air and flames rise). A fire on a steep slope with the wind blowing uphill spreads fast and produces “spot fires.” These are small fires that ignite vegetation ahead of the main burn, due to small bits of burning debris in the air.
You’ll want to thin out those thick canopied trees near your house. Any nearby tree within 50 feet on flatland, or 200 feet if downhill from your retreat on top of the mountain, needs to be thinned, so that you’re pruning branches off below 10-12 feet high, and separating them by 10-20 feet. Also, eliminate all shrubs at the base of the trunks. Read more about it here.
Is Your Home Built of Flame-Resistant Materials?
However, more modern homes should – and usually are – built out of flame-resistant materials in high wildfire areas. Still, if you're building or remodeling and live in such a zone, remember that roof construction is extremely important (go with metal, tile, or slate).
Beyond that, it might also be a good idea to consider brick, stone, and concrete, as they are all more resistant to fire than wood. Still, there are commercial fire retardants that can be used on wood, if needed.
There is more to think about regarding your home than construction, however. For example, try to keep the amount of fuel (propane tanks, for example) near your home and/or property to a minimum.
Beyond this, breaks in fire fuel – often termed firebreaks – are smart to have around neighborhoods and/or homes. Basically, these encompass a stretch of land with nothing that can burn on it.
Read more here.
How to Prevent a Wildfire
- In wildfire survival, prevention is better than the cure. Via USDA
• Contact 911, your local fire department, or the park service if you notice an unattended or out-of-control fire.
• Never leave a campfire unattended. Completely extinguish the fire—by dousing it with water and stirring the ashes until cold – before sleeping or leaving the campsite.
• When camping, take care when using and fueling lanterns, stoves, and heaters. Make sure lighting and heating devices are cool before refueling. Avoid spilling flammable liquids and store fuel away from appliances.
• Do not discard cigarettes, matches, or smoking materials from moving vehicles, anywhere on park grounds. Be certain to completely extinguish cigarettes before disposing of them.
• Follow local ordinances when burning yard waste. Avoid backyard burning in windy conditions, and keep a shovel, water, and fire retardant nearby to keep fires in check. Remove all flammables from the yard when burning. Continue reading here.
Before a Wildfire
1. Create an Emergency Plan
- Assemble an emergency supply kit and place it in a safe spot. Remember to include important documents, medications, and personal identification.
- Develop an emergency evacuation plan and practice it with everyone in your home.
- Plan two ways out of your neighborhood and designate a meeting place. Click here for the full post.
2. Exercise Caution as the Wildfire Approaches
- Follow the evacuation plan and keep calm. Do not panic.
- Wear long-sleeved clothes, cotton or wool, to protect your face and body from heat, hot ash, and falling debris.
- Shut off all gas appliances as well as the main gas valve to your home. Remove as much of the flammable materials as possible from within the home, garage, basement, and attic.
- When a wildfire is imminent, turn off the gas supply to reduce the chances of an explosion. Via socalgas.com
- Check other on-property structures such as sheds and barns.
- Turn on the lawn sprinklers and all water faucets to salvage the house as much as possible. To read the whole article, click here.
During a Wildfire
1. Limit Exposure to Smoke and Dust
- Listen and watch for air quality reports and health warnings about smoke.
- Keep indoor air clean by closing windows and doors to prevent outside smoke from getting in.
- Use the recycle or re-circulate mode on the air conditioner in your home or car. If you do not have air conditioning and it is too hot to stay inside with closed windows, seek shelter elsewhere.
- When smoke levels are high, do not use anything that burns and adds to indoor air pollution, such as candles, fireplaces and gas stoves. Do not use the vacuum cleaner because it stirs up particles that are already inside your home.
- If you have asthma or another lung disease, follow your health care provider's advice and seek medical care if your symptoms worsen. Read more.
2. Prepare to Escape
- Choose downhill, not uphill routes if possible. Fire moves faster uphill due to updrafts.
- Select areas without fuel for the fire: barren, plowed fields; riverbeds; ponds; rocky areas, etc.
- Stay away from dry, arid fuel potential, such as dead leaves, dry weedy fields, dead trees, etc.
- Survivors have described trees exploding from heat. In Australia, the fires allegedly reach temperatures of 1,200 degrees – enough to cause dry fuel to burst into flames, even before the fire reached the area.
- Leafy trees burn more slowly than evergreen trees. Some trees and bushes, like eucalyptus, contain flammable oils that cause burning to intensify. Try to select a route that is less flammable, if possible. If you must choose a wooded area as your escape route, pick leafy trees over pines.
