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More and more people are making their homes in
in or near forests, rural areas, or remote mountain sites. There,
enjoy the beauty of the environment but face the very real danger of
Wildfires often begin unnoticed. They spread quickly, igniting brush,
What Are Wildfires, and What Causes Them?
There are three different classes of
"surface fire" is the most common type and burns along the
a forest, moving slowly and killing or damaging trees. A
is usually started by lightning and burns on or below the forest floor
in the human layer down to the mineral soil. "Crown fires"
rapidly by wind and move quickly by jumping along the tops of trees.
Learn if you are at risk from wildfire by
contacting your local fire
department, forestry service, or other emergency response agencies.
More than four out of every five forest
fires are started
by people. Negligent human behavior, such as smoking in
or improperly extinguishing campfires, is the cause of many forest
Another cause of forest fires is lightning.
Plan for Wildfire
Develop a Family Disaster Plan.
Please see the "Family
Disaster Plan" section for general family planning
a wildfire-specific plan. Learn about your area's wildfire
your local fire department, forestry service or other emergency
agencies for information on fire laws and wildfire risk.
If you are at risk from wilfire:
- When building or planting, consult with your
local planning and zoning
department, fire department, or local building officials.
be restrictions on the types of materials or plants used in residential
areas. Following local codes or recommendations will help reduce injury
and damage to you and your property.
- Make sure that fire vehicles can get to your
home. If wildfires
threaten, firefighters will try to reduce damage around your home.
- Clearly mark all driveway entrances and display
your name and address.
- Post fire emergency telephone numbers.
If wildfires threaten, contacting
emergency officials as quickly as possible may reduce further damage.
critical phone numbers posted will avoid wasted time looking them up.
- Plan two ways out of your neighborhood.
Your primary route may be
blocked; know another way out just in case.
- Plan your water needs. Sometimes you
may be able to fight small
fires, preventing them from becoming larger or delaying their effects
emergency responders with appropriate materials arrive on the scene.
- Identify and maintain an adequate outside water
source such as a small
pond, cistern, well, swimming pool, or hydrant.
- Keep a garden hose that is long enough to reach
any area of the home
and other structures on the property.
- Install freeze-proof exterior water outlets on
at least two sides of
the home and near other structures on the property. Install
outlets at least 50 feet from the home.
- Consider obtaining a portable gasoline-powered
water pump in case electrical
power is cut off.
- Develop an evacuation plan. (See "Evacuation"
in the "Family Disaster Plan" section.) Everyone in your family should
know where to go if they have to leave. Trying to make plans at the
minute can be upsetting and create confusion.
- Discuss wildfire with your family.
Everyone should know what to
do in case all family members are not together. Discussing wildfire
of time will help reduce fear and anxiety, and lets everyone know how
Assemble a Disaster
Please see the section "Disaster
for general supplies kit information. Wildfire-specific supplies should
include the following:
- Sturdy work clothes, gloves and boots.
- Disaster Suplies Kit basics.
- Evacuation Supply Kit.
What to Tell Children
Please see the "Fire"
section for more children's
- Practice stop, drop, and roll. Know
how to stop, drop, and roll
in case your clothes catch on fire. Stop what you are doing, drop to
ground, cover your face, and roll back and forth until the flames go
Running will only make the fire burn faster. Practicing makes the
response more of an automatic reaction, requiring less thinking time
an actual emergency situation.
- Matches and lighters are tools for "grown-ups".
These tools help
adults use fire properly. Instruct children to tell an adult right away
if they see someone playing with fire, matches, or lighters. National
Protection Association research has shown that children associate tools
with grown-ups, and "grown-up" is a term children use for someone in
- Firefighters are our friends, and they will help
in case of a fire.
Visit a fire station to help ease children's fears. A fire suit and
are often frightening and children may try to hide from a firefighter
full protective gear.
How to Protect Your Property
Houses and Buildings
- Design and landscape your home with wildfire
safety in mind. Obtain
local building codes and weed abatement ordinances for structures built
near wooded areas. There may be restrictions on the types of materials
or plants used in residential areas. Following local codes or
will help reduce injury and damage to you and your property.
- Select materials and plants that can help resist
fire rather than fuel
it. Use fire resistant or noncombustible materials (tile,
siding, brick, concrete block, or rock) on the roof and exterior
of the dwelling. Treat wood or combustible materials used in roofs,
decking, or trim with fire-retardant chemicals that have been listed by
the Underwriter's Laboratory
using wooden shakes and shingles for a roof. Use only thick, tempered
glass in large windows. Sliding glass doors are already required to be
made of tempered safety glass.
