Home Protection and Family Safety from Wildfires
Wildfires can devastate environments and homes. It is important to be prepared when a natural disaster occurs. Making pre-evacuation plans, preparing your home and loved ones, and knowing your area's risk for wildfires will greatly increase everyone's chance of survival.
Wildfires are uncontrollable fires, whether started naturally or by humans, that burn acres of land and residential areas. The University Corporation for Atmospheric Research states that there are three factors that shape a wildfire: fuel, heat sufficient to ignite available fuels, and oxygen. They call this a fire triangle. Removing any one of those will stop the wildfire in its tracks.
The availability of the above varies greatly by geographical region. Weather also affects how fast or slow the fire will spread. Droughts will dry out vegetation and that creates prime fuel sources for wildfires. Gases and smoke released by fires can be toxic to animals and humans and cause damage to the environment.
To learn more, visit:
- Climate Central: Drought, weather fuel record Oklahoma wildfires
- Natural History Museum of Utah: All about wildfires
Facts and Statistics
According to the National Park Service, ninety percent of all wildfires are started by people. The remaining ten percent are started by natural causes like lightning and lava. Hot lightning flashes last longer, as opposed to cold lightning which is instantaneous. Wildfires will be started when an unusually long hot lightning bolt comes in contact with an area primed to ignite.
In 2015 there were 8,834,487 acres of land in the United States were burnt by wildfires, as stated by the National Forests website. Fire is not the only problem with wildfires, as loss of vegetation can expose soil to erosion, and this can damage structures, roads, trails, water supplies, and wildlife habitats.
Idaho Public Television tells us that there are several kinds of wildfires. Wildland fires are free-burning fires, and evidence of them can be found in petrified wood from the Paleozoic Era. A wildfire is out of control and destroys areas like endangered species habitats and residential areas. A prescribed fire is a fire started and allowed to burn intentionally to help reduce the risk of more severe fires.
Fires can also be beneficial to certain areas. Lodgepole pine forests need fires in order for the cones to open and release their seeds. A ponderosa forest gets some benefits from fires because it rids the ground of competing grasses and young trees. Healthy ponderosa forests have spaced out trees so the sun can reach the ground.
Preparing Your Home for a Wildfire
While you may be evacuated because of a wildfire, your home will be left behind. The best thing to do to ensure your home has a higher chance of surviving a fire is to take precautions before one develops. The University of California Los Angeles gives the following advice:
- Put at least 100 feet between your home and forest areas by using incombustible material, such as patios, driveways, and fire-retardant plants.
- Install an ignition resistant roof on your home.
- Design the outside of your home with ember resistant materials like adobe, concrete block, or metal siding.
- Protect your windows by replacing them with double-glazed windows with tempered glass on the exterior. The faster and more affordable installation would be roll-down metal fire doors.
- Replace any wooden doors with metal doors and make sure there are no air leaks.
- Put fire dampers on all vents.
- Install sprinkler systems inside the home. Have a generator that can provide emergency electricity for any system powered by it.
Safety Tips & Prevention Resources
Now that your home is protected, it is time to think about protecting your family during a wildfire. National Weather Service has safety tips to follow should you find yourself and your family being evacuated. First, you should become familiar with watches and warnings. A warning means it is time to take action. Fire in your area is expected within 24 hours. A fire weather watch means that conditions are right for a wildfire to occur and spread rapidly. Extreme fire behavior means an existing wildfire is likely to rage out of control.
Ready gives some basic tips to follow before and during a wildfire.
Before a wildfire:
- Create an emergency plan with your family.
- Prepare an emergency kit in advance. These kits should include a flashlight, batteries, medications, water, food, and a first aid kit.
- Familiarize yourself with evacuation areas for your location.
- Turn alerts on your phone or access them on the internet to stay up-to-date.
During a wildfire:
- If you see a fire call 9-1-1. Don't assume someone has already called.
- If an evacuation is ordered, do it immediately. Be sure to inform a family member or friend of where you are going.
