BME Tips

How to Prepare and Evacuate for a Wildfire

evacuate for a wildfire

Prevention

No matter where you live, you may be at risk for wildfires. Several steps can be taken to ensure you are prepared for the unexpected circumstance of a fire while safely evacuating your family from your home. One of the simplest ways for minimizing or preventing wildfire damage to your property is known as fire mitigation.

The most effective strategy to improve your home’s chance of surviving a wildfire is by creating defensible space around your property. It is recommended that you create two defensible space zones; a 30 foot and 100 foot zone, within this area you can take steps to reduce potential exposure to flames and radiant heat. Each zone will create a buffer between structures on your property and the grass, trees, shrubs, or any wildland surrounding it.

Homes built in pine forests should have a minimum safety zone of 100 feet. If your home sits on a steep slope, standard protective measures may not suffice. Contact your local fire department or forestry office for additional information. 

wildfire preparedness week

Whether you live in a fire zone or live in the city it is important to have defensible space around your home. Along with defensible space it is also important to consider the following to protect your property and home:

Property Checklist

  • Rake leaves, dead limbs and twigs, and clear out all flammable vegetation
  • Remove leaves and rubbish from under structures
  • Thin a 15-foot space between tree crowns, and remove limbs within 15 feet of the ground
  • Remove dead branches that extend over the roof
  • Prune tree branches and shrubs within 15 feet of a stovepipe or chimney outlet
  • Ask the power company to clear branches from power lines
  • Remove vines from the walls of the home
  • Mow grass regularly
  • Clear a 10-foot area around propane tanks and the barbecue
  • Place a screen over the barbecue grill—use non flammable material with mesh no coarser than one quarter inch
  • Regularly dispose of newspapers and rubbish at an approved site and follow local burning regulations
  • Place stove, fireplace and grill ashes in a metal bucket, soak in water for 2 days; then bury the cold ashes in mineral soil
  • Store gasoline, oily rags and other flammable materials in approved safety cans, and place the cans in a safe location away from the base of buildings
  • Stack firewood at least 100 feet away and uphill from your home, and clear combustible material within 20 feet
  • Use only wood-burning devices evaluated by a nationally recognized laboratory, such as Underwriters Laboratories (UL)
  • Review your homeowner's insurance policy and also prepare/update a list of your home's contents

Prevention Checklist

  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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
  • 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
  • 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

Preparation

Before a wildfire it is crucial to protect your home and prepare for evacuations. If you live in an area under threat by wildfire, pay attention to official channels for evacuation orders. Make sure every member of your family has a bag packed with essential items to last you multiple days away from home. Along with each members disaster supply kit, make sure you have a family emergency plan and a means of transportation standing by. 

wildfire evacuation preparedness
  • A 3-day supply of water (one gallon per person, per day) and food that won’t spoil
  • A 3-day supply of water and food for each pet in your household
  • One change of clothing and footwear per person
  • One sleeping bag or blanket per person
  • A first aid kit that includes your family’s prescription medications
  • Emergency tools including a battery-powered radio, flashlight, and plenty of extra batteries
  • An extra set of car keys, credit card, cash, or travelers checks
  • Sanitary & hygiene supplies
  • Special items for infant, elderly, or disabled family members
  • An extra pair of eyeglasses

Once you have each kit packed, maintain them on a yearly basis by replacing expired items and rethinking the necessary contents. Food and cans should be packed and kept in cool, dry places. Keeping emergency kits at home, in your car and at work are all good ideas since you never know where you’ll be when you need to evacuate.

Evacuation

Depending on your evacuation orders, an immediate evacuation of your home may be necessary. If there are evacuations in your area you should monitor local radio and news stations. Be prepared to leave at any time and if asked to evacuate, do so.  If you have time prior to evacuating the following four steps will aid in protecting your home and assisting fire fighters in their efforts. 

