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Anatomy of a Wildfire Homeowners; Wildfire Prevention is the First Step How to Survive a Wildfire
How to Survive an Approaching Wildfire in Your Home Wildfire Protection Plan Wildfire Risk Assessment


What Are Wildfires?

Wildfires are fires that initially spring up in wilderness areas. They can occur in forests, brush land, or even on open plains. The great danger to any wildfire is that it will spread from uninhabited areas to places where people live. When a wildfire spreads to inhabited spots, the potential for loss of life and property damage is great. The wildfires that have recently caused so much destruction in California are a reminder that Mother Nature has a mean streak.

One of the worst wildfires to occur in the United States happened in northern Wisconsin in 1871. It had been very dry and hot, and it is thought that the high winds that accompanied a cold front fanned several smaller fires into the firestorm. Up to 2,500 people died in the Pestigo fire.

Where Can Wildfires Happen?

Except for the desert regions of the United States, wildfires can occur almost anywhere in the country. They are most likely to occur in regions where the weather has been dry for a long time and the temperature high and where there is available fuel, such as trees, brush, or grass. The place that can be most dangerous during a wildfire situation is where the wilderness meets the suburbs. There is fuel available both from natural and manmade sources here.

What To Do In Case Of A Wildfire

When you and your family are confronted with a wildfire situation, you will probably need to get out of the area as quickly as possible. These fires can race along at the speed of the wind, so you can actually get a wildfire that can tear along at 30 miles per hour or more.

Families seldom spend their entire day together, there is school, work, and shopping. Before a wildfire strikes make plans. You should have a plan that will be instituted if you are all at home, and a plan that will enable you to get together if scattered. The plan should include meeting places both in your neighborhood and outside of it. Once the fire is racing through your neighborhood, you will not be able to search for stray family members. The best way to ensure everyone’s safety is to make sure they know where to go.

Emergency Kit

As with so many other situations, having an emergency kit ready to roll will help make your evacuation easier. Have the kit situated near the door in a backpack or other easily carried container. There should be bottled water in it, emergency food, copies of medical prescriptions, and first aid kit.

It would also be helpful if you have some extra blankets and clothing either in the car, or ready to be taken in the event of an evacuation.

Also, be sure that there is gas in the car at all times when there is the danger of wildfire, at a time like this, it would not do to run out of gas.

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Protecting Your Home Against Fires

Anatomy of a Wildfire Homeowners; Wildfire Prevention is the First Step How to Survive a Wildfire

The Anatomy of a Wildfire

Wildfires are defines as a raging and fast-spreading fire, creating risk for people who own homes, enjoy camping and travelling in wilderness settings, such as the wooded areas or grasslands.

Since many outdoor enthusiasts live or camp in these areas, you may be at risk. Making yourself aware Knowing the characteristics and causes of wildfires will ensure that you survive a wildfire disaster.

Wildfires have become a potential, natural hazard in many areas of the United States. This is very true of areas in which natural ecosystems become in contact with human development. Negative wildfire impact on naturally forested and grassy areas include: soil erosion, landslides and mudslides, and the supplanting of native plant growth with alien and invasive vegetation.

The United States Geological Survey, or USGS, along with the United States Forest Service, has a major role in providing the needed information by identifying risks and reducing the hazards of wildfires. By supporting the firefighting effort in a real-time basis, and also making assessments of a wildfire's devastation, the ultimate goal is build ecosystems and better prepared communities.

Natural Fire: Fire is a beneficial process in the natural world. In a sense, it "cleans house" by burning off built up organic matter than can be a source of fuel for a wildfire. Historically, natural fire suppression has led to many severe fires since vegetation build-up has created even more fuel for wildfires.

Three ingredients required for a fire to occur:

  • Oxygen
  • Heat
  • Fuel

Heat: There must be a source of heat to ignite a fire. Heat is necessary for the maintenance of the established fire, and permitting it to spread. Heat will remove the moisture from other nearby fuel sources, warm air in the immediate vicinity, and also heat up all fuel in its path. This will enable the fire to move on easily.

Fuel: Anything that can burst into flame serves as fuel for a fire. Its usefulness in sustaining fire is determined by how much moisture it contains. The size, shape, quantity, and disbursement of the fuel in a given area is also important.

Oxygen: Air used in combustion is made up of 21% oxygen content. Fires need approximately 16% oxygen to maintain a good burn. The fire's need for oxygen is to maintain the chemical process of oxidation that takes place in a wilderness fire. Burning fuel reacts with the oxygen in the air, and releases heat and production of other heat releasing products, such as embers.

