How To: Prepare and Be Safe During a Wildfire

Image of a wildfire

Before a Wildfire

  • If you see a wildfire, call 9-1-1. Don't assume that someone else has already called.
  • Have a disaster kit and emergency plan ready.

Before The Fire Approaches Your House

  • Evacuate your pets and anyone with medical or physical limitations and the young immediately.
  • Wear protective clothing.
  • Clear items from around the house that could burn, including wood piles, lawn furniture, barbecue grills, tarp coverings, etc. 
  • Close all doors inside the house to prevent draft. Open the damper on your fireplace, but close the fireplace screen. 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.
  • Shut off any natural gas, propane or fuel oil supplies at the source.
  • Connect garden hoses, and fill any pools, hot tubs, garbage cans, tubs or other large containers with water.
  • Place a ladder against the house in clear view.
  • Back your car into the driveway and roll up the windows.
  • Disconnect any automatic garage door openers so that doors can still be opened by hand if the power goes out. 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.

Preparing to Leave

  • Turn on outside lights and leave a light on in every room to make the house more visible in heavy smoke.
  • Leave doors and windows closed but unlocked. It may be necessary for firefighters to gain quick entry into your home to fight fire. The entire area will be isolated and patrolled by sheriff's deputies or police.

During a Wildfire

Survival in a Vehicle

  • This is dangerous and should only be done in an emergency, but you can survive the firestorm if you stay in your car. It is much less dangerous than trying to run from a fire on foot.
  • Roll up windows and close air vents. Drive slowly with headlights on. Watch for other vehicles and pedestrians. Do not drive through heavy smoke.
  • If you have to stop, park away from the heaviest trees and brush. Turn headlights on and ignition off. Roll up windows and close air vents.
  • Get on the floor and cover up with a blanket or coat.
  • Stay in the vehicle until the main fire passes. Do not run! Engine may stall and not restart. Air currents may rock the car. Some smoke and sparks may enter the vehicle. Temperature inside will increase. Metal gas tanks and containers rarely explode.

If You Are Trapped at Home

  • Stay calm. As the fire front approaches, go inside the house. You can survive inside. The fire will pass before your house burns down.

If Caught in the Open

  • The best temporary shelter is in a sparse fuel area. On a steep mountainside, the back side is safer.
  • If a road is nearby, lie face down along the road cut or in the ditch on the uphill side. Cover yourself with anything that will shield you from the fire's heat.
  • If hiking in the back country, seek a depression with sparse fuel. Clear fuel away from the area while the fire is approaching and then lie face down in the depression and cover yourself. Stay down until the fire passes!

After a Wildfire

  • Check the roof immediately. Put out any roof fires, sparks or embers. Check the attic for hidden burning sparks.
  • The water you put into your pool or hot tub and other containers will come in handy now. If the power is out, try connecting a hose to the outlet on your water heater.
  • For several hours after the fire, maintain a "fire watch." Re-check for smoke and sparks throughout the house.

Get the facts about wildfires. GO

Sources: FEMAAmerican Red CrossSmokey BearCenter for Disease Control and Prevention