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Wildfires Ravage Southwest

Dangerous wildfires continue to consume thousands of acres across the southwest, destroying homes and forcing people to leave their neighborhoods. The American Red Cross is providing people with a safe place to stay, food to eat and emotional support.

Firefighters in Arizona, New Mexico, Florida, Texas and Oklahoma are busy trying to bring the fires under control despite weather conditions which have allowed the blazes to cross highways and jump from state to state. More than 110 people in Arizona spent Sunday night in Red Cross shelters. The Red Cross is distributing food and drinks to the firefighters and first responders.

The Red Cross has important steps people can follow to lessen the threat of fire while living in or near wooded areas. Being prepared can be your best offense when it comes to wildfires. Learn about the fire risk in your area. Call household members together and talk about how to prevent fires and what to do if a wildfire occurs. Post emergency phone numbers by every phone in your home and in everyone’s cell phone.

Plan two ways out of your neighborhood in case one is blocked. Set up a place for family members to meet outside your neighborhood in case you can’t get home or need to evacuate. Arrange for temporary housing at a friend or relative’s home outside the area.

Other steps you can take include:

  • Making sure driveway entrances and your house number or address are clearly marked.
  • Identifying and maintaining an adequate water source outside your home, such as a small pond, cistern, well or swimming pool.
  • Setting aside household items that can be used as fire tools: a rake, ax, hand saw or chain saw, bucket and shovel. You may need to fight small fires before emergency responders arrive.
  • Selecting building materials and plants that resist fire.
  • Regularly cleaning roofs and gutters.

If A Fire Threatens

Now that you’re prepared, you need to know what to do if a wildfire is burning near your neighborhood. For instance, you should back your car into the garage or park it in an open space facing the direction of escape. Confine your pets to one room so you can find them if you need to get out quickly. Listen to local radio and television stations for updated information, and be ready to leave at a moment’s notice. Follow the directions of officials and evacuate if told to do so.

These steps will help limit your exposure to smoke:

  • Keep indoor air clean by closing windows and doors to prevent outside smoke from getting in.
  • Use the recycle or re-­circulate mode on the air conditioner in your home or car. If you do not have air conditioning and it is too hot to stay inside with closed windows, seek shelter elsewhere.
  • When smoke levels are high, do not use anything that burns and adds to indoor air pollution, such as candles, fireplaces and gas stoves. Do not vacuum because it stirs up particles that are already inside your home.
  • If you have asthma or another lung disease, follow your health care provider's advice and seek medical care if your symptoms worsen.

After A Wildfire

Don’t attempt to visit your neighborhood or enter your home until officials say it is safe to do so. Hot spots could still exist, so be careful. Avoid fallen power lines and watch for ash pits. If there is no power, check to make sure the main breaker is on. Fires may cause breakers to trip. If the breakers are on and power is still not present, contact the utility company.

Keep your animals close by and under control so hot spots don’t burn them. Wear leather gloves and heavy soled shoes and wet debris down to minimize dust. Throw away any food that was exposed to heat, smoke or soot and don’t use contaminated water to wash dishes, brush teeth, prepare food, wash hands, make ice or make baby formula. Other steps you can take after the fire include:

  • Inspecting your roof immediately and extinguish any sparks or embers.
  • Rechecking for smoke or sparks throughout your home for several hours, including the attic. Winds can blow burning embers anywhere.
  • Contacting a propane supplier if you have a propane tank system. Turn off the valves and leave them closed until your supplier inspects your system. If you have a heating oil tank system, contact a heating oil supplier for an inspection of your system before you use it.
  • Checking your trees - any tree that has been weakened by fire may be a hazard. Look for burns on the trunk. If the bark has been burned off or scorched, the tree will not survive and should be considered unstable.
  • Clearing any vegetation within 30 feet of your home and store firewood at least 30 feet away.