Fact: 90% of wildfires that occur are due to the actions of human beings.

For more information on wildfires and survival during fire disaster:

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For Homeowners: Preventing and Minimizing a Wildfire- The First Steps to Survival

Author’s note: This article is based in part on an interview with Daniel Berlant of the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection(Cal Fire), who was kind enough to offer his expertise and time.

Woodland settings are picturesque spots for living and raising a family. There’s no doubt that Americans are in love with the idea of combining nature and the homestead. According to a study cited by FEMA, over 44 million residences in the lower 48 states are located in “wildland-urban” zones, where homes meet or intermingle with wild land vegetation.

As we continue to creep into the wilderness, an added risk comes with the pleasing view. More and more people are experiencing first-hand the raw power of nature as wildfires ravage neighborhoods tucked in these scenic vistas.

Wildfires differ vastly from the typical household fire. Most of us are trained to prevent and spot household fires.  We regularly put batteries in our smoke detectors, place fire extinguishers near hazardous locations and teach family members fire safety tips.

But fire sources like wildfires, are another story.  These require different skill sets, new survival techniques and advanced preparation. According to Cal Fire’s Daniel Berlant, “The danger with wildfires is not only external, but also internal. Intense heat of the fire outdoors can cause combustion and fire inside our homes”.  Embers are another factor and account for two-thirds of property loss in wildfires. Even after a wildfire has burned through the area, the potential for fire still may exist due to smoldering embers.

Prevention is the First Step:

1.  Cut back the vegetation.  Those who protect a 100 foot perimeter around their home fare far better in avoiding fire or saving their home. Some states (like California) require 100 feet of “defensible space” for this very reason. 

2.  Remove all fuel sources around the home by eliminating all flammable vegetation 30 feet around the home. This doesn’t imply a barren landscape, but do avoid dry leaves, vines and or tall grasses.

3.   Select fire-resistant landscaping plants. Water regularly. Avoid flammable pines, conifers, and eucalyptus.

4.   In the next 70 feet surrounding your property, carefully maintain landscaping to create a reduced fuel zone. 

5.   Since most fires start low and ascend, remove tree branches that are lower than 6 feet.

6.   Don’t surround trees with bushes or plants that can spread fire upwards into the tree branches.

7.   Check gutters regularly for debris and keep clean.  

8.   Place non-flammable mesh screens over chimneys and stovepipes.

9.   Choose fireproof building materials. Pick non-combustible materials for construction or remodeling. Sheet iron, brick, stone, tile, slate or aluminum reduce wildfire hazards.

10. Woodpiles for fireplaces should be outside the 100 foot defensible space. The best option for piles of kindling is to store in a fire resistant outbuilding, well distanced from the home.

11. Combustible exterior materials should be treated with fire-retardant chemicals.

12. Secure appliances to walls or floor. This is especially important in earthquake prone areas.

13. Keep a bucket, shovel, garden hose and rake handy for fighting fires.

14. Make sure all outside faucets work.

15. Installing a roof sprinkler system, according to structural and urban interface fire fighter, Brent Stainer, is worthwhile to prevent damage from embers.

16. Maintain fire awareness and prevention. Replace batteries regularly on smoke detectors. Place several charged fire extinguishers around your home, especially near flammables. Keep a fire extinguisher and flashlights (with batteries) in your vehicle.

17. Keep flashlights readily available throughout the home. Check batteries often.

18. Use a flammable cabinet to store combustibles. Keep doors closed.

19. Patio decks should be bricked in to prevent fire from burning underneath.

20. Write a family plan that includes escape routes and contact numbers. Conduct drills to practice. Drive the routes for evacuation prior to an emergency.

21. Create a survival kit that includes a 3 day supply of food and water and other necessities to sustain your family in the event roads are impassable or you must shelter elsewhere.  

22. Make a checklist of everything to take with you.

23. Fire blankets should be considered for those in high risk areas. While they won’t protect you from smoke inhalation, they can prevent some thermal burns. Opt for non-wool, high temperature tested fire blankets. Don’t let these give you a false sense of security. Use them only for emergencies.

24. Keep cell phones charged and fuel in vehicles.

25. Store important papers and photos in a fire proof safe.

26. Emergency water supplies should be adequate for firefighters.  Community fire hydrants, an emergency storage tank shared with neighbors or large bodies of water (such as swimming pools or ponds) are usually acceptable sources for fighting fire.  

27. Power failures can make well pumps inoperable. Plan accordingly by having a backup generator. Clearly mark all water sources and keep the route accessible.

