A wildfire, sometimes known as a wild land fire, is an area of combustible vegetation occurring in rural areas. An element will cause a spark to hit these, sometimes very dry areas, setting off a wildfire. Wildfires can cause absolute chaos and devastation wherever they strike. Instances are recorded all around the world, and alarmingly they are not an uncommon.
It is said that every year wildfires burn through more than a million acres of woodland. Although they can be caused by natural occurrences, the majority of the time it is us humans who cause a wildfire, for example, due to a campfire, cigarette, or the sparks from a train’s exhaust. Sometimes it is even due to arson. Having said this, in the last few years there has been an increased amount of naturally occurring wildfires. This increase has been linked to the changing climates of certain countries, in particular regions with mild, wet winters and warm, dry summers such as Spain, Portugal, Greece, Chile, Australia and South Africa.
Sadly, in recent years there has been an increase in fatalities caused by wildfires. Believe it or not, wildfires do provide benefits to the ecosystem, as they help wipe out dead trees and dying plant matter, returning nutrients from the remaining ash back to the soil. Of course, this does not mean wildfires should be started on purpose, these are dangerous physical forces. If you did find yourself up against a wildfire, would you know what to do? It is crucial that the right techniques are followed swiftly and accurately, to help prevent injury or even death. With this in mind, in this article, we are going to go through some advice with regards to keeping safe when a wildfire strikes.
Evacuating The Area
Firstly, and this may seem obvious, but it can not be stressed enough, in the event of a wildfire, when you are out in the open, get out of the area straight away, hang around for nothing. In situations like this, moments count. There is a reason that the expression ‘spreads like wildfire’ exists, it will spread very fast.
Did you know that a wildfire can travel at speeds of 14 miles an hour? If you’re on foot, you’ll find it nigh on impossible to outrun. With strong winds in play they can spread even faster! These fires can move unpredictably and engulf everything in their path in a short time. No matter where you were, or what you were doing and no matter what equipment or possessions you are leaving behind, do not go back to the scene of the wildfire, for anything.
Remember, at the end of the day, possessions are all replaceable, your life is not. Your priority is getting yourself to a safe place. If you are in your home listen out for advice on if your area has been recommended to evacuate. You should keep real-time sources of official updates active, such as radio, TV and the internet so the moment you are advised to make a move you are ready. Of course, you should keep your own wits about, in the event you are unable to get such information and be ready to make a move if it becomes no longer safe to stay in your home.
If you do need to evacuate then again you need to act fast. If you have some time before the evacuation (for example you have been given an advanced warning by officials that you will need to evacuate, but not just yet) there are some precautions you can take to help ensure the survival of your home.
For starters, make sure to shut all windows and close all doors, however, do not lock them. Also remove any flammable window shades, curtains and close metal shutters, as well as any other lightweight curtains. All flammable furniture should be moved to the center of the room so it is not near any windows or doors. Remember to shut off the gas at the meter and turn off pilot lights. Also, shut off any air conditioning. You should, however, leave your main house lights on so that firefighters can see your house under any smoky conditions.
Outside your house, check for any flammable items that may have been left out, bring them inside, or if you have a pool, place them in there. Turn off propane tanks and move propane BBQ appliances away from structures. Connect garden hoses to outside water valves or spigots for use by the firefighters. Fill water buckets and place them around your house. Do not leave sprinklers or water running, as they can affect critical water pressure. If you have outside lights, leave these on so that firefighters can use them to see in the smoke or darkness of the night. If a ladder is available, place it at the corner of the house for firefighters to quickly access your roof.
It is recommended to seal attic and ground vents with pre-cut plywood or commercial seals. If you have an Emergency Supply kit, take this with you. If you have a vehicle, back it into a driveway, and close all windows and doors, keep your car keys on you. Check your neighbors are aware of the situation and make sure they are also getting ready to leave. Locate any pets and try and keep them nearby, if you have farm animals prepare them for transport and think about moving them to a safe location ahead of time. I mentioned about taking an Emergency Supply kit with – official advice highly recommend this. This kit is something that should be prepared and ready in your house in case of an event such as a wildfire evacuation.
The recommended contents of the kit is as follows; three-day non-perishable food and three gallons of water per person, a map with at least two evacuation routes marked, any required prescriptions or special medications, a change of clothing, extra eyeglasses or contact lenses if applicable, an extra set of car keys, credit cards, cash or traveler’s checks, first aid kit, flashlight, battery-powered raid and extra batteries (be a good means of keeping up to date on the situation), sanitation supplies, copies of any important documents such as birth certificates and passports, plus pet food and water if you have pets with you.