  1. Keep all doors and windows closed in your home.
  2. Remove flammable drapes, curtains, awnings or other window coverings.
  3. Keep lights on to aid visibility in case smoke fills the house.
  4. If sufficient water is available, turn sprinklers on to wet the roof and any water-proof valuables.
wildfire evacuation
Along with these items it is important to have an evacuation plan prepared that you and your family members are all familiar with. The checklist below will help your family  create the right plan. Each family’s plan will be different, depending on a variety of issues, needs, and situations. Create an evacuation plan that includes:
  • A designated emergency meeting location outside the fire or hazard area. This is critical to determine who has safely evacuated from the affected area.
  • Several different escape routes from your home and community. Practice these often so everyone in your family is familiar in case of emergency.
  • Have an evacuation plan for pets and large animals such as horses and other livestock.
  • Family Communication Plan that designates an out-of-area friend or relative as a point of contact to act as a single source of communication among family members in case of separation. (It is easier to call or message one person and let them contact others than to try and call everyone when phone, cell, and internet systems can be overloaded or limited during a disaster.

The 6 P's

In the event of a quick evacuation, remember the 6 P’s! By having these items prepared ahead of time, you can grab them on a moments notice and evacuate safely. 

  1. People & pets
  2. Papers, phone numbers, & important documents
  3. Prescriptions, vitamins, and eye glasses
  4. Pictures and irreplaceable memorabilia
  5. Personal computer, hard drives, and disks
  6. “Plastic” (Credit Cards, ATM Cards, and Cash)

Prevention is Key

Every year across the U.S., major wildfires test homeowners and firefighters, some homes survive while many others do not. Those that survive almost always do so because their owners had prepared for the eventuality of fire, which is an inescapable force of nature in fire-prone woodland areas. Another way we think of it as, if it’s predictable, it’s preventable!

The best way to protect your home and family during a wildfire is by adding prevention and preparation into your routine. There is a lot of steps to take to be prepared but they can make the difference between saving your home and potentially your life. 

Wildfire Prevention & Preparedness

wildfire prevention and prepardness

As more individuals build their homes in woodland settings — in or near forests, rural areas or remote mountain sites, they enjoy the beauty of the environment but face the very real danger of wildfire. Every year across the U.S., major wildfires test homeowners and firefighters, some homes survive while many others do not. Those that survive almost always do so because their owners had prepared for the eventuality of fire, which is an inescapable force of nature in fire-prone woodland areas. Another way we think of it as, if it’s predictable, it’s preventable!

Wildfires often begin unnoticed; usually triggered by lightning or accidents. They spread quickly, igniting brush, trees and homes. Reduce your risk by preparing now — before wildfire strikes. Meet with your family to decide what to do and where to go if wildfires threaten your area. Follow the steps listed below to protect your family, home and property.

Protect Your Home

It is recommended that you create a 30 to 100 foot safety zone around your home, within this area, you can take steps to reduce potential exposure to flames and radiant heat. Homes built in pine forests should have a minimum safety zone of 100 feet. If your home sits on a steep slope, standard protective measures may not suffice. Contact your local fire department or forestry office for additional information.

Create a Perimeter Checklist:

  • Rake leaves, dead limbs and twigs, and clear out all flammable vegetation
  • Remove leaves and rubbish from under structures
  • Thin a 15-foot space between tree crowns, and remove limbs within 15 feet of the ground
  • Remove dead branches that extend over the roof
  • Prune tree branches and shrubs within 15 feet of a stovepipe or chimney outlet
  • Ask the power company to clear branches from power lines
  • Remove vines from the walls of the home
  • Mow grass regularly
  • Clear a 10-foot area around propane tanks and the barbecue
  • Place a screen over the barbecue grill—use non flammable material with mesh no coarser than one quarter inch
  • Regularly dispose of newspapers and rubbish at an approved site and follow local burning regulations
  • Place stove, fireplace and grill ashes in a metal bucket, soak in water for 2 days; then bury the cold ashes in mineral soil
  • Store gasoline, oily rags and other flammable materials in approved safety cans, and place the cans in a safe location away from the base of buildings
  • Stack firewood at least 100 feet away and uphill from your home, and clear combustible material within 20 feet
  • Use only wood-burning devices evaluated by a nationally recognized laboratory, such as Underwriters Laboratories (UL)
  • Review your homeowner's insurance policy and also prepare/update a list of your home's contents

Plan Ahead

  • 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.
  • Install freeze-proof exterior water outlets on at least two sides of the home and near other structure on the property. Install additional outlets at least 50 feet from the home.
  • Consider obtaining a portable gasoline powered pump in case electrictrical power is cut off.

