The year 2020 has proven itself deadly from the very start by the ongoing COVID-19 health pandemic. Pewresearch showed that millions of Americans relocated, or know someone who did. That’s 22% of the entire US population or one in five Americans. Now, you have to prepare for wildfire as well.
But, reports about Wildfires happening in the deadly 2020 have started to overshadow everything else in the news spotlight. Wildfires in California and Oregon have been just as devastating, as they have taken an unimaginable toll. Surreal images of lit up orange sky over San Francisco have circled the globe as fast as the wildfire itself. The damage to homes and citizens is unprecedented. 2020 wildfires have set new infamous records.
After every disaster, man-made or natural, we seek answers — what happened, how did it happen, were there any warning signs of wildfire, etc. The list is long. While the government is still debating what should be done, what we do know for sure is that every single person should prepare better on their own to reduce the risk of wildfire damage to their family and home.
At these hard times, we can thank God for the highly prepared firefighters, and many volunteers on their strength, courage, selflessness, and extreme devotion to helping the people in need. To alleviate their efforts, do your part and prepare for wildfire yourself, your family, and your home. Look for fire-proofing solutions, prepping advice for fire emergency events, and evacuation.
There is numerous advice you should follow and implement to minimize the risks of fire and fire damages. Above all, remember to stay safe and stay healthy.
What is WILDFIRE?
Wildfire is a fire happening in nature. It is also known as forest fire and bush fire (in Australia). Wildfire is a force of nature and can be compared to tornadoes, hurricanes, etc. It happens accidentally and cannot be controlled.
What happens during the wildfire?
A small fire driven by strong winds can turn into a life-threatening wildfire, fueled by dry vegetation and winds, erasing everything that comes into its path. It can devastate huge areas because it is extremely difficult to control. If you prepare for wildfire, you can minimize damage.
Wildfire smoke — just as deadly
Inhalation of wildfire smoke is a health hazard. If you breathe in smoke, it means that you are inhaling dust, carbon monoxide, and carbon dioxide. Wildfire smoke can cause eye and nose irritation, sore throat, and pulmonary inflammation. Air pollution has the greatest effect on young children, the elderly, and people with chronic diseases, like asthma. That’s why they should learn to prepare for wildfire now.
Wildfires in the USA
Wildfire is not just a problem in California. There are reports of wildfire in all USA. People in Oregon must prepare for wildfire as well. Even Canada is not left without worry.
How are the wildfires starting in California?
Wildfire starts as a result of climate change (global warming and extreme draughts) and human negligence combined. According to the LA Times, increased home building in the wildland-urban interface (WUI) is also a contributing factor. Homes are built too close to fast-burning plant species that are thriving in the western mountainous region. Obviously, people in those regions are aware they should prepare for wildfire.
The New York Times examines the Origin of the Oregon fire in the following video:
Humans are a big contributing factor for starting a fire. But, dry, hot weather accompanied by winds in desert areas can turn a small camping fire into the havoc that can affect large areas of not only cities but whole states as well. How to prepare for wildfire has become a national priority.
Mercurynews reports of Trump’s decision to wait for cooler climate coming. President Donald Trump said, “It will start getting cooler, you just watch”
“I wish science agreed with you.”
Wade Crowfoot, California Secretary for Natural Resources
Don’t wait for Deux ex Machina
How to PREPARE for wildfire season
All fire experts agree that fire prevention is important.
- Be active in your community. See if there are fire emergency plans or drills. Join your neighbors in cleaning activities. You can gather dead branches, dry leaves, and clear gutters first, and later have a “Prepare for Wildfire” party.
- Join Firewise USA. This is NFPA’s voluntary educational program that helps entire communities learn how to get organized, and take action to increase the fire resistance of their homes and neighborhoods. Homeowners from communities that prepare for wildfire can get certified and their efforts are recognized by insurance companies.
- Upgrade your home to make it fire-proof. You can prepare for wildfire if you do changes to landscaping so your house isn’t surrounded by fast-burning plants.
- You can prepare for wildfire by educating more on wildfires. NFPA prepared an educating website with downloadable fact sheets in English and Spanish.
- Learn from preppers and prepare your bug out bag, vehicle, and make an emergency evacuation plan. Learn what prepping mistakes to avoid. If you didn’t know, mistake #1 is not prepping at all.
