Wildfire Preparation and Survival: Protecting Yourself and Your Property

Wildfire Preparation and Survival: Protecting Yourself and Your Property

Wildfires are unpredictable and can spread rapidly – devouring everything in their path – highlighting the urgent need for preparedness. While the summer months typically see a spike, making them a top summer survival threat, it’s important to remember wildfires can ignite in any season.

The 2018 Camp Fire – the deadliest in U.S. history – that claimed at least 85 lives and reduced the city of Paradise, CA to ash occurred in November.

Wildfires have become more frequent and more intense in recent years, and they’re encroaching more on populated areas, posing a significant threat to both lives and property. The devastating consequences of these infernos have captured international attention, leaving behind a trail of destruction that takes years to recover from.

As the risk of wildfires continues to escalate, the key to surviving the fiery onslaught is thorough preparedness and taking proactive measures. In this blog post we'll discuss wildfire preparation and strategies for survival.

Minimizing the Risk of Wildfires – The Homeowner's Handbook

Create a Defensible Space:

Preparation is half the battle, and there are many steps you can take to make your home safer when it comes to wildfires. This is particularly important if you live in a wildfire prone area. However, wildfires are unpredictable, can happen anywhere, and no one is off the hook.

The first line of defense is creating what’s called a “defensible space” – a buffer zone designed to slow or stop the spread of the fire. Start by clearing combustible materials like dry leaves, branches, and dead vegetation within 30 feet of your home. Carefully plan landscaping within 30 feet of your home as well (more on that below). Trim trees vigilantly and keep branches at least 10 feet away (farther is better) from the roof and chimney to minimize the risk of sparks igniting your home. Properly store firewood and propane tanks away from structures to prevent them from becoming fuel for the fire.

Hardening Your Home:

Building or retrofitting your home with fire-resistant materials can provide a serious extra layer of protection.

For instance, one man told Builder Magazine when a wildfire swept through his neighborhood in Napa, CA, a lot of other homes in the fire’s path burned to the ground but his did not. Why?

“I had Cultured Stone all over the outside,” he said. “The fire just flashed right over it but did no harm. It caused just slight discoloration in some places.”

Choose fire-resistant materials for your roof, siding, and deck with a Class A fire rating. Choose double pane or tempered glass over single pane. Choose non-flammable shutters over traditional cloth curtains. Cover outdoor vents with 1/8-inch wire mesh screens to prevent embers from gaining access inside.

Regularly cleaning gutters, roofs, and vents of debris further reduces the chance of igniting embers from gaining access to your home.

On the other side of the equation, installing spark arrestors on chimneys and stovepipes is a Smokey the Bear approved and simple yet effective measure to safeguard against potential embers escaping your home and becoming a fire hazard.

Landscaping Techniques for Wildfire Safety:

Careful consideration of the plants and landscaping around your property can significantly impact your vulnerability to wildfires. Look for fire-resistant plants and trees and minimize the presence of flammable vegetation to help reduce the risk of fire engulfing your surroundings and spreading to your home. While no plant is fireproof, it is possible to create a fire-smart yard.

For instance, if you live in a dry area prone to wildfires, you wouldn't want to line your yard with Juniper trees – they're dense, dry, and full of volatile oils that could turn your hedge into a wall of flame and block your escape.

Agave plants on the other hand, are succulents, meaning they store water in their leaves, stems, or roots. This makes them less prone to ignition and they can even help slow the spread of a fire – making them much better fire-safe sentinels than Juniper. Select fire-resistant plant species for your defensible zone.

Finally, if possible, maintain an irrigation system like a network of lawn sprinklers and have a water source in your yard.

The above measures combined will give your home a fighting chance.

Preparing for a Wildfire

Evacuation Planning:

This is one of THE most important steps when it comes to wildfire preparedness. Map out evacuation routes and identify multiple options – this could make the difference between life and death. Familiarize yourself with the best escape routes until you know them like the back of your hand.

There's a chance not all family members will be home when an evacuation order is given, so it's important to establish a family meeting point outside the evacuation zone. Prepare alternate plans for pets and livestock and familiarize yourself with the locations of local evacuation centers and shelters.

Stock Up on Supplies and Have Your Go Bag Ready to GO:

If an evacuation order is given, you need to leave immediately – that's why it's crucial to have an emergency supply kit packed and ready to go at a moment's notice. But what should you include?