- If you can't escape, seek shelter in the ground. Scary as it sounds to let the flames roar by you, sometimes outdistancing a fire is impossible and this becomes a better life-saving option.
- Find a cave, barren crevice, drainage pipe or an underground hole. Lay low and curled up. Cover any exposed skin (including face) to keep thermal burns at a minimum. This will also help reduce smoke inhalation. If you live in or are visiting a high wildfire threat area, consider a fire blanket for emergencies.
- Dig a trench to lie in. Cover your body with a foot of soil. This is dangerous as fire consumes oxygen and can suffocate you. Only do this as a last resort. However, some have survived using this dire tactic. Lay face down. Try to create a small pocket under your face to trap oxygen. Hold your breath and keep eyes closed when the fire passes over you.
- If you have time as you evacuate, choose cotton clothing and shed nylon apparel. Nylon has a very low melting point. If you are close to a fire or intense heat, nylon can melt onto your skin.
3. How to Survive a Forest Fire in a Vehicle
- Stay calm.
- Park your vehicle in an area clear of vegetation.
- Close all vehicle windows and vents.
- Cover yourself with wool blanket or jacket.
- Lie on the vehicle floor.
- Use your cell phone to advise officials. Call 911.
4. Know What to Do if Caught in a Wildfire
- The best temporary shelter is in an area without fuel for the fire. On a steep mountainside, the back side is safer. Avoid canyons, natural “chimneys” and saddles.
- If a road is nearby, lie face down along the road cut or in the ditch on the uphill side. Cover yourself with anything that will shield you from the fire's heat.
- If hiking in the backcountry, seek a depression with sparse fuel. Clear fuel away from the area while the fire is approaching and then lie face down in the depression and cover yourself. Stay down until after the fire passes! Read more.
- If you are near water (lake, river, swimming pool) submerge as much as possible. Try to avoid coming to the surface when the fire passes, as the heat can sear your lungs.
5. Know How to React if You're Trapped at Home
Those who find themselves trapped by wildfire inside their homes should stay inside and away from outside walls. Close doors, but leave them unlocked. Keep the entire family together, and remain calm. Continue reading here.
6. Know What to Do if You're Asked to Go
If you choose to go or if officials ask you to leave, it's time to put your family's planning into practice:
- Don't panic; remember your family's evacuation plan.
- An evacuation plan increases your chance of wildfire survival. Via firesafetyandsuppression.com
- Grab your family's “To Go Kit,” including your Financial First Aid Kit.
- Prepare your pets to travel with you.
- Turn off gas so you can prevent an explosion.
- Leave garden tools attached to outside faucets to assist firefighters if necessary.
- Drive with your headlights on so other evacuees can see you through any smoke.
- Be sure to follow directions of law enforcement at all times.
- Keep your car windows rolled up to prevent embers from entering your vehicle.
- Choose the safest route. Watch for changes in fire and smoke direction.
- Keep a close eye on your pets and monitor their reaction to any smoke.
This is the simplest step. Go! Evacuate early, before the fire arrives. By leaving early, you give your family the best chance of surviving a wildfire, while helping firefighters by keeping roads clear of congestion, enabling them to move more freely and do their job. Read more here.
What to Do After a Wildfire
- After the fire passes, proceed upwind, against the direction the fire is moving and where the fire has already burned through the natural fuel in its path.
- Seek emergency help as soon as possible. It’s likely you’ll have thermal burns that need to be treated, dehydrated, suffering from smoke inhalation, or in shock. See more here.
- Don't return home until you're told it's safe to do so.
- Check roofs and attics for hot spots or sparks and extinguish them immediately. Continue checking every few hours for a day.
- Use caution when entering a building and avoid all standing water. It may have an electrical charge.
- Check all utilities and consult a professional if damage has been done. See more.
From before a wildfire occurs, to being caught in it, preparedness is the key to survival. For this, you will need to be informed. These wildfire survival tips should cover your preparedness and survival know-how. Use this information responsibly and keep you and your family safe!
What would you do yourself in a wildfire survival situation? We would appreciate your smart ideas in the comments section below!
If you’re looking for useful survival gear that you can’t make at home, check out the Survival Life Store!
The contents of this article are for informational purposes only. Please read our full disclaimer.
Editor’s Note: This post was originally published on July 14, 2017, and has been updated for quality and relevancy.
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