- If someone is burned or injured, call 9-1-1 and apply cool compresses to burns.
For more information, visit the Red Cross: Wildfire safety.
Tips and Resources for Seniors
Seniors are one of the most at-risk age groups when a wildfire comes dangerously close. Elder Affairs of the State of Florida recommends keeping a battery-powered radio nearby to keep up with all alerts and evacuation orders. If a wildfire is in the area, here are some tips to follow for seniors who live alone:
- Back the car into the garage in the direction of escape. Be sure to shut the doors and windows.
- Arrange temporary housing should you be evacuated.
- If you are advised to evacuate, wear protective clothing like sturdy shoes, cotton or woolen clothing, long pants, long sleeved shirts, gloves, and a handkerchief.
- Take your disaster supplies, which should include medications, money, water, and food.
- Lock your home and inform someone of where you are going.
- Plan a route that heads in the opposite direction of the fires.
For more ideas, go to:
- AARP: Emergency disaster preparedness plans for seniors
- Insurance Information Institute: Disaster planning for older adults
Wildfire Tips & Resources for Pets
If you have pets, it is also important to create a plan that includes them. Wildfires are dangerous for humans, so they are also dangerous for your pets. Do not leave them behind.
The Federal Alliance for Safe Homes suggests to first research ahead of time what hotels and motels in the area accept pets, should you need to evacuate. Pets are usually not allowed in evacuation centers. Be sure you also have your pet up-to-date on their vaccinations. Update any tags they need and get them fitted with a microchip. Include your pet's medical records and current picture in your emergency bag.
Be sure to also pack an emergency bag for your pet. It should include food, water, an extra leash and collar, toys, treats, and medical records.
For more information, visit:
- American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals: Disaster preparedness for pets
- National Association of Professional Pet Sitters: Pet and fire safety
Safety Tips and Resources for Kids
Going through a natural disaster, like wildfires, can be especially traumatic for children. The best way to help them is to include them in the preparations and assist them in coming to terms after a disaster.
Healthy Children states that the major hazard of wildfires for children is the smoke. Effects of the smoke can be shortness of breath, wheezing, coughing, dizziness, and burning sensations in the nose, throat, and eyes. Here are some ways to protect your child from these hazards:
- If a wildfire is occurring, stay indoors to minimize the effects of the smoke. Put on an air conditioner if you have one to circulate the air.
- Keep all windows closed if you are in a car. Use the air conditioner to re-circulate the air.
- Those with asthma and other respiratory problems are most at risk and should stay indoors for as long as possible until conditions improve.
Save the Children has a lot of great tips for parents and kids about wildfire safety. Talk to your children about wildfires and how they start, know the risk of wildfires in your area, and practice evacuation plans with your children so that everyone is prepared.
During a wildfire, keep children from breathing in any smoke caused by the fire by staying indoors as much as possible. Prepare your emergency bag before an evacuation takes place. Help them pack a bag too with familiar and comforting things that will keep stress down to a minimum.
After the wildfire, be careful when returning to a burnt area. Watch out for fallen wires and ash pits. Make sure your home is structurally sound before allowing any children to enter. Once structural integrity is confirmed, begin cleaning up while children are staying elsewhere.
For more information, visit Fire Facts: Official website on fire safety.
Tips and Resources for People with Disabilities
Those with physical disabilities are also at great risk when wildfires occur. Whether you are temporarily or permanently disabled, it is important to have a disaster plan in place. The National Fire Protection Association has a guide for those with a disability. Each disability will require special planning.
To make a disaster plan, you will need to know several things:
- Notification (What is the emergency?)
- Way finding (Where is the way out?)
- Use of the way (Can I get out by myself or do I need help?)
- Assistance (What kind of assistance might I need?)
You can now begin to create a plan for your specified disability.
For more resources, you can visit:
City of Los Angeles Department of Disability: Emergency preparedness for people with disabilities
National Service Inclusion Project: Emergency preparation and people with disabilities