Be Aware and Prepare
If you live in an area that is susceptible to wildfire, it can be scary. Your best course of action is to know the risk, be aware and prepare for wildfires.
For our last seven years in Oregon, we lived in a wonderful little town of 2500 people called Estacada. It is a beautiful place with tall pine trees and meandering rivers. They call it the gateway to the Clackamas River recreation area and it truly is a place of beauty. I still miss the sound of those tall pines swaying in the wind.
Three days before we moved to Texas a wildfire started about 10 miles Southeast of town. It was my first exposure to a wildfire so close to home. The first day it happened I walked out of my church and the sky was filled with smoke. There was so much smoke that I could look right at the sun. A few of our friends that lived closer to the danger had to evacuate their home, pets, and livestock.
Our little home in the woods was not in danger, but the heavy smoke was constant reminder that wildfires can happen at any time.
What is a wildfire? A any unplanned, unwanted fire burning in a forest, grassland, prairie, or natural area. 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.
Know the Risk: wildfire preparedness before you need it
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.
So far this year (March 2017) the United States has hit a wildfire record with the most acres burned (2,166,002). On average there are 160.9 acres burned per fire. (source)
Protect Yourself from Wildfire
The following are things you can do to protect yourself, your family and your property in the event of a fire. This list may seem overwhelming, but don’t despair. The key is to take it a bite at a time.
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 by clearing away debris and other flammable materials, and using fire-resistant materials for landscaping and construction.
- To begin preparing, you should build an emergency kit and make a family communications plan.
- Know the risk. 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.
- Design and landscape your home with wildfire safety in mind. Select materials and plants that can help contain fire rather than fuel it.
- Use fire-resistant or noncombustible materials on the roof and exterior structure of the dwelling, or treat wood or combustible material used in roofs, siding, decking or trim with fire-retardant chemicals evaluated by a nationally recognized laboratory, such as Underwriters Laboratories (UL).
- Plant fire-resistant shrubs and trees. For example, hardwood trees are less flammable than pine, evergreen, eucalyptus or fir trees.
- Regularly clean roof and gutters.
- Inspect chimneys at least twice a year. Clean them at least once a year. Keep the dampers in good working order. Equip chimneys and stovepipes with a spark arrester that meets the requirements of National Fire Protection Association Standard 211. (Contact your local fire department for exact specifications.)
- Use 1/8-inch mesh screen beneath porches, decks, floor areas, and the home itself. Also, screen openings to floors, roof and attic.
- Install a dual-sensor smoke alarm on each level of your home, especially near bedrooms; test monthly and change the batteries at least once each year.
- Teach each family member how to use a fire extinguisher (ABC type) and show them where it’s kept.
- Keep handy household items that can be used as fire tools: a rake, axe, handsaw or chain saw, bucket and shovel.
- Keep a ladder that will reach the roof.
- Consider installing protective shutters or heavy fire-resistant drapes.
- Clear items that will burn from around the house, including wood piles, lawn furniture, barbecue grills, tarp coverings, etc. Move them outside of your defensible space.
Plan Your Water Needs
- Identify and maintain an adequate outside water source such as a small pond, cistern, well, swimming pool, or hydrant.
- Have a garden hose that is long enough to reach any area of the home and other structures on the property. When evacuating, leave hoses connected to a water source so that they are available for firefighters
- Install freeze-proof exterior water outlets on at least two sides of the home and near other structures on the property. Install additional outlets at least 50 feet from the home.
- Consider obtaining a portable gasoline powered pump in case electrical power is cut off.
A great resource for proper planning is www.firewise.org which has outstanding information used daily by residents, property owners, fire departments, community planners, builders, public policy officials, water authorities, architects and others to assure safety from fire – it really works. Firewise workshops are offered for free all across the nation in communities large and small and free Firewise materials can be obtained easily by anyone interested.
Store emergency supplies in case you need to evacuate
Be ready to grab your supplies quickly if you need to evacuate and know in advance what else you will need to take. Take time now to make a list of the things you would need or want to take with you if you had to leave your home quickly.
Store the basic emergency supplies in your “Go Bag” or other container and be ready to grab other essential items quickly before leaving. Remember to include specialized items for people with disabilities and others with access or functional needs, such as older adults, children, and those with Limited English Proficiency.
For a full list of supplies for your emergency supply kit – Starting Your 72-Hour Kit. When making your list, consider the Five Ps of Evacuation: People, Prescriptions, Papers, Personal Needs, Priceless Items.
Learn more by downloading the FEMA publication, How to Prepare for a Wildfire. It has everything you need to know to be proactive before a wildfire, how evaluate your risk factor, and what do do during and after the event.
The Red Cross has a Wildfire App for your smartphone, do you have it installed? Set up alerts for your specific area. While you’re at it, head on over to the Facebook page for your local fire department and give them a like. The local firefighters will be your best source of information if a fire starts in your area and things turn “dark.”