According to the National Interagency Fire Center, nearly 50,000 fires occurred in 2020, wreaking havoc on almost 9 million acres of land. The damage from these wildfires was catastrophic. With such dangers from wildfires looming, it’s natural to wonder how to stay safe during wildfire season.
Staying safe during wildfire season is in many ways a matter of paying attention and taking appropriate action to weather cues. While wildfire damage to your home and other property is certainly a concern, the most important thing is to keep yourself and your family safe from harm, especially during the dry wildfire season from August to November. Here are three things you should do to protect yourself from wildfires.
1. Stock up on protective equipment
Prior to the onset of wildfire season, there are some essentials worth stocking up on. This way, you have the most important items you’ll need if wildfires compromise your air quality or cut you off from easily getting provisions.
- Portable air cleaner to cleanse indoor environment from distant wildfire smoke
- Enough respirators for your family, bearing in mind that respirators are not made for children
- Nonperishable food
- Pet food and supplies
- Bottled water, planning for approximately 1 gallon of water per person per day
- First-aid kit, OTC medicine, and prescription medications
- Important paperwork in a fire-resistant box
Ideally, you want enough supplies to subsist for two weeks if your exit routes were cut off from wildfires. Minimally, stockpile enough to last for three days.
2. Create an emergency plan and exit routes
Part of disaster preparedness is knowing how to make a safe exit. Identify evacuation routes from your home, work, school, daycare, or any other place that you or your family frequent. Also, make a plan to evacuate your pets. A trick for remembering what you need to gather in case of evacuation is the six P’s:
- People and pets
- Papers (important documents and phone numbers)
- Prescription medications and eyeglasses
- Pictures and other irreplaceable mementos
- Personal computer
- Plastic (credit cards or cash)
While there may be other useful items to take with you, the six P’s cover the most important.
Designate an emergency meeting place outside your home in case you and your family are separated. You should also designate an emergency contact person that is a relative or close friend that resides outside your home. That person should be made aware that they are serving as emergency contact and be kept up-to-date with your family’s numbers.
Periodically practice your evacuation plan, annually at a minimum and quarterly as ideal. A practice evacuation should always precede the onset of wildfire season. This helps you to stay safe during wildfire season by refreshing evacuation protocols before you are most likely to need to remember them.
3. Stay safe during a wildfire until help arrives
If you become trapped in a wildfire, the most important thing to do is stay calm and call 911 to alert authorities of the emergency and your location. Keep in mind that grassland burns for approximately 10 minutes, brush burns for 20 minutes, and forests can burn for an hour or more.
If you are home and wildfires are nearing with no possible escape route, turn on your sprinklers or hose down the lawn around the home and the home itself. Close up doors and windows, placing wet blankets or towels around the edges. Fill the bathtub, buckets, and other containers with water.
Put on long sleeves, pants, and boots. Keep a bandana, handkerchief, or other cloth handy to cover your nose and mouth in the presence of smoke. Then, find an area of the house to watch the progress of the fire. If your home catches fire, look for an opportunity to exit into a region of earth that has already burned.
If you’re caught outside or must move outside, look for an area that is not combustible or has the least amount of burnable material. Parking lots, ponds or streams, and even well-manicured lawns or golf courses are good possibilities. These are your best bets to stay safe during wildfire season and to survive wildfires.