28. Have a first aid kit well stocked with essentials. In the event of a fire, you may have to administer assistance to the injured until rescuers arrive. Make certain your kit has pain relievers, burn spray and wound dressings.

29. Take CPR and first aid classes as a family.  Teach your family how to use fire extinguishers.

If you are faithful in following these measures, you’ll greatly reduce the chances of property damages or human casualties which are the first steps in wildfire survival.

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How to Survive a Wildfire

Like a wall of roaring flames, a wildfire can be a violent and fast moving death trap. Annually, forest fires account for billions of dollars in damages. Many people, especially those who underestimate the force and intensity of these fires, become trapped or tragic fatalities.

Understanding wildfires, as with any crisis, is vital to increasing survival. In February 2009, Australia experienced their most deadly wildfire episode. The “Black Saturday” fires left over 200 dead, many of them too charred to identify and thousands homeless, as 400 fires swept through the bush, devouring towns.

Most individuals had a plan that included fire safety. For many, it was simply- to evacuate and quickly. Others, faced with multiple fast moving infernos, little advance notice and fire blocked exit routes were trapped and became victims.

A few became survivors. Amidst the ash raining down and trees exploding from heat, they took quick, life saving action. A mother and her children crawled into the safety of a wombat’s burrow. Two men took refuge in a drainage pipe, rolling in water as flames approached. Another man, avoided death by jumping into his swimming pool, while fire engulfed the area, destroying his neighbor’s home.

The best and surest means to survive a wildfire is to escape well in advance. However, often that is not possible. Wildfire can jump, suddenly across streams and bare areas.

What you should know about wildfires:

·     Given wind and the right conditions, forest fires can move quicker than we can run. Gusty winds can propel a fire at amazing speeds. According to studies conducted after Black Saturday, the fire traveled at an average 5 miles per hour. In bursts it was capable of crossing a third of a mile (600 meters) in 30 seconds. Like fire ridden Australia, California suffers a similar event due to mountain winds that push fires with lightening speeds.

·     Ahead of the larger fire, there may be additional fires.

·     As in the case of the Black Saturday tragedy, these smaller pockets of fire cut off roadways by merging with the larger fire.

·     Out running or escaping by car isn’t always possible. Vehicles have been burnt to the frames as people tried to drive away and became trapped.

·     Digging a trench that fire can’t cross is also not advised. Large fires can and will jump these.

What can you do to escape?

  • Choose downhill, not uphill routes if possible. Fire moves faster uphill due to updrafts.
  • Select areas without fuel for fire- barren, plowed fields, riverbeds, ponds, rocky areas.
  • 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 were said to reach temperatures of as much as 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.
  • Where there is no hope of escape, seek shelter in the ground. Scary as it sounds to let the flames roar by you, sometimes out distancing a fire is impossible and this becomes a better live 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 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.
  • If you are near water (lake, river, swimming pool) submerge as much as possible. Try to avoid coming to the surface when fire passes, as the heat can sear your lungs.
  • After the fire passes, proceed upwind, against the direction the fire is moving and where fuel has been already consumed by the flames.
  • Seek emergency help as soon as possible. It’s likely you’ll have thermal burns that need to be treated or may be dehydrated, suffering from smoke inhalation or in shock.

Remember, the best way to survive this or any emergency is with preparation. Make a plan with your family that includes wildfire threats if you live in or are visiting an area with forest fire potential. Have an exit route that includes areas with little vegetation. If possible, select two different routes in case one is blocked by fire.

Invest in a heat resistant non-wool fire blanket to take with you when camping. Choose fire blankets tested to withstand high temperatures. Pack a first aid kit that contains pain meds and burn spray.  Always pay attention to dry conditions that may precede fires. When coupled with very arid, drought-like weather, lightening strikes are exceedingly dangerous and may prompt a sudden wildfire. Use caution with campfires. Obey laws prohibiting fire.

Know where large bodies of water are and how to get to them quickly. Observe trees and choose to camp in dry conditions near water or by deciduous (leafy) forests, away from pines. If a fire has been spotted, even many miles away- monitor events closely. Ash that collects on near surfaces is a sign to evacuate, as wind direction will soon bring the fire or burning embers to you.

There is no safety substitute for early evacuation. Be ready to leave promptly if authorities alert you to do so or if conditions appear dangerous. The best way to survive a wildfire is avoiding the hazard altogether.

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How to Survive an Approaching Wildfire in Your Home Wildfire Protection Plan Wildfire Risk Assessment

How to Survive an Approaching Wildfire in Your Home

There has been a recent shift in wildfire policies in the United States recently. Research has shown evacuations save lives and allows emergency workers the ability to concentrate on fighting the fires. In spite of this data, studies show up to an alarming 60 percent of homeowners would stay behind and fight fires produced by wildfires.

