Wildfires can occur anywhere and can destroy homes, businesses, infrastructure, natural resources, and agriculture. How to Prepare for a Wildfire explains how to protect yourself and your property, and details the steps to take now so that you can act quickly when you, your home, or your business is in danger.
A wildfire is an unplanned, unwanted fire burning in a natural area, such as a forest, grassland, or prairie. As building development expands into these areas, homes and business may be situated in or near areas susceptible to wildfires. This is called the wildland urban interface. Wildfires can damage natural resources, destroy homes, and threaten the safety of the public and the firefighters who protect forests and communities.
Wildfires can occur at any time throughout the year, but the potential is always higher during periods with little or no rainfall, which make brush, grass, and trees dry and burn more easily. High winds can also contribute to spreading the fire. Your community may have a designated wildfire season when the risk is particularly high.
Wildfires can occur anywhere in the country. They can start in remote wilderness areas, in national parks, or even in your backyard. Wildfires can start from natural causes, such as lightning, but most are caused by humans, either accidentally— from cigarettes, campfires, or outdoor burning—or intentionally.
Federal suppression costs typically range from $1 billion to nearly $2 billion each year.
The destruction caused by wildfires depends on the size of the fire, the landscape, the amount of fuel—such as trees and structures—in the path of the fire, and the direction and intensity of the wind.
– Wildfires can cause death or injury to people and animals.
– Structures may be damaged or destroyed.
– Transportation, gas, power, communications, and other services may be disrupted.
– Flying embers can set fire to buildings more than a mile away from the wildfire itself.
– Smoke can cause health issues for people, even for those far away from the fire.
– Extensive acreage can be burned, damaging watersheds and critical natural areas.
– Flash flooding and mudslides can result from fire damage to the surrounding landscape.
– Wildfires can affect the land for many years, including causing changes to the soil that increase the risk of future floods.
When a wildfire threatens your area, the best action to protect yourself and your family is to evacuate early to avoid being trapped. If there is smoke, drive carefully because visibility may be reduced. Keep your headlights on and watch for other vehicles and fleeing wildlife or livestock.
DEFENSIBLE SPACE AND FIRE-RESISTANT MATERIALS
Your goal now, before a fire happens, is to make your home or business and the surrounding area more resistant to catching fire and burning. This means reducing the amount of material that can burn easily in and around your home or business by clearing away debris and other flammable materials, and using fire-resistant materials for landscaping and construction.
Review your homeowners or renters insurance policy to ensure that you have adequate coverage for your property and personal belongings.
The National Weather Service (NWS) of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) issues notices when weather conditions such as strong wind, low relative humidity, and high temperatures make wildfires more likely. During these dangerous periods, NWS urges everyone to use extreme caution because a simple spark can cause a major wildfire.
Watches, warnings, and evacuation notices are science-based predictions that are intended to provide adequate time for evacuation. Individuals who delay leaving may find themselves trapped. Download the Be Smart. Know Your Alerts and Warnings document at www.ready.gov/prepare for a summary of available notifications.
NWS issues a fire weather watch when potentially dangerous fire weather conditions are possible over the next 12 to 72 hours.
NWS issues a fire weather warning or red flag when fire danger exists and weather patterns that support wildfires are either occurring or expected to occur within 24 hours. Authorities may issue a fire weather watch before a warning, but a warning may also be the initial notification.
Your community may also use the National Fire Danger Rating System to provide a daily estimate of the fire danger (i.e., low, moderate, high, very high, and extreme). For more information, visit: www.fs.usda.gov/detail/inyo/ home/?cid=stelprdb5173311.
If the danger is imminent, local authorities may issue an evacuation notice to alert residents that a fire is nearby and it is important to leave the area. Evacuation orders vary by state and community and may range from voluntary to mandatory. When authorities issue a mandatory evacuation notice, leave the area immediately.
TAKE ACTION NOW!
Protecting yourself today means having sources for information, preparing your home or workplace, developing an emergency communications plan, and knowing what to do when a wildfire is approaching your home or community. Taking action today can save lives and property.
KNOW Know how to stay informed. Receiving timely information about weather conditions or other emergency events can make all the difference in knowing when to take action to be safe.
– Monitor the weather reports provided by your local news radio and TV stations.
– Many communities have text or email alerting systems for emergency notifications. To find out what alerts are available in your area, do an Internet search with your town, city, or county name and the word “alerts.”
