Wildfire Preparedness

About

Red Cross disaster responder at wildfire response

About

Wildfire

More and more people are making their homes in woodland settings, rural areas or remote mountain sites. While residents in these areas enjoy the beauty of the environment around them, they also face the very real danger of wildfires.

Droughts and dry conditions throughout various times of the year increase the risk for wildfires. Careless use of fire in highly wooded areas can also dramatically increase the chance of a wildfire, which can then quickly spread across trees and dry brush and threaten homes and businesses that are in vicinity.

Wildfires often begin unnoticed. However, they spread quickly and every second counts! Talk with members of your household about wildfires—how to prevent them and what to do if one occurs.

Prepare

How to Prepare for a Wildfire

  • Post emergency phone numbers by every phone in your home.
  • Make sure driveway entrances and your house number or address are clearly marked.
  • Identify and maintain an adequate water source outside your home, such as a small pond, cistern, well or swimming pool.
  • Set 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.
  • Select building materials and plants that resist fire.
  • Regularly clean roofs and gutters.

Plan ahead and stay as safe as possible during a wildfire

  • Plan and practice two ways out of your neighborhood in case your primary route is blocked.
  • Select a place for family members to meet outside your neighborhood in case you cannot get home or need to evacuate.
  • Identify someone who is out of the area to contact if local phone lines are not working.

Supplies to take with you if you need to evacuate

Respond During

If There Are Reports of a Wildfire in Your Area

  • Be ready to leave at a moment’s notice.
  • Listen to local radio and television stations for updated emergency information.
  • Always back your car into the garage or park it in an open space facing the direction of escape.
  • Confine pets to one room so that you can find them if you need to evacuate quickly.
  • Arrange for temporary housing at a friend or relative’s home outside the threatened area.
  • Listen and watch for air quality reports and health warnings about 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.

Limit exposure to smoke and dust

  • Listen and watch for air quality reports and health warnings about 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.

Recover After

Returning Home & Recovering after a Wildfire

  • Do not enter your home until fire officials say it is safe.
  • Use caution when entering burned areas as hazards may still exist, including hot spots, which can flare up without warning.
  • Avoid damaged or fallen power lines, poles and downed wires.
  • Watch for ash pits and mark them for safety—warn family and neighbors to keep clear of the pits also.
  • Watch animals closely and keep them under your direct control. Hidden embers and hot spots could burn your pets’ paws or hooves.
  • Follow public health guidance on safe cleanup of fire ash and safe use of masks.
  • Wet debris down to minimize breathing dust particles.
  • Wear leather gloves and heavy soled shoes to protect hands and feet.
  • Cleaning products, paint, batteries and damaged fuel containers need to be disposed of properly to avoid risk.

Ensure your food and water are safe

  • Discard any food that has been exposed to heat, smoke or soot.
  • Do NOT ever use water that you think may be contaminated to wash dishes, brush teeth, prepare food, wash hands, make ice or make baby formula.

Inspecting your home

  • 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.
  • Inspect the roof immediately and extinguish any sparks or embers. Wildfires may have left burning embers that could reignite.
  • For several hours afterward, recheck for smoke and sparks throughout the home, including the attic. The winds of wildfires can blow burning embers anywhere. Keep checking your home for embers that could cause fires.
  • Take precautions while cleaning your property. You may be exposed to potential health risks from hazardous materials.
  • ̶ Debris should be wetted down to minimize health impacts from breathing dust particles.

    ̶ Use a two-strap dust particulate mask with nose clip and coveralls for the best minimal protection.

    ̶ Wear leather gloves to protect hands from sharp objects while removing debris.

    ̶ Wear rubber gloves when working with outhouse remnants, plumbing fixtures, and sewer piping. They can contain high levels of bacteria.

    ̶ Hazardous materials such as kitchen and bathroom cleaning products, paint, batteries, contaminated fuel, and damaged fuel containers need to be properly handled to avoid risk. Check with local authorities for hazardous disposal assistance.

  • If you have a propane tank system, contact a propane supplier. Turn off valves on the system, and leave valves closed until the supplier inspects your system.
  • If you have a heating oil tank system, contact a heating oil supplier for an inspection of your system before using.
  • Visually check the stability of the trees. Any tree that has been weakened by fire may be a hazard.
  • ̶ Look for burns on the tree trunk. If the bark on the trunk has been burned off or scorched by very high temperatures completely around the circumference, the tree will not survive and should be considered unstable.

    ̶ Look for burnt roots by probing the ground with a rod around the base of the tree and several feet away from the base. If the roots have been burned, you should consider this tree very unstable.

    ̶ A scorched tree is one that has lost part or all of its leaves or needles. Healthy deciduous trees are resilient and may produce new branches and leaves as well as sprouts at the base of the tree. Evergreen trees may survive when partially scorched but are at risk for bark beetle attacks

As you rebuild

  • Obtain information from local authorities about defensible space requirements.
  • Clear 30 feet of space around your home of vegetation.
  • Store firewood at least 30 feet away from your home.
  • Clear debris off the roof, out of the gutters and away from air conditioning units.
  • Plant fire-resistant shrubs and trees. Hardwood trees, for example, are less flammable than pine, evergreen, eucalyptus or fir trees.
  • Use vegetation that is resistant to fire, and is found naturally in the area. Do not import vegetation.
  • Equip chimneys and stovepipes with a spark arrester that meets the requirements of NFPA 211, a specific standard for chimney fire safety.
  • Install 1/2-inch mesh screen beneath porches, decks, floor areas and the home itself. Also, screen openings to your floors, roof and attic.

Ask a professional to

  • Select and install fire-resistant roofing, siding and other building materials.
  • Install or develop an adequate outside water source such as a small pond, cistern, well, swimming pool or hydrant.
  • 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.

Let Your Family Know You're Safe

If your community has experienced a disaster, register on the American Red Cross Safe and Well website to let your family and friends know you are safe. You may also call 1-866-GET-INFO to register yourself and your family.