- Install electrical lines underground, if
possible. There is a greater
chance of fire from overhead lines that fall or are damaged, such as in
an earthquake or storm.
- Create a safety zone to separate your home from
combustible plants and
vegetation. (Consult your local fire department for
about the safety zone for your property.) Maintain the greatest
possible between your home and materials that may burn in wildfire.
this area, you can take steps to reduce potential exposure to flames
radiant heat. Stone walls can act as heat shields and deflect flames.
pools and patios can be a safety zone.
- If your home sits on a steep slope, standard
protective measures may
not suffice. Fire moves quickly up steep slopes. A larger
may be necessary. Contact your local fire department or forestry office
for additional information.
- Equip chimneys and stovepipes with a spark
arrester that meets the requirements
of National Fire
Code 211. (Contact your local fire department for exact
will reduce the chance of burning cinders escaping through the chimney,
starting outdoor fires.
- Have a fire extinguisher and get training from
the fire department on
how to use it. Different extinguishers operate in different
you know how to use your extinguisher, you may not be able to use it
There is no time to read directions during an emergency.
- Consider installing protective shutters or heavy
The heat from a fire creates wind, which can blow hot cinders,
large enough and with enough force to break windows. Reduce the
for these cinders to cause your home to burn.
- Keep a ladder handy that will reach the roof.
You may need to get
on the roof to wet it down or remove flammable debris.
- Keep household items handy that can be used as
fire tools: a rake, ax,
hand-saw or chain-saw, bucket, and shovel. You may need to
fires before emergency responders arrive. Having this equipment will
your efforts more effective.
Plants and Vegetation
- Plant fire-resistant shrubs and trees in your
safety zone and on the
remainder of your property. Fire-resistant plants are less
catch and spread fire closer to your home. For example, hardwood trees
are more fire-resistant than pine, evergreen, eucalyptus, or fir trees.
- Rake away leaves, dead limbs, and twigs. Remove
leaves and rubbish from
under structures and dispose of them properly. Clear all flammable
This will help reduce the fuel load.
- Have a professional tree service thin a 15-foot
space between tree crowns,
and remove limbs within 6 to 10 feet of the ground. This will
reduce the chance of fire spreading from tree to tree or from ground to
- Remove dead branches from all trees.
Dead branches are easily combustible.
- Keep all tree and shrub limbs trimmed so they
don't come in contact
with electrical wires. Electrical wires can be easily damaged
loose by swaying branches.
- Keep trees adjacent to buildings free of dead or
dying wood and moss.
Taller plants are more likely to spread fire.
- Prune tree branches and shrubs within 15 feet of
a stovepipe or chimney
Reducing Fire Hazards
- Ask the power company to clear branches from
power lines. High-voltage
power lines can be very dangerous. If a line should fall, it can cause
injury or fire to others. Only authorized and trained professionals
work around them.
- Remove vines from the walls of the home.
Even live vines can spread
- Mow and water grass regularly. This
will help reduce the fire load.
- Place propane tanks at least 30 feet from the
home or other structures.
Propane tanks can explode under certain conditions. Make sure a
valve is installed on the propane tank.
- Clear a 10-foot area around propane tanks and
the barbecue. Place a
metal screen over the grill - use nonflammable material with mesh no
than one-quarter inch. This will help reduce the chance and
the effects of fire.
- Regularly dispose of newspapers and rubbish at
an approved site.
Follow local burning regulations. Regular disposal of flammable items
reduce the fuel available for fire.
- Place stove, fireplace, and grill ashes in a
metal bucket, soak in water
for two days, then bury the cold ashes in mineral soil. Fires
quickly from hidden cinders or burnt materials that are still hot. Once
they are burned, chunks of flammable items can ignite at lower
Bury ashes to avoid potential fires.
- Stack firewood at least 30 feet away and uphill
from your home. Clear
combustible material within 20 feet of stack. Use only UL-listed wood
devices. Fire tends to travel uphill, keeping highly
and other materials above your home will reduce the effects of fire on
- Regularly clean roof and gutters.
Remove all dead limbs, needles,
and debris that spread fire.
- Place metal screens over openings to prevent
collection of litter. Cover
openings to floors, roof, and attic with screen. Use
screen beneath porches, decks, floor areas, and the home itself.
or sixteenth-inch mesh screen is better.) Leaves, branches, twigs, and
loose papers quickly increase the fuel available for a fire.
- Avoid open burning completely, especially during
the fire season.
