Wildfire: Are You Prepared?

firefighter attempting to extinguish wildfire

More and more people are making their homes in woodland settings - in or near forests, rural areas, or remote mountain sites. There, homeowners enjoy the beauty of the environment but face the genuine danger of wildfire.

Wildfires catch our attention every year, both across the country and overseas. They move in a way that we still can't understand or predict. While a wildfire may destroy three houses in a row, it may skip over the fourth. Preparing for wildfires and reacting quickly is the only way to stand a chance in these fire-prone wildland areas.

Wildfires often begin unnoticed. They spread quickly, igniting brush, trees, and homes. Reduce your risk by preparing now - before wildfire strikes. Some climates and areas are more prone to wildfire, but the size and speed of the fire are quite unpredictable. Prepare your family and discuss what to do and where to go if wildfires threaten your area. Follow the steps listed below to protect your family, home, and property.

Wildfire Prevention

Humans start the majority of wildfires. Almost 85% of fires have origins related to humans, such as camping fires, smoking, or intentional acts of arson. To prevent wildfires, think about some of these things.

  • Don't drive on dry grass
  • Never toss cigarettes outside
  • Clean up dry vegetation from your property
  • Mow the lawn before it gets too hot outside
  • Completely extinguish any outdoor fire

When looking at buying or building a home in a wildfire-prone area, keep wildfire safety in mind. Use fire-resistant or noncombustible materials when possible on the exterior of the house. Consider fire-resistant shrubs and trees like hardwood trees in your landscaping plan.

Consult additional resources like FireWise curtained from residents, property owners, fire departments, community planners, builders, public policy officials, water authorities, architects, and others to assure safety from fire for your property.

Protect Your Home from Wildfire

Protecting your home is an important step to take. There are a few things you can do in advance, but keep in mind sometimes the safest thing to do is to evacuate.

  • Regularly clean roof and gutters.
  • Inspect chimneys at least twice a year. Clean them at least once a year. Keep the dampers in good working order. Equip chimneys and stovepipes with a spark arrester that meets the requirements of National Fire Protection Association Standard 211 (Contact your local fire department for exact specifications).
  • Use 1/8-inch mesh screen beneath porches, decks, floor areas, and the home itself. Also, screen openings to floors, roof, and attic.
  • Install a dual-sensor smoke alarm on each level of your home, especially near bedrooms; test monthly and change the batteries at least once each year.
  • Teach each family member how to use a fire extinguisher (ABC type) and show them where it's kept.
  • Keep handy household items that can double as fire tools: a rake, ax, handsaw or chain saw, bucket, and shovel.
  • Keep a ladder that will reach the roof.
  • Consider installing protective shutters or heavy fire-resistant drapes.

When Wildfire Threatens

If you know that a wildfire is threatening your area, listen to your battery-operated radio for reports and evacuation information. Follow the instructions of local officials. You can also prepare for evacuation by following these steps:

  • Back your car into the garage or park it in an open space facing the direction of escape.
  • Shut car doors and roll-up window, and leave the key in the ignition if its safe to do so.
  • Close garage windows and doors, but leave them unlocked, and disconnect automatic garage door openers.
  • Confine pets to one room. Make plans to care for your pets in case you must evacuate.
  • Arrange temporary housing at a friend or relative's home outside the threatened area.

If advised to evacuate, do so immediately!

  • Wear protective clothing - sturdy shoes, cotton or woolen clothing, long pants, a long-sleeved shirt, gloves, and a handkerchief to protect your face.
  • Take your Disaster Supplies Kit. Lock your home.
  • Tell someone when you left and where you are going.
  • Choose a route away from fire hazards.
  • Watch for changes in the speed and direction of fire and smoke.

Sometimes you have enough warning of evacuation to spend a little more time preparing your house before you leave. You can also start these steps when on pre-evacuation notice, or if you know there is a wildfire close. If you're sure you have time, take steps to protect your home.

Inside:

  • Close windows, vents, doors, blinds, or noncombustible window coverings and heavy drapes. Remove lightweight curtains.
  • Shut off all utilities if possible, including bottled gas.
  • Open fireplace damper. Close fireplace screens.
  • Move flammable furniture into the center of the home away from windows and sliding glass doors.
  • Turn on a light in each room to increase the visibility of your home in heavy smoke.

Outside:

  • Seal attic and ground vents with precut noncombustible coverings.
  • Turn off propane tanks.
  • Place combustible patio furniture inside.
  • Connect the garden hose to outside taps.
  • Set up a portable gasoline-powered pump.
  • Place lawn sprinklers on the roof and near above-ground fuel tanks. Wetting the roof may help if it is shake-shingled.
  • Wet or remove shrubs within 15 feet of the home.
  • Gather fire tools.

When wildfire threatens, you won't have time to shop or search for supplies. Assemble a Disaster Supplies Kit with items you may need if advised to evacuate. Store these supplies in sturdy, easy-to-carry containers such as backpacks, duffle bags, or trash containers.

Wildfire and other types of disasters - hurricane, flood, tornado, earthquake, hazardous materials spill, winter storm - can strike quickly and without warning. You can cope with disaster by preparing in advance and working together. Meet with your family to create a disaster plan. Practice and review these steps to help keep your family and home safe from wildfires.