- Follow the news, the weather forecast, and advice from the fire department. Be on your toes during fire season, and heatwaves, just in case.
Remember the golden prepping rule:
“If you’re not always prepared,
You’re never prepared.”
What should you do BEFORE a wildfire
Wildfire is an overwhelming disaster. Don’t think that you can control it or change it. It’s never a matter of trying to control the wildfire. But, there are steps you can take to prepare for wildfire, for yourself and your home for the event of a wildfire.
How to prepare HOME for wildfire
Your home CAN survive a wildfire. Because your home is one of your most valuable belongings, you should try to defend it from wildfire. You can make changes to your home and its surrounding area to prepare for wildfire and reduce the risk of catching fire.
Create defensible space zones around HOME
With effective landscaping, you can prevent a wildfire from reaching your home, or at least slow it down, so that firemen can put it out.
The NFPA (National Fire Protection Association) proposes 3 defensible space zones for homeowners:
- Zone one: Immediate zone. This is the area closest to your home extending outwards up to 5 ft. Clear the area of any dead plants, branches, pine needles, leaves, etc. Clear rain gutters of dry plants. Keep the trees trimmed and away from each other and the house, preferably 10 ft. The point is to prevent burning branches from falling on the house. Remove all plants and shrubs around the house that can easily catch fire from flying embers. Have only non-combustible materials in this zone, like stone and gravel.
- Zone two: Intermediate zone, up to 30 ft. Keep the grass cut, and lawn free from weeds, dead leaves, branches, etc. You can plant some plants here, and keep an isolated tree, never a group. It is good to have some plants to slow down the wildfire. If there was nothing, a wildfire could reach your house immediately. Beware not to plant essential oil trees, like eucalyptus.
- Zone three: Extended zone. It is the area furthest from your home, up to 100 ft. Regularly clean this area and trim trees, so there are no low hanging branches that could catch fire easily. Make sure there are no obstacles for fire department trucks and other emergency vehicles. Your street name and number should be visible from the street.
Check the NFPA website for more detailed information, downloadable brochure, and checklist.
Upgrade your HOME with non-flammable materials
- Roof. The roof is one of the most vulnerable areas of your home. Shingles on the roof are a cheap and easy, and unfortunately easy to catch fire. Use non-flammable materials like clay or metal tiles for roofing to prevent the wildfire spreading.
- Vents. Embers can easily get inside your home and start a fire through vents. You should cover them with metal mesh.
- Windows. They are vulnerable to breaking after being exposed to high temperatures. Replace your old ones with dual pane windows with tempered glass.
- Rain gutters. You should enclose them so dead leaves, pine needles, etc., can’t accumulate there. Use metal gutters if you can.
- Fence. If you have a fence, it should be made from non-flammable materials, so it can’t add fuel to the wildfire.
- Driveway. Make sure your driveway is always clear and there is enough room for a fire truck to access your home.
- The Sprinkler system won’t help you if there is no electricity in your neighborhood. You can’t rely on it no matter how expensive it is.
- In the case of wildfire, fire extinguisher won’t help you. It can slow it down but don’t attempt to fight it alone.
Insure your HOME
It can be a nightmare trying to remember what was in each room, cabinet, or drawer, especially if you had a lot of stuff. It is recommended, by insurance companies themselves, to record a video of your home and all your belongings. Go through every part of your house, including your pantry, bathroom, attic, and garage, and put it all on video.
A nice bonus of spending money on fire-proofing your home is lower home insurance rates. Many insurance companies offer generous discounts to home-owners who went the extra mile.
How to prepare for wildfire EVACUATION
Follow the news and the recommendations of your city fire department. Follow the weather forecast, especially wind conditions. Make sure to get away to safety before wildfire catches up to you.
How do you prepare YOURSELF for wildfire evacuation
Prepare when there is no stress or panic involved. Prepare seriously, extensively, and above all — repeatedly. Don’t read the news and forget about it. Don’t rely solely on outside help. There are never enough firefighters when a wildfire starts blazing. Also, think of it as your responsibility to prepare. If you don’t help yourself, you are relying on the help of others, and averting their attention away from the ones truly in need. Don’t be lazy or selfish, and prepare the best you can.
Remember that during wildfire evacuation you may only get minutes to grab your stuff and go. There is not enough time to stop and think about what is important to take. If you are not prepared, you will forget the important things, and bring invaluable or easily replaceable items.
