Wildfires

Wildfires often begin unnoticed. They spread quickly, igniting brush, trees and homes. Reduce your risk by preparing now – before wildfire strikes. Meet with your family to decide what to do and where to go if wildfires threaten your area.

Practice Wildfire Safety

People start most wildfires. Find out how you can promote and practice wildfire safety.

  • Contact your local fire department, health department or forestry office for information on fire laws. Make sure that fire vehicles can get to your home. Clearly mark all driveway entrances and display your name and address.
  • Report hazardous conditions that could cause a wildfire.
  • Teach children about fire safety. Keep matches out of their reach.
  • Post fire emergency telephone numbers.
  • Plan several escape routes away from your home – by car and by foot.
  • Talk to your neighbors about wildfire safety. Plan how the neighborhood could work together after a wildfire. Make a list of your neighbors’ skills (medical or technical). Consider how you could help neighbors who have special needs such as elderly or disabled persons. Make plans to take care of children who may be on their own if parents can’t get home.

Before Wildfire Threatens

Design and landscape your home with wildfire safety in mind. Select materials and plants that can help contain fire rather than fuel it. Use fire resistant or non-combustible materials on the roof and exterior structure of your home, or treat roofs, siding, decking or trim with UL-approved fire-retardant chemicals. Plant fire-resistant shrubs and trees. For example, hardwood trees are less flammable than pine, evergreen, eucalyptus or fir trees.

Create a 30-100 Foot Safety Zone Around Your Home

Within this area, you can take steps to reduce exposure to flames and radiant heat. Homes built in pine forests should have a minimum safety zone of 100 feet. If your home sits on a steep slope, standard protective measures may not be enough. Contact your local fire department or forestry office for additional information.

  • Rake leaves, dead limbs and twigs.
  • Remove leaves and rubbish from under structures.
  • Clear a 15-foot space between tree crowns, and remove limbs within 15 feet of the ground.
  • Remove dead branches that extend over the roof.
  • Trim tree branches and shrubs within 15 feet of a stovepipe or chimney outlet.
  • Ask the power company to clear branches from power lines.
  • Remove vines from the walls of the home.
  • Mow grass regularly.
  • