How to survive a wildfire – Picture in your mind, you’re camping with your buddies for the weekend in a nearby forest. Your tents are all set-up, you ate your dinner, and you went to sleep. Suddenly, the smell of smoke wakes you up. You go outside to see what’s going on, and there it is: you’re in the middle of a wildfire. What do you do?. Ok, I know this scenario might seem unreal for most people, but it’s more common than you’d expect.
You see, even though wildfires are considered natural disasters, only 15% of them happen naturally. The rest are a result of human negligence. The most common ones being campfires left unattended and deliberate harm involving fires. Wildfires are very fast; they can overtake the average person in just a few minutes. Their flames travel approximately 14 miles per hour, and they burn everything in their path if they find enough fuel to feed on.
Knowing what’s going on and how to act in these situations is a true life-saver, especially when you’re trapped in a fire, but I’ll get into that later. First, let’s get into the how’s and the why’s. Naturally occurring wildfires usually come about during droughts or in dry weather. That’s when green vegetation becomes “bone-dry”, to the point that it acts as a fuel for the fire.
Then, strong winds play their part as well. They cause the flames to move quicker and cover larger areas. Finally, we have the warm summer weather that encourages burning. With all these ingredients available in most areas, the only thing missing is a tiny spark to bring down huge forests in a short amount of time. Whether they occur naturally, or are the result of human actions, three elements must be available for a wildfire to burn.
Fuel, a strong heat source and oxygen. Firefighters call these elements the fire triangle. Fuel can be any material that feeds the fire. For example: grass, brushes, trees, and sometimes even houses. The more fuel in the surrounding area, the stronger the flames will be. The heat source gives the catastrophic spark to the fire, and it helps it to burn when the temperatures are high enough.
Finally, we have our last element: Air!. Which gives oxygen to the wildfire, and can even carry sparks for miles. It doesn’t take a forest to make a wildfire possible either. Grassland fires are equally disastrous. So, if you’re ever in such an unfortunate situation; there are a few things you can do that will help you protect yourself and your home.
1. Defense Planning
Here’s the thing. When firefighters are called to battle blazes, their main goal is to stop a wildfire from feeding. And you can apply the same principle to protect your home. You can create a defensible space around your house that covers at least 30 feet – This is your shield. That area needs to be cleared of flammable material that a fire could use as fuel.
Get rid of dried grass, dried leaves, brush, firewood, dead trees, and don’t forget the branches. Since the fire sparks can travel for miles, make sure that your gutters and rooftop are cleared as well. If you’re renovating or building a new home, take some precautions with the materials you’reusing on your roof. It’s better to go for asphalt shingles or fire-resistant tiles, rather than something more flammable.
2. Monitor your area
Ah, I know, it’s summer. It’s the time to feel careless and enjoy a nice swim at the beach. But wildfires are lurking. The best way to keep an eye out is through communication networks, either through social media, or even better: old-school local radio broadcasts. Many people use social media groups to alert people about where the wildfires are spreading. But your best bet to get immediate updates is to tune-in throughout the day on local commercial radio broadcasts.
If a wildfire has spread beyond control, and it’s close to where you live, chances are you’ll need to evacuate as soon as possible. And, it requires a lot more strategy than one might anticipate. Typically, you have some time to decide your next steps, but knowledge is key here. Flames travel with the wind, and when you’re running away from the fire, you should strategically angle across the wind.
This will give you an opportunity to go around it. Another thing to remember is that wildfires travel faster uphill than downhill, so a downhill path is your best bet. Always have in mind the fire fuel. The best route to take is the one that doesn’t have enough flammable material for the flames to feed on; such as waterways and rocky areas. To keep yourself protected and prevent any burns, you can pour water all over you.
Laying on the ground is your last survival resort. Many people have managed to survive inside drainage pipes, caves and holes in the ground. If you have no other option, then the only thing you can do is to curl up in a ditch and cover yourself with soil. However, this is very hazardous. Wildfires consume a LOT of oxygen. And not being able to breath when you’re on the ground can result in suffocation.
4. Coming together
Nobody’s fully prepared when disasters like this strike. When a wildfire is making its way into a neighborhood, not everyone will be with their families or friends. And that makes people feel uneasy. Granted, you can use your cell-phone to redirect your family members to a safe area, but sometimes,these catastrophes knock out communication, power lines and cell-phone towers.
You need to plan beforehand. All family members should know where to go in case they’re separated. When evacuating, your best tool outta there is your car. So, map out all the roads you can take that will lead you to safety. Keep in mind that everyone else will also be using their vehicle to escape, so knowing the roads like the back of your hand will help you avoid traffic.
Equip your vehicle with a first aid kit in case you need it. But don’t forget your wallet. It’s not that necessary, but useful. In any case, you might need your ID or money. Keep all your important valuables ready inside a box. This should include passports, birth certificates, marriage licenses, family jewelry and whatnot. All these items should be pre-packed ahead of time during the summer. Don’t wait until a fire breaks out to pack them. If that’s the case, it’s better to risk losing them than your own lives.
5. What to do when you’re trapped
According to statistics, more than 50% of homeowners either refuse, or fail to evacuate their homes. And being trapped inside a house with large wildfires surrounding the area would be scarier than I can even imagine. If you’re in this situation, then there are a few things you can do to increase your chances of getting out of there safe.
• Let the authorities know by calling the emergency services right away.
• Make sure you keep all windows and doors closed, but NOT locked. This will prevent the fire from spreading faster, while still allowing fire-fighters to get in.
• Keep the lights on to signal rescuers
• Keep a flashlight on you at all times in case there’s a power outage.
• Change to cotton clothing. Most other synthetic material can melt and cause serious injuries.
• Fill your bathtub, sinks, buckets and pretty much anything you can find with water.
• Flames outside a house can cause the temperature inside the home to rise, causing a fire inside the house. So, it’s important to The Only Way to Get Out of a Wildfire – move the furniture away from the walls, and to the center of each room. But don’t forget NOT TO block the exits.
• If there’s fire inside the house, try to put it out using water, and stay below smoke level.
• Lastly, don’t leave your home until you’re sure you’ll have better chances of surviving outside than inside.
How about you?, do you have any wildfire survival tips to offer?. Please let me know in the comments.