Emergency Supplies

When wildfire threatens you won’t have time to shop or search for supplies. Assemble a disaster supplies kit with items you may need if advised to evacuate. Store these supplies in sturdy, easy-to-carry containers such as backpacks, duffle-bags, or trash containers.

Below are some essential items to include:

wildland fire prepardness
  • A 3-day supply of water (one gallon per person, per day) and food that won’t spoil
  • One change of clothing and footwear per person
  • One sleeping bag or blanket per person
  • A first aid kit that includes your family’s prescription medications
  • Emergency tools including a battery-powered radio, flashlight, and plenty of extra batteries
  • An extra set of car keys, credit card, cash, or travelers checks
  • Sanitation supplies
  • Special items for infant, elderly, or disabled family members
  • An extra pair of eyeglasses

During a Wildfire

If advised to evacuate, do so immediately. Take your disaster supply kit, lock your home and choose a route away from the fire hazard. Watch for changes in the speed and direction of the fire and smoke. Tell someone when you left and where you are going. 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. Describe the location of the fire, speak slowly. Describe the location of the fire, speak slowly and clearly, and answer any questions asked by the dispatcher. If you are not ordered to evacuate and have time to prepare your home, FEMA recommends you take the following actions:

  • Arrange temporary housing at a friend or relative’s home outside the threatened area in case you need to evacuate
  • Wear protective clothing when outside — sturdy shoes, cotton or woolen clothes, long pants, a long-sleeved shirt, gloves and a handkerchief to protect your face
  • Gather fire tools such as a rake, axe, handsaw or chainsaw, bucket and shovel
  • Close outside attic, eaves and basement vents, windows, doors, pet doors, etc. Remove flammable drapes and curtains
  • Close all shutters, blinds or heavy non-combustible window coverings to reduce radiant heat
  • Close all doors inside the house to prevent draft
  • Open the damper on your fireplace, but close the fireplace screen
  • Shut off any natural gas, propane or fuel oil supplies at the source
  • Connect garden hoses to outdoor water faucet and fill any pools, hot tubs, garbage cans, tubs or other large containers with water
  • Place lawn sprinklers on the roof and near above-ground fuel tanks, and leave the sprinklers on, dowsing these structures as long as possible
  • If you have gas-powered pumps for water, make sure they are fueled and ready

If asked to evacuate…

  • Place a ladder against the house in clear view to aid firefighters
  • Disconnect any automatic garage door openers so that doors can still be opened by hand if the power goes out, and close all garage doors
  • Place valuable papers, mementos and anything “you can’t live without” inside the car in the garage, ready for quick departure
  • Any pets still with you should also be put in the car
  • Place valuables that will not be damaged by water in a pool or pond
  • Move flammable furniture into the center of the residence away from the windows and sliding-glass doors
  • Turn on outside lights and leave a light on in every room to make the house more visible in heavy smoke

Practice Wildfire Safety

Every year wildfires destroy thousands of homes and businesses all over the United States. This is why it is so important to be aware of the potential for wildfires and to always take steps to prevent a fire from spreading. People start most wildfires, find out how you can promote and practice wildfire safety.  

california wildifres using bme firetrucks
  • Contact your local fire department, health department, or forestry office for information on fire laws.
  • Make sure that fire vehicles can get to your home. Clearly mark all driveway entrances and display your name and address.
  • Report hazardous conditions that could cause a wildfire.
  • Teach children about fire safety, be sure to keep matches out of their reach.
  • Post fire emergency telephone numbers.
  • Ensure adequate accessibility by large fire vehicles to your property.
  • Plan several escape routes away from your home, both by car and foot.
  • Talk to your neighbors about wildfire safety. Plan how the neighborhood could work together after a wildfire. Make a list of your neighbors’ skills such as medical or technical. Consider how you could help your neighbors who have special needs such as elderly or disabled persons. Make plans to take care of children who may be on their own if parents can’t get home.
  • Keep important family documents in a waterproof container. Assemble a smaller version of your kit to keep in the trunk of your car.
  • Wildfires often begin unnoticed. They spread quickly, igniting brush, trees and homes. Reduce your risk by preparing now before a wildfire strikes. Meet with your family to decide what to do

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type 1 fire pumper

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wildland fire gear

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firefighter teamwork

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