Put all important documents (medical, educational, insurance), certificates, and photos in a binder and scan them as a backup. Have current photos of your family members ready, especially children, if you get separated.
Always have your vehicle in good condition, regularly serviced and checked. Always have at least half the tank of gas. You can’t risk being out of gas a few miles from your home with wildfire coming at you.
If you have space in your car, put in some basic emergency supplies. It is recommended to keep spare clothes, a fire blanket, and a canister with drinking water at least. You may not be at home when getting an alert about wildfire evacuation. You may not be able to come back home at all, not after the wildfire event is over.
Wildfire Evacuation PLAN
Decide on a plan, and share it with your family. Everybody should be on board.
Write down in detail what you will do first, second, etc. Try to imagine the whole emergency situation and what is important to do to get everyone to safety fast.
Make an evacuation plan that includes more than one escape route from your house, through the neighborhood, to the safe location. In case wildfire cuts off one road, you must have a plan B.
Decide on a special meeting place. With all the panic and noise, you may be separated from other members of your family.
Wildfire Evacuation CHECKLIST
Make sure you write, print out, and stick to your fridge a detailed wildfire evacuation checklist. No matter how well prepared you are, it is good to have a backup to help you go through the evacuation effortlessly. You can print copies for every member of your family. In the event of wildfire evacuation, everyone can grab their copy and go.
How to prepare CHILDREN AND ELDERLY for wildfire evacuation?
Make sure to prepare your young ones and the old ones long before there is even talk of wildfire. You should organize fire drills for your whole family. Make sure that everyone understands the seriousness of wildfire danger and knows exactly what to do if it happens. Everyone should have a role in a family evacuation event.
You can make it a fun project for your little kids. Let them make their own little bug out bag. They can put in their toys, snacks, and coloring books.
The elderly should also prepare their own bug out bag. They should have medical documents, medicine, water bottles, and calming pills ready for a wildfire evacuation.
It is not unusual for children and grandparents to get lost even in everyday life. They should always have some sort of identification with them and their current address with phone number.
How to prepare PETS for wildfire?
When in doubt, treat your dog like you would a small child — never let it out of your sight, prepare a special bag with special food, blanket, extra water, documents. Have the pets bag ready at all times. I take mine when we go camping, to get into the habit of having all the important things in one place.
I have already written an extensive article on how to prepare your dog for coronavirus. Here you will find all the information you need for preparing for evacuation.
Unfortunately during such disastrous events as wildfire, many animals are left behind, trapped. It is a good idea to have a sticker on your front door saying that you have two dogs inside, for example. In case you can’t get back to your home in time, firefighters or neighbors can notice the sticker and save your pets.
Make sure to get away in time. If you feel unsafe in your home, don’t wait for an emergency wildfire evacuation alert.
“When in doubt, evacuate early.”
Follow your wildfire evacuation plan. Go through the checklist calmly. Close the windows and doors so ember can’t fly in and start the fire.
Don’t panic, because then it’s easier to make mistakes. You will forget something, or in the worst-case scenario, drive recklessly and endanger yourself and your family.
In the case of wildfire evacuation, always notify somebody telling them that you are evacuating and where you are going.
If you have children, make sure they are fastened in their seats.
Have a large transport container ready for your dog where you can put it safely. Dogs can react to your nervous behavior during the stressful wildfire evacuation. You can give them calming pills in the food to ease the journey.
For other animals, like horses, have transport means ready at all times. You can practice getting in and out of the transport boxes.
Defend your Home
If you have decided to stay at home, and defend it, make sure to call 911 and relatives or friends to let them know where you are, and that you will need help.
Close all the doors and windows so that ember can’t get inside and start a fire. Go to a room that has a window so that you can see if firemen have arrived.
In case your house catches fire, put wet towels on the cracks around the door and windows. You want to seal the room, make it smoke-proof. Put a bed mattress against the door and soak it with water. This can serve as a barrier when the door catches fire. Pull down curtains, as they easily catch fire and are very flammable (usually made of synthetic materials). Soak the curtains with water. Open a window just a little bit so you can get some fresh air in, but keep away embers from entering. Embers, brought by wind, and not wildfire itself, are the common way a house catches fire.
