What Should You Do During a Wildfire?

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“It was so frightening that I couldn’t even cry.”

Santa Clarita Fire (AP)
Associated Press

That was one woman’s reaction to the brushfire in Santa Clarita, California earlier this week. As of yesterday afternoon, the fire was 95% contained. Firefighters are currently working to extinguish the remainder of the flames.

We’re not even into July, and already there have been 2,486 wildfires in California in this year. The report from NBC Los Angeles says that number is “up from 1,654 the state has averaged over the last five years.” So far 8,600 acres have burned.

Wildfires can happen anywhere. And, more often than not (try 90% more often), these fires are started by humans. Nature plays her part in starting fires, too, such as lightning strikes or super-duper hot weather. Whether it’s intentional (ie. arson), from lack of caution and fire safety (such as while out camping), humans are a big contributor to the roughly 1.2 million acres burned each year in the United States. To put that into contrast, 1.2 million acres burning up is like the entire state of Delaware being torched. Sure, it’s not a huge state, but with a population nearing 1 million people, that’s a lot of livelihood. Southern California alone has over 22 million people, and its dry, hot climate makes it extremely prone to wildfires.

Wildfires are fast. They can travel at speeds of 14 miles an hour (without wind), engulfing everything in its path. 14 miles an hour might not seem fast when you’re driving in your car, but when you’re running…that’s quite a pace to keep up. 14 miles an hour just got very, very tiring. That’s one reason wildfires are so dangerous. They can catch up to you without much warning.

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How are you supposed to prepare for a wildfire? First off, you should plan ahead so you know what to do when one does come. If you don’t, you could end up like this family:

 

 

As seen in this video, not planning can result in a very scary, dangerous situation. So please, plan ahead!

You should also do things aside from just putting your plan on paper. Make sure the surrounding area of your home is free of debris and dead grass, trees, and anything else that can be used as fire fodder. Having well-watered grass can slow the approach of fire, too.

Fire Approaching House (NY Times)
New York Times

Once the fire gets too close and evacuation warnings are issued, strongly consider leaving your home. As per your plan you just made in regards to wildfires, grab your most important documents and belongings, hop in your car, and get out of there. Your own safety is far more important than your possessions.

That being said, you may have the desire to stick around and defend your home. You can do that, but beware: it was very dangerous, especially if you don’t know exactly what you need to do. Perhaps I’ll write up a “How to Defend Your Home from Invading Forest Fires” blog in the near future, but until you know what to do, it’s better to be safe.

Now, before we get too carried away in our loathing of these wildfires, there is a bit more information you might want to be made aware of. Although wildfires can be quite dangerous and destructive to us humans, they actually play a very important role in nature. National Geographic teaches us that

“[Wildfires] return nutrients to the soil by burning dead or decaying matter. They also act as a disinfectant, removing disease-ridden plants and harmful insects from a forest ecosystem. And by burning through thick canopies and brushy undergrowth, wildfires allow sunlight to reach the forest floor, enabling a new generation of seedlings to grow.”

That’s not to say we should be starting fires all over the place. Au contraire, we should do all we can to avoid igniting wildfires in the first place. After all, Smokey the Bear believes that “only you can prevent wildfires.” And, while natural fires benefit nature, man-made fires do not.

 

Have you been threatened by a wildfire? What did you do to prepare?

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4 Responses

  • The 14 MPH is not true. We had one here in Washington a few years ago. The wind was blowing 60MPH and the fire was doing the same!!!
    I saw the fire truck go past my house. When I opened the door to see where the fire was a deputy was on the bottom step. He told me I had 10 minutes to get out. I grabbed my dog and my BOB and left. Fire made it to my fence line 60 yards from the buildings. It turned south and missed me. I was in God’s hands that night.

    • Good point! I should have clarified: Fires can travel around 14 MPH without wind. As you mentioned, wind speed definitely plays a large factor in higher fire speeds. Thanks for pointing that out!

  • Here in Eastern WA state we already have several LARGE fires going. Metal roof and metal siding can protect your home…to a degree. Clearing the space around your home is a must, NO compromise. If you stack firewood, keep it away from your home and barns.

    Oh and btw…..we once clocked the winds at 80 mph!

    Semper Fi!

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