Ash and cinders lighter than air float and may be blown into areas with
heavy fuel load, starting wildfires.
- Report hazardous conditions that could cause a
responders may be able to eliminate or reduce conditions that could
Media and Community Education Ideas
- Talk to your neighbors about wildfire safety. Plan
how the neighborhood
could work together before and after a wildfire. Make a list of your
skills, such as medical or technical. Consider how you could help
who have special needs, such as elderly or disabled persons. Make plans
to take care of children who may be on their own if parents can't get
- Publish a special section with emergency
information about wildfires.
Localize the information by printing the phone numbers of local
services offices, the American
Red Cross chapter, and hospitals. Report the areas most at
wildfires and let people know of the advantages of creating a fire
zone around structures and of using fire-resistant roofing materials
building or reroofing.
- Work with local emergency services and American
Red Cross officials to
prepare special reports for people with mobility problems on what to do
if an evacuation is ordered.
- Print local building codes and weed abatement
ordinances for structures
built near wooded areas.
- Report on the advantages of regular chimney
- Periodically inform your community of local
public warning systems.
How to Prevent Wildfire
- Build fires away from nearby trees or bushes.
Ash and cinders lighter
than air float and may be blown into areas with heavy fuel load,
- Always have a way to extinguish the fire quickly
If the fire becomes threatening, you will need to extinguish it
- Never leave a fire - even a cigarette - burning
can quickly spread out of control.
What to Do When Wildfire Threatens
- Listen regularly to local radio or television
stations for updated emergency
information. Follow the instructions of local officials.
change direction and speed suddenly. A minor threat can quickly
to a major threat. Local officials will be able to advise you of the
escape route, which may be different than you expect.
- Back your car into the garage or park it in an
open space facing the
direction of escape. Shut doors and roll up windows. Leave the key in
ignition. Close garage windows and doors, but leave them unlocked.
automatic garage door openers because power may go out. These
will make it easier to leave quickly should wildfire threaten.
- Confine pets to one room. Make plans to care for
your pets in case you
must evacuate. Pets may try to run if they feel threatened by
Keeping them inside and in one room will allow you to find them quickly
if you need to leave.
- Arrange temporary housing at a friend or
relative's home outside the
threatened area. You will be more comfortable in someone's
in a public shelter. Plus, many shelters do not allow pets.
- If you're sure you have time, take steps to
reduce the chance of your
home catching fire or lessen the amount of damage from a nearby fire.
Inside Your Home
- Shut off gas at the meter.
- Open fireplace damper. Close fireplace screens.
- Close windows, vents, doors, venetian blinds or
coverings, and heavy drapes. Remove flammable drapes and curtains.
- Move flammable furniture into the center of the
home away from windows
and sliding-glass doors.
- Close all doors and windows inside your home to
- Place valuables that will not be damaged by
water in a pool or pond.
Outside Your Home
- If hoses and adequate water are available, place
sprinklers on roofs
and on anything that might be damaged by fire.
- Seal attic and ground vents with precut plywood
or commercial seals.
- Remove combustible items from around the house,
lawn and poolside furniture,
umbrellas, tarp coverings, and firewood.
- Connect the garden hose to outside taps.
- Set up the portable gasoline-powered pump.
- Place lawn sprinklers on the roof and near
above-ground fuel tanks.
Wet the roof.
- Wet shrubs within 15 feet of the home.
- Gather fire tools.
- Be ready to evacuate all family members and pets
when the fire nears
or when instructed to do so by local officials. You may need
quickly, without much warning. There may be only minutes before the
is upon you.
- If you are trapped, crouch in a pond or river.
You cannot outrun
a fire. Cover your head and upper body with wet clothing. If water is
around, look for shelter in a cleared area or among a bed of rocks. Lie
flat and cover your body with wet clothing or soil. Breathe the air
to the ground through a wet cloth to avoid scorching lungs or inhaling
smoke. Wildfires move very fast and create their own wind, helping them
to move even faster.
What to Do if Evacuation Is Necessary
- If advised to evacuate, do so
immediately. You may have only
minutes to act. Save yourself.
- Wear protective clothing - sturdy shoes, cotton
or woolen clothing,
long pants, a long-sleeved shirt, gloves, and a handkerchief to protect
your face. Hot embers or cinders can burn your skin if you
contact with them. Smoke can make it difficult to breathe, damaging
- Take your Disaster Supplies Kit. These
items will make you more
comfortable while you are away from home.
- Lock your home. There may be others
who evacuate after you or return
before you. Secure your house as you normally would.
