The last few weeks have been a harsh reminder that the threat of wildfires for those close to high-risk areas is very real. As we’ve seen, fire can escalate rapidly and without control. If you aren’t prepared for these scenarios in advance, it can have devastating consequences.
The following provides some safety considerations, tips and best practices should you find yourself in the path of a wildfire—or any fire for that matter. This is provided for information only and should not replace the advice or guidance of your local fire and safety personnel
Before a Fire
- Know your community’s evacuation plans and any alternative routes to leave your area.
- Gather emergency supplies such as flashlights, first aid kits, fire extinguishers (that are checked regularly) and N95 respirator masks.
- Keep important documents in a fireproof, safe place. Create password-protected digital copies.
- Find an outdoor water source with a hose that can reach any area of your property.
- Create a fire-resistant zone that is free of leaves, debris, or flammable materials for at least 30 feet from your home.
- Use fire-resistant materials to build, renovate or make repairs.
- Review insurance coverage to make sure it is enough to replace your property.
Some Home Considerations:
- Find two ways to get out of each room in the event the primary exit is blocked by fire or smoke (secondary route might be a window onto a neighboring roof or a collapsible ladder for escape from upper story windows)
- Make sure that windows are not stuck, screens can be taken out quickly, and security bars can be properly opened.
- Practice feeling your way out of the house in the dark or with your eyes closed.
For more information about preparing your home for fire (creating a defensible space, using fire-retardant building materials), see the Cal Fire website.
During a Fire
- Evacuate your property immediately if authorities tell you to do so.
- If you are not ordered to evacuate but smoky conditions exist, stay inside in a safe location or go to a community building where smoke levels are lower.
- Listen to EAS, NOAA Weather Radio, or local alerting systems for current emergency information and instructions.
- Use a N95 masks to keep harmful particles out of the air you breathe.
- Fire is fast—In less than 30 seconds a small flame can turn into a major fire (it only takes minutes for a structure to engulf in flames and fill with smoke)
- Fire is hot— Room temperatures in a fire can be 100 degrees at floor level and rise to 600 degrees at eye level (inhaling super-hot air will scorch your lungs and melt clothes to your skin)
- Fire creates blinding smoke—fire starts bright and quickly produces black smoke which creates complete darkness.
- Fire smoke can be fatal—smoke and toxic gases kill more people than flames do because of poisonous gases (asphyxiation is the leading cause of fire deaths, exceeding burns)
After a Fire
- Listen to authorities to find out when it is safe to return, and whether water is safe to drink.
- Avoid hot ash, charred trees, smoldering debris, and live embers. The ground may contain heat pockets that can burn you or spark another fire. Consider the danger to pets and livestock.
- Send text messages or use social media to reach out to family and friends. Phone systems are often busy following a disaster. Make calls only in emergencies.
- Wear a respirator mask to minimize breathing particles.
Be sure to document property damage with photographs. Conduct an inventory and contact your insurance broker for assistance.
Additionally, wildfires dramatically change landscape and ground conditions, which can lead to increased risk of flooding due to heavy rains, flash flooding and mudflows. Flood risk remains significantly higher until vegetation is restored—up to 5 years after a wildfire. Consider purchasing flood insurance if you are in a high risk area.
Beyond all, listen to your local fire and safety personnel and follow their instructions—it could save your life. If you have questions about your current property or would like more information, please don’t hesitate to reach out to me.