Wildfires are a natural force that shapes many wild ecosystems. While wildfires are important for the world’s flora and fauna, they obviously represent a serious threat to those caught in their path. Fortunately, there are a few things you can do to help protect your property and keep your family safe from wildfires. These are some of the most important strategies and tactics:
Consult with Your Local Fire Department
It’s always wise to consult with local experts and authorities when preparing to deal with any type of emergency situation. This means chatting with your local fire department in the case of wildfires. Many fire departments in fire prone regions even maintain websites or produce literature summarizing their advice. This makes it even easier to benefit from their knowledge and expertise.
Prepare Your Home and Property
There are a variety of things you can do to help protect your home and property from burning when wildfires threaten. Most should be carried out before the beginning of wildfire season, which usually peaks in the summer. A few can be completed in the days immediately preceding the arrival of the fire.
Keep Your Lawn Watered
This can admittedly be difficult in many fire-prone regions as these places are often plagued by droughts. Often when there is a drought, it forces local officials to enact water restrictions. However, it’s worth investigating water efficient irrigation strategies like drip irrigation systems. You may also want to collect and use rainwater.
Keep Your Gutters Clean
Dead leaves often accumulate in rain gutters and all it takes is one wayward ember to cause them to burst into flames. This can cause your roof to catch fire, which will often lead to the complete loss of the house.
Clean Out the Areas Beneath Porches and Decks
Porches and decks often become choked with dead leaves and vegetation too, which may ignite as the fire creeps closer. If possible, consider enclosing these areas with latticework or screen to help prevent vegetation and debris from accumulating.
Move All Flammable Materials Away from Your Home
This includes things like wood piles and wicker furniture. Don’t forget about propane tanks, gas grills, and similar items too. Additionally, avoid mulching flower beds adjacent to your home if you live in a fire prone area. Make sure all flammable materials are at least 30 feet but preferably 50 feet away from your home.
Plant Native Fire-Resistant Plants and Trees Near Your Home
Many plants and trees have evolved one or more adaptations which help protect them from fires. Capitalize on Mother Nature’s efforts by utilizing these plants in your landscape and avoiding those species which are highly flammable.
Raise the Crowns of Your Trees
Wildfires traveling across the ground can easily jump up into trees with low hanging branches. Accordingly, you’ll want to remove all of the branches on the trees near your home that aren’t at least 10 feet off the ground.
Keep the Trees Near Your Home Pruned Away from the Roof
Fires that climb into the trees can quickly jump over to your roof via overhanging branches. Make sure that you trim back any branches near the roofline. Usually, you’ll want the branches to be at least 10 feet away from your home.
Cover All Vents and Attic Windows to Prevent Embers from Floating into Your Home
One-eighth inch metal cloth is the best material to use as it will still allow air to pass through the barrier while blocking embers and other debris. Make sure that you carefully inspect your home to ensure that all of the vents, windows, and openings are covered as some may be tucked away in hard-to-see locations.
Comply with Evacuation Orders
Part of the challenge with wildfires is that they can cut off escape routes. Some may even spread and eventually encircle entire areas leaving no safe route for local residents to use. Therefore, it’s imperative that you evacuate immediately whenever instructed to do so by local authorities.
Fortunately, wildfires often provide some advance warning of their approach and many travel in somewhat predictable ways. It’s important to stay informed to help anticipate imminent evacuation orders. This will give you more time to prepare your home and family.
Establish an Escape Plan for Your Family
Evacuation orders for flare-ups often occur when you’re separated from your spouse or children, forcing everyone to act independently. Design an emergency plan for your family if you live in an area that is susceptible to wildfires.
Identify a central rendezvous point that is easy to reach from work, home, and school. Also make sure it’s located outside the path that fires are most likely to threaten. You’ll also want to make sure that every member of your family knows two different ways to reach this point.
Once you’ve designed the plan, schedule a few practice runs to help unveil as many unforeseen problems as possible. Ensure that everyone, especially young children, will feel confident following the plan in an emergency.
Protect Your Home as Much as Possible
Always prioritize your family’s safety above material items. If your family is ready to hit the road and there’s still time, you can employ a few tips and tricks to help limit the damage possible.
Fill Your Pool and any Other Water Holding Containers with Water
The water may be useful for wetting down flammable items. Water will also help cool and dampen the immediate area as it evaporates. These areas can also serve as depositories for important items. Place the items in a few thick garbage bags and sink them to the bottom.
Close Up the House and Remove Flammable Window Coverings
Make sure that every door and window in your home is shut and locked to help prevent embers from drifting in. Also remove curtains or blinds which are often quite flammable and ignite very easily.
Turn Off the Gas, Air-Conditioner, and Attic Fan
Gas is obviously dangerous in the case of a fire, so you’ll want to shut off the supply to your house as soon as fires threaten. Turning off the fan or air conditioning unit will help reduce the amount of smoke that wafts into your home and will decrease the odds that an ember will be sucked into the system.
During the Evacuation
Once on the road, you’ll need to use great care as visibility may be poor and the roads will likely be choked with many other people attempting to flee the fire. Make sure that you follow the evacuation route identified by local authorities as some of the local roads may be closed or impassable.
Make sure to keep your headlights on so that other motorists have a better chance of seeing you. Close all of the windows and vents on the car to limit the amount of smoke your family is breathing in. If the temperatures inside the car soar, use the air conditioner set on recirculation mode.
If you become trapped in your car and unable to travel further, try to park in the lowest spot possible then lie on the floor. Cover up with blankets, sleeping bags, or anything else you may have and turn your car’s engine off. However, you’ll want to leave the lights or hazard blinkers on to help prevent collisions.
Wildfire in the Wilderness
Wildfires are frightening enough when you’re home or in your vehicle, but they can be downright terrifying when they threaten those traveling through natural habitats. You’ll be surrounded by tons of flammable materials and unlikely to find a fire-proof shelter.
Move fast to have any hope of escaping the fire’s path. Definitely try to learn as much as you can about the fire and its predicted path before heading in any particular direction. You don’t want to start walking the wrong way, thereby putting yourself in an even tougher position. Start traveling with a purpose once you’ve identified the quickest route to safety.
If you’re trapped by an encircling fire, there’s only two realistic options. First, try to seek shelter in a nearby creek, river, or lake. If there isn’t one nearby, you’ll need to find the lowest and best shielded ground possible. Dig into the ground and hope that the fire goes over you. Once you’re as low as possible, try to cover yourself with a blanket or anything else that’s available.
Wildfires strike an instinctual fear in people. However, they usually come with some warning. Prepare your home, family, and an emergency plan now. Don’t panic when a warning is given from authorities. Use your common sense to get out of the path. Place the priority on getting your family away from the wildfire rather than on protecting your material objects.
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