- Tell someone outside of the wildfire area where
you are going. Relatives
and friends will be concerned about your safety. Letting someone know
travel plans will help relieve their fear and anxiety.
- Choose a route away from fire hazards.
Watch for changes in the
speed and direction of fire and smoke. Staying as far away as possible
will provide you with the greatest safety.
What to Do After a Wildfire
- Use caution and exercise good judgment when
re-entering a burned wildland
area. Hazards may still exist, including hot spots, which can
up without warning.
- Avoid damaged or fallen power poles or lines,
and downed wires. Immediately
report electrical damage to authorities. Electric wires may
or cause further fires. If possible, remain on the scene to warn others
of the hazard until repair crews arrive.
- Be careful around burned trees and power poles.
They may have lost
stability due to fire damage.
- Watch for ash pits and mark them for safety.
Ash pits are holes
full of hot ashes, created by burned trees and stumps. You can be
burned by falling into ash pits or landing in them with your hands or
Warn your family and neighbors to keep clear of the pits.
- If a power line or pole should fall next to you,
hop out of the area.
You are less likely to be shocked if you are hopping.
Returning to Your Home
- If there is no power, check to make sure the
main breaker is on.
Fires may cause breakers to trip. If the breakers are on and power is
not present, contact the utility company.
- Inspect the roof immediately and extinguish any
sparks or embers.
Wildfires may have left burning embers that could reignite.
- For several hours afterward, recheck for smoke
and sparks throughout
the home, including the attic. The winds of wildfires can
embers anywhere. Keep checking your home for embers that could cause
- Take precautions while cleaning your property.
You may be exposed to
potential health risks from hazardous materials.
- Debris should be wetted down to minimize
health impacts from breathing
- Use a two-strap dust particulate mask with
nose clip and coveralls for
the best minimal protection.
- Wear leather gloves to protect hands from
sharp objects while removing
- Wear rubber gloves when working with outhouse
remnants, plumbing fixtures,
and sewer piping. They can contain high levels of bacteria.
- Hazardous materials such as kitchen and
bathroom cleaning products,
paint, batteries, contaminated fuel and damaged fuel containers need to
be properly handled to avoid risk. Check with local
hazardous disposal assistance.
- If you have a propane tank system, contact a
propane supplier, turn
off valves on the system, and leave valves closed until the supplier
your system. Tanks, brass and copper fittings and lines may
damaged from the heat and be unsafe. If fire burned the tank, the
relief valve probably opened and released the contents.
- If you have a heating oil tank system, contact a
heating oil supplier
for an inspection of your system before using. The tank may
or fallen from the stand and fuel lines may have kinked or weakened.
from the fire may have caused the tank to warp or bulge. Nonvented
are more likely to bulge or show signs of stress. The fire may have
or damaged fittings and filters.
- Visually check the stability of the trees.
Any tree that has been
weakened by fire may be a hazard. Winds are normally responsible for
weakened trees. The wind patterns in your area may have changed as a
of the loss of adjacent tree cover.
- Look for burns on the tree trunk. If
the bark on the trunk has been
burned off or scorched by very high temperatures completely around the
circumference, the tree will not survive. Where fire has burnt deep
the trunk, the tree should be considered unstable.
- Look for burnt roots by probing the ground
with a rod around the base
of the tree and several feet away from the base. Roots are
six to eight inches below the surface. If the roots have been burned,
should consider this tree very unstable, and it may be toppled by wind.
- A scorched tree is one that has lost part or
all of its leaves or needles.
Healthy deciduous trees are resilient and may produce new branches and
leaves as well as sprouts at the base of the tree. Evergreen trees may
survive when partially scorched. An evergreen tree that has been
by fire is subject to bark beetle attack. Please seek professional
from the forestry service concerning measures for protecting evergreens
from bark beetle attack.
- Wells at undamaged homes should be safe, unless
affected by a fuel spill.
If you are in doubt of water safety, contact your local public health
- If your house was damaged, disinfect and test
water before consumption.
The water system may have become contaminated with bacteria due to loss
of water pressure in the plumbing.
- If you use water from a public well, have a
water sample collected and
tested before allowing the water to be consumed. Water may
contaminated with bacteria due to a loss of water pressure in the
Produced by the National
Disaster Education Coalition: American
Red Cross, FEMA,
IAEM, IBHS, NFPA, NWS, USDA/CSREES,
and USGS. HTML
formating By the
From: Talking About Disaster: Guide for Standard
by the National Disaster Education Coalition, Washington, D.C., 1999.
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