First, the basics – enough non-perishable food and water for at least 3 days. A comprehensive emergency supply kit should also include a first aid kit, medications or asthma inhalers, and personal hygiene items. Other supplies to add to your kit include flashlights, batteries, a battery-operated radio, and backup power banks. Staying connected could be your lifeline. Have ID’s, passports, birth certificates and other important documents packed and ready to go.

Before you flee, dress in long sleeves, pants, and sturdy shoes. Protective gear like respirator masks, goggles, and gloves can help you safely evacuate when there's already radiant heat and smoke in the area you're fleeing.

Surviving a Wildfire

It can't be stressed enough – it is critical to act quickly and follow the instructions provided by the authorities, especially evacuating immediately. Be hyper-vigilant about staying tuned to the current fire situation and potential changes so you stay a half step ahead of the threat. Remember: the best-case scenario for survival is to avoid getting trapped.

If You're Trapped in Your Home:

If, despite your best efforts, you find yourself trapped during a wildfire, there are measures you can take to increase your chances of survival.

If a fire is approaching, turn on all the lawn sprinklers if available to wet your surroundings. Shut off natural gas and propane valves, reducing the risk of explosions.

Call 911 and inform the authorities of your location. Fill sinks and tubs with cold water as an extra source of emergency water. Keep doors and windows closed but unlocked to allow access for firefighters if needed. Turn on exterior and interior lights to make your house more visible to firefighters through heavy smoke or darkness.

Remove flammable window treatments if you have them, have a fire extinguisher at the ready, and know how to use it. Move furniture away from sliding glass doors or big windows so they don't catch fire from radiant heat. Shut off whole house fans to avoid bringing in smoke and ash. Try to remain calm and keep your family together. Stay inside your home, away from outside walls and windows, until help arrives.

If You’re Trapped in Your Vehicle:

The odds are severely stacked against you – but here too, you have the chance to make decisions that could save your life.

  • Stay Calm: Maintain focus and try not to panic. Your ability to think clearly is vital.
  • Increase Visibility: Turn on your hazard lights and headlights. This helps emergency responders spot you.
  • Seal Vehicle: Keep all windows and doors closed to prevent smoke and flames from entering the vehicle.
  • Park Strategically: Try to park your vehicle in an area with minimal vegetation, like a clearing, rocky area, or parking lot. Even better if you can park behind a natural firebreak, in an already burned area, or behind an obstacle like a concrete wall.
  • Stay Low: Heat and smoke rise, so stay low to the ground, especially below the windows.
  • Cover Up: Use a wool blanket, coat, or other thick material to help protect yourself from heat and embers. Do NOT use synthetic blankets which will melt and cause severe burns. Do not wet the fabric, which could produce searing steam.
  • Breathe Through a Cloth: If possible, breathe through a cloth to filter out smoke particles and protect your lungs.
  • Call for Help: Use your cellphone to call emergency services if possible. Provide them with your exact location and situation.
  • Wait for Help: Stay inside your vehicle until help arrives and follow their instructions carefully. Do not attempt to leave the vehicle until you've been instructed to do so by a professional.

If You’re Trapped on Foot:

This is also a desperate survival situation, but quick thinking and a heck of a lot of luck could save your life.  

  • Stay Calm: It’s critical to keep your composure to be able think clearly and make smart decisions.
  • Move to Non-Vegetative Ground: Aim for areas without vegetation, such as rockslides or bodies of water, which are less likely to catch fire.
  • Avoid Canyons or Saddles: These areas can quickly fill with fire due to the chimney effect.
  • Protect Your Lungs: Use a cloth or bandana to cover your mouth and nose, filtering out smoke particles.
  • Check the Wind and Keep Moving: If safe locations are not available, try moving perpendicular to the wildfire's path to reduce exposure to flames, smoke, and heat, and increase chances of rescue.
  • Lie Low if Trapped: Find an area with minimal vegetation, lie down, and cover yourself with soil or heavy clothing if escape isn't possible.
  • Inform Authorities: Contact authorities if possible, provide your location, and inform them of your situation.

Conclusion: Preparing for the Unpredictable

In the face of wildfires, preparation and quick action are crucial. By following these guidelines and taking necessary precautions, homeowners can increase their ability to prepare for and survive wildfires. So, create your personalized plan, stay vigilant, and remember – through preparedness, you can reduce the threat of wildfires.

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1 comment

Very good info. Several things I had forgotten.

Ward cook

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