Get on the floor, where it is cooler and the air is cleaner. If there is a lot of smoke, put a wet towel over your nose, so you don’t breathe it in.
In the worst-case scenario, you will have to leave your house, but try to wait for help to arrive. If you have to jump from a certain height, make sure you jump away from the building so you don’t hurt yourself on the way down. Remember that jumping is the last means of escape.
How to prepare for wildfire smoke
As you already know, we have been fighting air pollution mercilessly for decades. Unfortunately, constant wildfires are reversing these efforts. Wildfire smoke is toxic to humans and nature.
In 2018, San Francisco was a city with the worst air quality in the world, after a devastating fire.
Wildfire smoke can linger on long after the wildfire is out depending on weather patterns.
In such conditions, people should restrict going outside. Don’t go for walks, jogs, or even to the shop if not necessary. Always wear a mask. Make sure you buy special NIOSH-approved respiratory masks. Buy masks in advance because they are quickly sold out. Cloth face masks used for COVID-19 are too thin and won’t help you against smoke. I even got a special mask for my dogs.
Install air purifiers in your home. When you check the weather forecast, also check the air quality index. For particularly bad days, wearing gas masks outdoors is recommended.
Clean air has become a luxury in California. LA Times reports that the luxury air filtration business is booming. Buyers are no longer impressed with pools and tennis courts. If your house can offer fresh air, it’ll be first to sell.
What to do AFTER wildfire?
You can safely return home only after the officials declare it safe. Always check with your local fire department.
Be extra careful because fire might still be burning. Also, beware of unsafe, burnt structures in your house. Enter only if it’s safe.
Don’t turn on electricity yourself. Wait for the fire department or professionals from the utility company.
Do not eat food that has been in a fire. The heat, smoke, and water can damage it. The same goes for drinks and medicine.
Prepare your damages insurance claim. Document all damage by taking a video to support your claim better.
What are some Safety Tips for wildfire
- Observe the wind. Wind direction and speed affect the wildfire greatly. Wildfire follows the direction of the wind. If you get into a situation where you need to escape a wildfire, go in the opposite direction of the wind. Also, keep track of the wind speed. Forceful winds, with a lot of speed, can drive wildfire to move much faster. This is important to know, because you may not have a lot of time for evacuation in windy conditions. People have been known to go off to work in the morning, and have not been able to come back home for their belongings because the wildfire picked up speed and moved much faster than they anticipated.
- Evacuate in time. To better evaluate the danger, purchase a gadget like Kestrel to measure fire/heat. Make sure you don’t wait to evacuate at the last moment. You could end up getting stuck in traffic, with wildfire catching up to you. This is not an enviable situation.
- Find safety. Burnt areas are safe to travel through. Fire can’t go back through already burnt ground.
- Find a large body of water. A lake, a pond, or even a swimming pool can bring you salvation from raging wildfire.
- Be mindful of nature. If you like spending time outdoors, as a camper or hiker, be aware that your camping stove can be the cause of a disastrous fire if left unattended. Even smokers should be extra cautious with cigarette buds as they can easily start a wildfire.
Can I help fight fires in California?
- Be active. You can post on social media, like Facebook and Twitter. Promote preparedness for wildfire and the importance of community involvement. You can warn about the dangers of a campfire in nature. You can share links, brochures, and posters.
- Donate. You can help in getting resources for the affected area and with rebuilding efforts. Donate money to the Wildfire Relief Fund, or to SAVE by California Fire Foundation. You can donate emergency food to your local food bank.
“There’s never enough resources to go around the entire country,”
said JW McCoy, acting deputy fire staff officer for the Lincoln National Forest.
- Volunteer. You can help rescued animals at local emergency shelters. You can also volunteer at Red Cross shelters, especially if you are a health professional. If you are a firefighter living outside California, try volunteering. To be a volunteer firefighter you need training.
Wildfire has devastating consequences so do your best to work on prevention. Make sure you are always prepared and ready for evacuation. Don’t count on outside help, be self-reliant.
Learn from Preppers, Government agencies, and get involved in your community’s activities.
This is a process. Don’t wait until it’s too late. Remember, you CAN save your family home.
If you can help wildfire victims, donate, and volunteer.
Follow the news, watch Cal Fire TV for updates. They reported 27 major wildfires in California on the first day of Autumn September 22, 2020.