What to Do Before, During and After a Wildfire
May is Wildfire Awareness Month—a time for homeowners to know what to do before, during and after a wildfire. Here is advice from Living With Fire, Ready.gov and the National Interagency Fire Center (NIFC).
View the “National Significant Wildland Fire Potential Outlook” video from the Predictive Services staff at NIFC for updates on the potential for wildfires.
Before a Wildfire
Create a defensible space around your home. This can vary depending on the dominant vegetation surrounding the home as well as the steepness of the slope, says Living With Fire. Use the online calculator to determine the recommended distance for your home.
Also, have a lean (small amount of flammable vegetation), clean (no dead vegetation or flammable debris) and green (healthy green plants that are irrigated during fire season) area about 30 feet from your home, according to Living With Fire.
Use non-combustible or fire-resistant materials such as fire-resistant roofing materials, tile, slate, sheet iron, aluminum, brick, or stone on your home’s exterior, recommends the National Interagency Fire Center. If it has highly combustible materials as part of the exterior (wood siding or cedar shakes, for example), treat them with fire retardant chemicals.
Ready.gov recommends knowing your community’s evacuation plans and find several ways to leave the area. Drive the evacuation routes and find shelter locations. Keep in mind that during a wildfire, visibility can be poor due to smoke.
During a Wildfire
Know what the evacuation terms mean and what to do when they are announced. Notifications can be delivered via PSAs on local media, the Emergency Alert System, messages over government cable channels, door-to-door alerts, and, if applicable, automatic calls to affected residents.
Here’s an evacuation terms list from Living With Fire:
Exclusion Zone: An area established by the commander in charge of the disaster scene into which entry is temporarily forbidden due to extreme danger. Only official responder vehicles are allowed entry until the situation is deemed safe again.
Evacuation Advisory: An advisory is issued when there is reason to believe the emergency will escalate and require mandatory evacuations and provides residents time to prepare for evacuation.
Voluntary Evacuation: Voluntary evacuation is used when an area will most likely be impacted and residents are willing and able to leave before the situation worsens. This is helpful for residents with medical issues, pet owners and others who need more time to evacuate.
Mandatory Evacuation: When the situation is severe and lives may be in danger, the governor has the authority to order mandatory evacuations. Should this occur, you must leave the area immediately. Follow any instructions you receive from law enforcement officers or fire officials.
Evacuate when you are told to do so, and wear a N95 respirator mask during the trip, says Ready.gov. Once at the shelter, register with personnel.
If you absolutely can’t evacuate, here’s what to do, from Living With Fire. (Download the Evacuation Guide for more advice.)
Stay indoors, call 911 and turn on all exterior lights to make your home more visible. Then, move to an interior room or hallway, but make sure you can quickly leave if the house catches fire. Drink plenty of water and wear a N95 respirator mask if needed.
Fill tubs and sinks with water, and place wet rags under doors and other openings to prevent entry of embers and smoke. Also, watch for small fires that may start inside your home and quickly extinguish them.
Wait until the fire has passed before trying to leave your home, then check your flowerbeds, roof, rain gutters, attic and crawl space for fires or burning embers and extinguish them.
If you have pets that you can’t take with you when you evacuate or if you can’t leave, bring the small ones indoors, keeping the different species separated. Even they usually get along, the stress of the situation can cause them to react differently.
Larger animals or livestock should be moved to a safe area, such as a recently grazed or mown pasture, riding arena or irrigated pasture. Leave enough feed and water for at least 48 hours. Notify either fire agency personnel (for livestock) or local animal services department (other animals) about animals you could not evacuate.
After a Wildfire
WHN Expert TIP: Watch the Video: Watch the Living With Fire video for tips: https://www.youtube.com/embed/SEqhJXKWZZc/
Post-wildfire, there’s the physical aspect of cleaning up your home and property and the emotional and psychological trauma of the experience. Reach out for counseling assistance from the American Red Cross or other disaster relief organizations.
If you left your home, notify your insurance company where they can reach you, and keep all receipts for temporary living expenses.
Wait until law enforcement officials permit you to return. Watch for charred trees or power poles, live wires, ash pits and unexpected fire flare-ups. Also, check for any burning embers on the roof, in rain gutters, on the porch, or elsewhere on your property.
If you smell gas, shut off the supply at the main valve, leave and call the gas company. If your electricity isn’t working, check the breaker first, and then call the power company.
Wear appropriate clothing: long pants, a long-sleeved shirt or jacket made of cotton or wool, a hat and boots. Ready.gov recommends a NIOSH certified-respirator dust mask — N95 or P100.
For More Information
Visit the following sites for more information and read our 3 FAQs About Wildfires post.
- Living with Fire Resources Center
- National Interagency Fire Center’s Prevention and Education section
- NFPA’s Firewise USA® website
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