Wildfires pose increasing danger for many areas across the U.S. Over 70,000 communities are currently affected, and these numbers may increase as climate change and weather patterns amplify hazardous conditions. Whether you live in a high risk area or not, make sure you know the essentials of wildfire prevention and preparation.
Basic Prevention Tips
Check with your local government to see if you live in a place with wildfire seasons, and stay updated on risk levels. Any area can be susceptible, including urban spaces, especially if they're experiencing light rainfall and high winds, which can lead to conditions where debris, leaves, and grass burn quickly.
While lightning and other natural sources can cause wildfires, many are instigated by human error or recklessness. Learn how to extinguish a camp or cooking fire properly, and always check to see if fire bans are in effect. Also, practice safe smoking habits: butt out cigarettes and other smoking materials, and refrain from ashing around anything that can catch fire easily.
You can’t always control whether a fire is started in your area, but you can protect your home with prevention strategies. Clear and rake any leaves or dry vegetation that fall on your lawn, porch, deck, and gutters. If possible, keep grass, shrubs, and plants well-watered and prune low branches on trees.
Any flammable debris should be collected and disposed of properly. Keep any wood or propane tanks at least 30 feet away from your home and other buildings. Install fireproof wire mesh under deck spaces and any openings to the house like chimneys, attic vents, soffits, and eaves to prevent sparks from entering the home.
Consider investing in an indoor sprinkler system, and check your home insurance policy to make sure you are fully covered for fires.
It’s difficult to act rationally when a fire breaks out, so have a plan ahead of time. Get a small kit ready with supplies like water, medication, and first aid items. Collect all important documents and identification so you can access them quickly, and backup any important papers on a hard drive or cloud system in case they're lost in a fire.
The most important part is developing and practicing an evacuation plan. Make sure all members of the family are aware of the procedure to get out of the house safely, including two ways to get out of the house, as well as out of the surrounding neighborhood. Remember to designate a meeting place in case anyone gets lost. Include details in your plan for pets and livestock.
If you know a wildfire is imminent, err on the side of leaving as early as possible, and prepare yourself well before evacuation orders are given. Getting on the road quickly can help you avoid traffic and congestion, lessen those conditions for others, and clear the way for emergency vehicles.
Pack your car with emergency kits, N95 masks, food, water, and travel items, and prep your home and property ahead of time. Close up your house, shutting windows, doors, garages, sheds, and any other air spaces.
Fill any large containers like pools, hot tubs, and buckets with water, and make sure hoses are connected in case firefighters need to use them. Stay tuned to local media and news reports for updates on the situation, and only return home once authorities say it is safe to do so.
Contact your municipality regarding fire prevention in your area, as every community may be a little different in terms of evacuation procedures and how news is shared. For additional information, check with the National Fire Protection Association, Ready.gov, and/or your local government website.
Radio stations, local news sites, and social media are good sources for emergency warnings and announcements. Contact your local fire department for useful information, follow them online if you can, and consider talking with or joining a homeowner association.
It doesn’t take long for a wildfire to create a massive amount of destruction, but by respecting and adhering to burn laws and fire bans, we can all minimize the chance of accidentally starting one. As flames continue to destroy communities across the world, everyone should do their part to prevent and prepare for wildfires, before and after they get out of control.