– Consider buying a NOAA Weather Radio (NWR) All Hazards receiver, which receives broadcast alerts directly from NWS. You can purchase these at many retail outlets, such as electronics and big box stores, or online. Some NWR receivers are designed to work with external notification devices with visual and vibrating alerts for people who are deaf or hard of hearing. For more information on NWR receivers, visit www.nws.noaa.gov/nwr/nwrrcvr. htm#programming.
– Think about how you will stay informed if there is a power outage. Have extra batteries for a battery-operated radio and your cell phone. Consider having a hand crank radio or cell phone charger.
Know your evacuation routes; plan your transportation and a place to stay. To ensure you will be able to act quickly should you need to evacuate, you need to plan ahead.
– Know your community’s local evacuation plan and identify several escape routes for your location in case roads are blocked; include plans to evacuate people with disabilities and others with access or functional needs, as well as pets, service animals, and livestock.
– If you will evacuate by car, keep your car fueled and in good condition. Keep emergency supplies and a change of clothes in your car.
– If you will need to share transportation, make arrangements now. If you will need to use public transportation, including paratransit, contact your local government emergency management agency to ask how an evacuation will work, how you will get current information during an evacuation, the location of staging areas, and other information.
– If you need to relocate for an extended period of time, identify a place away from home where you could go if you had to leave. Consider family or friends who live outside of the local area.
– If you expect to go to a shelter after evacuating, download the American Red Cross Shelter Finder App at www.redcross.org/mobile-apps/shelter-finder-app. This app displays a map of all open American Red Cross shelters and provides the capacity and the current population of each shelter. You can also text SHELTER + your ZIP code to 43362 (4FEMA) to find the nearest shelter in your area.
– If you have pets and plan to go to a shelter, call to inquire whether it can accommodate pets. Shelters will accept service animals.
PR AC TICE
Practice how you will communicate with family members. In a dangerous situation, your first thoughts will be the safety of your family and friends. In case you are not together when authorities issue a fire weather watch or fire weather/ red flag warning, practice how you will communicate with each other. Remember that sending texts is often faster than making a phone call. Keep important numbers written down in your wallet, not just on your phone. It is sometimes easier to reach people outside of your local area during an emergency, so choose an out-of-town contact for all family members to call or use social media. Decide where your household members will meet. Visit www.ready.gov/make-a-plan for instructions on developing a Household Communications Plan.
Practice how to use an ABC-type fire extinguisher. Make sure that each family member knows how to use an ABC-type fire extinguisher and knows where it is kept in the house. ABC fire extinguishers use a chemical to extinguish ordinary combustibles, flammable liquids, and electrical fires. Be sure to inspect them periodically and replace them as frequently as indicated in the owner’s manual.
Practice fire prevention
– Use caution any time you use fire. Dispose of charcoal briquettes and fireplace ashes properly, never leave any outdoor fire unattended, and make sure that outdoor fires are fully extinguished and cold to the touch before leaving the area.
– Do not use welders or any equipment that creates sparks outside on dry, windy days.
– Do not park vehicles in tall, dry grass if a fire weather watch or fire weather/red flag warning has been issued. Exhaust systems are very hot and can ignite dry grass.
– Store combustible or flammable materials in approved safety containers away from the house.
– Keep the gas grill and propane tank at least 15 feet away from any structure. Clear a 15-foot area around the grill. Do not use the grill during potentially dangerous fire weather conditions. Always have a fire extinguisher or hose nearby.
– Learn how you and your family can prevent a wildfire by using fire and equipment responsibly at www.SmokeyBear.com.
Practice first aid skills and emergency response actions through training classes. In most circumstances, when someone is hurt, a person on the scene provides the first assistance, before professional help arrives. Learn and practice response skills now so you will know what to do.
– Each year, more than 3 million people gain the skills they need to prepare for and respond to emergencies through American Red Cross training classes, including first aid, automated external defibrillator (AED), and cardio-pulmonary resuscitation (CPR) training. Visit www.redcross.org/take-a-class to find out about classes in your area. Download the American Red Cross First Aid App at www.redcross.org/mobile-apps/first-aid-app.
– The Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) Program expands the emergency response network by providing training in basic response skills to community members. CERT Basic Training educates people about disaster preparedness for hazards that may affect their area and trains them in basic disaster response skills, such as fire safety, light search and rescue, team organization, and disaster medical operations. Visit www.fema.gov/ community-emergency-response-teams to find your local program.