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Here is what to do when fire weather watch has been announced or if the area is already threatened by a wildfire. Once it’s over, here’s what to know and do.

Know the Wildfire Warnings and Watches

Here are the definitions from the National Weather Service:

  • Red Flag Warning: Take Action. Be extremely careful with open flames. NWS issues a Red Flag Warning, in conjunction with land management agencies, to alert land managers to an ongoing or imminent critical fire weather pattern. NWS issues a Red Flag Warning when fire conditions are ongoing or expected to occur within the next 24 hours.
  • Fire Weather Watch: Be Prepared. A Watch alerts land managers that upcoming weather conditions could result in critical fire weather conditions, which are expected to develop in the next 12 to 48 hours, but not more than 72 hours. In cases of dry lightning, a Fire Weather Watch may be issued for the next 12 hours.
  • Extreme Fire Behavior: This implies a wildfire raging out of control. It is often hard to predict these fires because they behave erratically, sometimes dangerously. One or more of the following criteria must be met:
    • Moving fast: High rate of spread
    • Prolific crowning and/or spotting
    • Presence of fire whirls
    • Strong convection column

For more information on fire alerts and ratings, visit the USDA’s Forest Service’s National Fire Danger Rating System page.

During a Wildfire

WHN TIP — Follow Evacuation Orders: If ordered to evacuate during a wildfire, do it immediately. Notify a friend or family member where you are going and when you have arrived.

Ready.gov has the following recommendations if a wildfire is in your area:

  • Be ready to evacuate on short notice.
  • If you see a wildfire and haven’t received evacuation orders yet, call 9-1-1. Don’t assume that someone else has already called.
  • If you or someone you are with has been burned, call 9-1-1 or seek help immediately; cool and cover burns to reduce the chance of further injury or infection.

If you have time, FEMA’s How to Prepare for a Wildfire recommends the following steps:

  • Turn on lights outside and in every room to make the house more visible in heavy smoke.
  • Close all windows, vents, doors, and fireplace screens. This will help reduce drafts in the home and reduce radiant heat.
  • Disconnect automatic garage door openers so doors can be opened by hand if you lose power.
  • Move flammable furniture, including outdoor furniture, into the center of the home away from windows and sliding glass doors. Remove flammable curtains and window treatments.
  • Connect garden hoses. Fill garbage cans, tubs, or other large containers with water.
  • Shut off natural gas from the source, and move propane or fuel oil supplies away from the house.
  • Follow any additional guidance provided by local authorities.

Evacuating? Follow these tips from FEMA’s How to Prepare for a Wildfire:

  • Roll up windows and close air vents because smoke from a fire can irritate your eyes and respiratory system.
  • Drive slowly with your headlights on because smoke can reduce visibility.
  • Watch for other vehicles, pedestrians, and fleeing animals.
  • Avoid driving through heavy smoke, if possible.

Trapped in your home? Here’s what to do, says FEMA’s How to Prepare for a Wildfire:

  • Call 911, provide your location, and explain your situation.
  • Turn on the lights to increase the visibility of your home in heavy smoke.
  • Keep doors, windows, vents, and fire screens closed. Keep your doors unlocked.
  • Move flammable materials (e.g., curtains, furniture) away from windows and sliding glass doors.
  • Fill sinks and tubs with water.
  • Stay inside, away from outside walls and windows.

After a Wildfire

WHN TIP — Wait for the “All Clear”: Don’t return home until the authorities say it is safe. Fires can restart, structures may be compromised and there is always the danger of flooding or mudslides after a rain.

  • For several hours after the fire, maintain a “fire watch.” Check and re-check for smoke, sparks or hidden embers throughout the house, including the roof and the attic.
  • Use caution when entering burned areas as hazards may still exist, including hot spots, which can flare up without warning.
  • Evacuate immediately if you smell smoke.
  • Discard food exposed to heat, smoke, or soot. Don’t drink, brush teeth, prepare food, or wash/bathe in water until officials indicate the water source is safe.
  • Follow the recommendations from your local health department. For example, authorities may recommend tetanus shots because bacteria may be present in contaminated soil.

WHN Expert TIP – Cleaning Up Soot: Here are tips from ServPro on how to clean up after a fire or deal with water damage: