Wildfires can occur anywhere, destroying the livelihood of thousands of people and burning millions of acres of wildland. According to research, wildfires worldwide are worsening, causing over 70,000 wildfires annually in the U.S. alone!
Moreover, approximately 18,3000 wildfires have burned down 511,000 acres in 2023. While these dangerous fires spread rapidly, knowing how to prepare for a wildfire can protect you, your loved ones, and your property.
For this reason, it's crucial to have a robust plan to fortify your home and stock up on emergency supplies, particularly during the hotter months. Below, we’ve created a definitive guide to teach you how to survive a wildfire and protect yourself and your family from its worst effects.
What is a Wildfire?
A wildfire is a large, unplanned, unwanted, and uncontrollable fire in natural urban or rural areas, such as forests, prairies, or grasslands. These fires can reach scorching temperatures of 800℃, heights of 1 meter, and speeds of 6-14 mph due to winds.
The wind speed, nearby infrastructures, slope of terrain, and fuel type can impact the severity, behavior, and speed of a wildfire. Besides, these devastating fires can damage natural resources, threaten the safety of the public and the firefighters, and burn down buildings and businesses.
When Does a Wildfire Occur?
Wildfires can occur during any weather annually, but the risk is higher during hotter periods with little to no rainfall. These make grasslands, bushes, and trees dry and susceptible to burning.
High winds and humidity can contribute to the spread of wildfires.
What Causes Wildfire?
Wildfires can start due to the following three:
Research reveals that 85% of wildland fires occur due to human activities, such as discarded cigarettes, burning of debris, and equipment malfunctions. In addition, unattended campfires, fireworks, and bonfires can create deadly fires.
Besides this, intentional acts of arson or protest can lead to catastrophic wildfires and fire loss.
Wildfires can occur naturally due to the sun's heat, whether by a lightning strike, volcanic eruption, or ignition. Moreover, dry weather, droughts, and fast-moving winds can worsen naturally created fires.
However, studies show that only 10 to 15% of wildfires occur due to natural disasters.
Power Lines and Electrical Equipment
Fallen power lines, electrical malfunctions, and exposed wires are another common cause of wildfires worldwide. In fact, research shows that improperly maintained power lines can cause 3% of wildfires.
It starts with a branch falling from a tree and creating a spark to devastating wildfires that can burn millions of acres of natural vegetation and communities.
How to Prepare for a Wildfire - Before a Wildfire
Now that we’ve covered the basics let’s discuss how you can survive a wildfire:
Follow Warnings and Alerts
Wildfires are prevalent in the U.S., particularly in the West. Understanding your risks and staying informed are the first step to preparing for a wildfire.
Learn to recognize the warning signs of wildfires, such as drought, dry winters, and high winds. You can receive alerts for your location by paying attention to local authorities, weather forecasts, and regional weather alerts.
Moreover, stay updated with air-quality alerts and follow fire bans in designated areas. Depending on whether you live in a high-risk area, you may need to familiarize yourself with your city or state’s evacuation map.
Make an Emergency Plan
Wildfires can catch you off-guard and, depending on the weather, can spread rapidly. Thus, you and your family should have a comprehensive emergency plan to evacuate quickly to protect yourselves.
Ensure everyone in your family understands what to do in a catastrophic wildfire. Since crises can occur without warning, discuss where your family should meet if you or your partner are not home. Don't forget a plan for the kids' school, daycare, and pets.
Remember, a comprehensive wildfire emergency plan can save your and your loved ones' lives when facing a wildfire.
Optimize Your House
In a crisis, your priority is to protect your loved ones. However, you can strengthen your home against wildfires and reduce the catastrophe risk, mainly if your home is in the path of a wildfire.
The best way to protect your home from fire is to create a fire-resistant zone free of combustible matter, including leaves and debris, for at least 30 feet. Moreover, if your house comprises flammable materials, consider upgrading to non-combustible alternatives or applying a coating of flame-resistant materials.
Furthermore, find an outdoor water source with a house to fight off embers or encroaching fires. You’ll also want to designate a room that can be closed off from outside air.
Know the Evacuation Zone
Being proactive is crucial to the safety of your loved ones. Because of this, you and your family must familiarize yourself with your city and state’s evacuation zones.
In addition, practice how you will evacuate with your family, pets, and emergency kit and identify where you will meet. Besides this, follow the instructions issued by local authorities, as they will provide suitable recommendations based on the severity of the threat.
Prepare an Emergency Kit
In moments of crisis, there’s little time to prepare yourself and your loved ones. Therefore, it's integral that you create a wildfire emergency kit and put it in an evacuation vehicle. Items to include are:
- Backup power source, such as the Growatt solar generator
- Battery-powered radio with extra batteries
- Copies of important documents
- Extra clothing
- Eyeglasses and goggles
- Face masks
- First aid supplies
- Maps with evacuation routes
- Pet food and water
- Prescription medicines
- Sanitation supplies
- Three-day supply of non-perishables
- Three gallons of water per person
In addition, wear long pants, long-sleeved shirts, boots, a cap, a bandana, and goggles to protect yourself and your family against flying embers. Ensure your items are 100% cotton, and purchase a few backpacks as “go-bags” and stock them with these supplies.
How to Survive a Wildfire? - During a Wildfire
Learn to stay safe during a wildfire by following these steps:
Trapped at Home
If the local authorities do not issue an evacuation, but the fire creates heavy smoke, stay inside and seek a safe location. However, if you’re trapped, do the following:
- Stay calm and keep your loved ones in a room
- Close all doors and windows, but keep them unlocked
- Fill the sinks and tubs with cold water
- Stay inside the house and away from walls and windows
- Call 911 and inform local authorities of your location and situation
Trapped in the Car
If you encounter a wildfire while in your vehicle, follow these steps:
- Stop driving near an area far from bushes, trees, and grassland
- Smoke and sparks can enter the vehicle, so keep the doors and windows closed
- Stay in your car and remain calm
- Protect yourself with a wool blanket or jacket
- Use your phone to call 911 and provide them with your location
- Lay down on the floor of your car
Trapped on Foot
If you become trapped near a wildfire on foot, you should do the following things:
- Stay relaxed and control your breathing
- Call 911 to communicate your location
- Seek an area without twigs, vegetation, and grass or a ditch
- Lie face down on the ground
- Keep your body covered with long-sleeved shirts and long pants
- On a steep mountainside, stay near the back side
Keep Safe Returning Home - After a Wildfire
The priority during a wildfire is staying safe, protecting your loved ones, and surviving. However, you must also learn how to secure yourself and your loved ones after the wildfire.
For those evacuated from their home, it is critical to return only when local officials convey that it is safe. While going back home, keep the following tips in mind:
- Avoid hot ash, smoldering debris, and charred trees
- Wear leather gloves, thick boots, long pants, and long-sleeved shirts during clean-up
- Check for sparks or hidden embers in the building, including the roof
- Wet down roof, attic, and gutters to put out sparks and embers
- Use a respirator to limit your exposure to dust particles
- Stay connected through text messages or social media
Protect Yourself - What Not to Do During a Wildfire
Ensure the wildfire doesn’t catch you off-guard or cause you to panic by learning what not to do:
- Obstruct emergency routes
- Walk into smoke-saturated areas
- Ignore evacuation mandates
- Dismiss fire restrictions and banned activities
- Return home too soon
The Bottom Line
Wildfires can occur anywhere at any time of the year, impacting the lives of thousands of people and devastating nearby areas. Preparation can help you protect yourself and your loved ones and preserve your property by ensuring you have a comprehensive plan for different situations.
Ensure you follow these steps to create an emergency plan and kits so that everyone in your family knows what to do if they experience a wildfire. You can add a solar generator to your wildfire emergency kit to keep your family calm by visiting Growatt.
Besides this, remember that returning home can be hazardous, especially when you ignore local authorities. So, don’t step outside until authorities issue an alert, and take special care to avoid debris and burnt-down vegetation.
The recommendations provided in this article are for reference purposes only. When facing the threat of a wildfire, it is essential to assess and prepare based on your specific circumstances, while also heeding the final instructions and guidance issued by local government and emergency authorities, to ensure your personal safety and that of your community. Wildfires are a dangerous natural disaster, and it is utmost important to follow official guidance.