Not the essentials, but if time allows you can pack family photos, and other sentimental items, personal files on hard drives, USB sticks, disks, memory cards, etc and chargers for cell phones, laptops etc. If you find yourself trapped in a car, and unable to move to a safer clearing or building (a structure would offer more protection than a car) try to find a place with no vegetation to park and stay in the car, at least this way you will not be directly exposed to any flames or radiant heat. Once you are in your car, you should get yourself under any blankets or coats you have available, wool-based materials are the best if possible, and lie on the floor.
Furthermore, follow these tips; turn on headlights and emergency flashers to help make your car more visible in heavy smoke, keep all windows and doors closed, shut off air vents and turn off the air conditioner. Stay in your vehicle until the passes and the outside temperature has dropped, then get out and seek a safe area that has already been burned and unlikely to re-spark.
Finding The Right Area For Safety
The area you are heading to needs to be a wildfire safe zone, that is to say, it should be a surrounding where a wildfire will be powerless to reach. For example, safe areas would include rivers, lakes and areas free from combustible materials.
Along with your route to safety, you should avoid chutes, draws and canyons as they act like chimneys, pumping deadly heat up the hills. Another technique is to search for ground that the wildfire has already burned through, but make sure there are no signs of residual fuel that could still reignite. Also, keep in mind the area will still be very, very hot, due to the debris made up of scorched rock, timber and earth. Assess the area carefully, and what you touch.
Another danger is that objects around the clearing could fall down, such as trees and branches, so keep a strong eye out for these hazards. Once your down and waiting for the fire to pass, lie low to the ground and cover yourself with wet clothes, blanket or soil. Furthermore, try and protect your lungs by breathing the air that is closest to the ground, through a moist cloth if one is available. You can use your top to cover your mouth with to help keep yourself from inhaling large particulate as you are moving around.
Another option to seek shelter would be to build an emergency fire shelter yourself. Usually, as a last resort, firefighters use a fire shelter, a portable dome-shaped section of foil covering, to hide under whilst the fire passes over. These shelters are supposed to be able to reflect 95% of radiant heat and withstand heats up to 500 degrees. You must note that these cannot withstand sustained contact with flames, but could help provide some protection. They are not fail-safe equipment, whilst they will protect against the radiant heat and intermittent flames – if flames come in direct contact with the aluminium covering, the shelter is won’t last long.
Due to their material, they are quite lightweight making them very portable. The fire shelter is constructed with layers of aluminium foil, woven silica and fibreglass. Once deployed, the maximum dimensions are 86in. x 15.5in x 31in. (approx 218.44cm x 39.37cm x 78.74cm. The shape is described as being like a mould. To help with portability, the shelter can be packed into a carrying case, in this instance, its dimensions are 8.5in x 5.5in x 4inc (approx, 21.59cm x 13.97cm x 10.18cm). Anyone is able to purchase a fire shelter for themselves, there are plenty of online shops offering them for sale.
Regarding cost, you’ll likely be looking around $400. In 2002 a new generation of fire shelters was released with a mind to replace the old style, these shelters are shaped like a pup-tent and once again can be packed into a carrying case. The dimensions are smaller than that of the original designs, thereby improving portability even further. These can range in price from anything from$50 to much higher.
Whichever type of shelter you choose to invest in, it is best to do plenty of research to purchase the best your budget will allow. Look for reviews where people have actually tested out the designs, and note that some may withstand higher amounts of heats then overs when deployed during a wildfire. So to be clear, owning a fire shelter is a smart move as they could help out there in the field, but they are not lifesavers against the full might of a wildfire so all other precautions should be taken.
In the case of a wildfire, you need to act concisely. You need to follow the quickest, safest route to a safe zone and not backtrack a moment. As well as thinking about what you must physically be doing, keep yourself as calm as you can. Of course, it is a scary, dramatic experience, but in this situation you need a clear head, to make sure you keep making the correct choices and get yourself to safe ground as swiftly as possible. A good tip is to keep a pair of sturdy shoes and a flashlight by your bed each night in case you ever do need to make a sudden evacuation. No one likes to think this will be needed, but if you do make that simple step, you’ll be grateful you did should you find yourself in an emergency situation.