That, according to Daniel Berlant of the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection(Cal Fire), is a dangerous practice, putting not only the lives of homeowners in jeopardy, but also rescue workers in grave risk.

There is no doubt that prompt evacuation is the best and only plan to avoid the dangers of a wildfire. As Berlant states, “Building a fire shelter is never meant to be a plan.” Neither is fighting a fire for untrained homeowners.

With this in mind, please be aware the other techniques listed in this article are only for advanced crisis situations – if you become trapped.

In addition, there are many preventative measures homeowners in fire zones can do to help prevent a wildfire or to minimize its impact. As with all emergencies, wildfire survival is based on prevention and knowledge.

Basic Information:

  • Most fires, even wildfires, are caused by man. 4 out of 5 are the direct result of human beings.
  • Lightning strikes are the second most common cause of forest fires. Hence, be wary of any storm front that produces lightening when in wildfire prone areas.
  • California has engineered a wildfire protection plan, “Ready, Set, Go”, advising citizens to prepare by applying fire resistant techniques to their property, gather emergency supplies, and then to evacuate once a wildfire threatens.
  • Warnings to evacuate vary greatly in the amount of time given to residents- as little as a few minutes to several hours.Be vigilant to conditions during fire season and ready to leave quickly.
  • Wildfires are capable of great speeds. Propelled by wind currents and the right fuel, they have been known to cover a third of a mile in less than a half a minute.
  • Embers, which account for most property damage, can be sent ahead of a wildfire a quarter of a mile or more.
  • After a fire has burned through, embers still pose a significant fire risk to homeowners. Even hours later, they can start a fire. Usually they are trapped in outside structural material, but they can also travel into the home through openings in windows or doors.
  • External property damage is apparent, as flames lick outsides of buildings. However, the intense heat of wildfires can also cause combustion indoors- even when flames have not permeated the home.
  • Some wildfires exceed temperatures of 1,200 degrees.
  • In some cases, because you can’t usually outrun a wildfire, taking shelter in a home is better than attempting to flee on foot.

Potential Evacuation:

  • Follow your plan. Stay calm!
  • Use your checklist to make sure you have everything in your survival kit assembled.
  • Put survival kit items in vehicle.
  • Face vehicle toward road. Hang on to keys. Make sure cell phone is charged and with you.
  • Gather family and pets.
  • Move any flammables away from buildings (such as gas grills). Close propane value tightly.
  • Shut off natural or LPG gas to the house. Turn off pilot light.
  • Connect garden hoses and fill buckets of water.
  • Keep the house well lit and the exit route doors unlocked and unblocked.
  • Close windows and fireplace flue, turn air conditioning off. Plug up vents in attic. (This keeps airborne embers from entering).
  • Move flammable furniture away from windows and exterior walls and to the center of the rooms.
  • Take curtains off windows. Close metal blinds to keep heat out.
  • Wear long pants, closed toe, heavy soled shoes and long sleeves and eye protection. Cover your hair in a hat. Use a dry cloth to protect your face. (Wet fabric against skin can cause steam burns in high heat).
  • AVOID any synthetic clothing, such as nylon, which can melt in high temperatures to your skin.Cotton clothing is best.
  • Listen to regular updates from authorities!
  • Stay watchful of the surroundings.


  • If you are advised to evacuate, do so immediately.
  • Listen to routes suggested by officials.
  • If you leave prior to a mandatory evacuation, pick an exit route that takes you away from the fire and is free of falling debris (like trees) that can block your path.
  • Homes that are protected by people do stand a better chance of surviving. BUT don’t attempt fire fighting if ordered to evacuate or if conditions worsen rapidly before an evacuation is in effect. Belongings can be replaced, people can’t.
  • Listen to community updates.

Emergency Techniques if You Get Trapped in Your Home:

  • Keep a level head.
  • Family members should stay together.
  • Call 911 immediately. Tell authorities where you are currently seeking refuge in your home, along with the address and your condition.
  • Stay with your family in one protected area, away from windows and outside walls.
  • If you know the direction the fire is coming from, move to the opposite part of the home, (but away from windows and outside walls.)
  • Immediately fill sinks, tubs and any containers with cold water. Keep a bucket to bail water nearby.
  • If the power goes out, the well pump may not work. If you can’t get to the generator or don’t have one- scoop water with small containers from the back and bowl of the toilets and fill a bucket. Take all the ice out of the freezer and put in containers to use as it melts. This won’t make up for a tub of water, but it will buy you time to douse small fires until help comes.
  • Keep flashlights with you.
  • Leave exterior doors unlocked, but closed. Keep lights on.
  • Close all windows and interior doors. This will help contain any fires, as well as keep the heat and smoke compartmentalized.
  • Stay away from windows and outside walls. Windows can shatter from heat.
  • Stay low if smoke fills the room. Keep your face covered.
  • Extinguish any small fires that appear with water, fire extinguishers or using a fire blanket.
  • If you have a roof sprinkler system, activate it.
  • It will become hot in the home, but the heat will only be more intense outdoors.
  • Keep exit routes clear.
  • Only leave your home if it catches on fire.
  • Stay inside until help comes or the fire passes.

After the fire has moved on, it’s vital to check the entire exterior, especially the roof. Look for burning embers or smoldering areas under decks, in attics and throughout yard. Have fire fighters assess your home’s safety.

Remember, if you’ve already cleared a 100 foot wide perimeter of defensible space, free of fuel for wildfires, your home (and you, if you’re trapped inside) won’t be as likely to sustain serious damages. Don’t turn your sprinkler system on when evacuating, as it can lower water pressure for fire fighters. However, if you are trapped in a life or death situation, use of these can save you. While these tips will offer aid in dire emergencies, there is no substitute for prompt evacuation.

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Wildfire Protection Plan

If you see that a fire is approaching your home or community, immediately call 911 or the emergency number for your area.  If it’s safe to do so and you have time before the fire gets too close, take the following precautions:
  • Keep all windows and doors tightly closed.
  • Cover air vents, windows, and other openings with duct tape or pieces of pre-cut plywood.
  • Park your vehicle in an easily accessible location so you can leave quickly, if necessary.  Keep the car doors unlocked and leave the keys in the ignition.  Keep the car windows closed and place valuable objects in the car ahead of time. 
  • Turn off gas pipes and place all propane stoves or grills a safe distance away from your home.
  • Turn on all the lights in your home, including the porch, garage, and yard.  Inside your house, move flammable objects such as curtains and small furniture away from the windows.
  • In front of your house, place a ladder that leads to your roof.
  • If possible, place lawn sprinklers on the roof of your house and turn on the water.
  • Move any flammable items a safe distance away from your home, such as stacked firewood or patio furniture.
  • Find a safe place for you, your family, and your pets to flee to.
  • Thanks to your emergency radio, you can listen to a local radio station to stay up-to-date on the fire and any road closures.
What to Do Next; How to protect yourself and your ho me during a Forest Fire or Wildfire
  • Listen to a local radio station.
  • Be ready to evacuate immediately if advised to do so.  If you’re told to leave your home by authorities, leave!
  • Keep all doors and windows tightly shut.
  • Remove drapes, curtains, awnings, and any other potentially flammable window coverings.
  • Keep all available lights on to increase visibility in case your house in engulfed in smoke.
  • If your water supply is sufficient, turn on your lawn sprinklers and focus on wetting your house’s roof and other waterproof valuables.
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Wildfire Risk Assessment

  Wildfires are a natural hazard in woodland or grassland areas.

Quick Facts about Wildfires and how to assess their risks

  • Fires caused by lightning account for 45% of fires, however, because they occur in remote regions and often in clusters, they represent 81% of burnt areas.

  • Fires caused by humans account for the other 55%. However, these tend to occur in occupied regions and are generally extinguished quickly.

How to Prepare for a Wildfire

If your community is surrounded by shrubbery, or woodland and grassland areas, following these instructions to protect your family and home from possible wildfires:
  • Prepare an emergency kit.
  • Remove possible fire hazards from around your house such as branches, dried leaves, and other debris.
  • Purchase a good sprinkler and place it in an easily accessible area.
  • Learn fire prevention techniques and share these with the other members of your family.
  • Practice fire drills regularly with your family.
  • Prepare a first-aid kit so that you can treat any injuries until medical help arrives.
  • Plan out an evacuation route and ensure that every member of your family knows how to safely exit the house during a fire.
  • Create an emergency plan and ensure that your family will know how to find each other and communicate in case they are separated.
  • Teach all members of your family the STOP, DROP, and ROLL method in case their clothing catches on fire.
  • Check your house to make sure that each room and each floor has a smoke detector.
  • Contact your local fire department for fire prevention tips specific to your home or area.
  • If you own a farm or ranch, it’s probably best not to shelter your animals during a wildfire because the shelter may catch on fire and your livestock may be burned alive.  Instead, leave your livestock free or if time permits, evacuate them to a safe region.
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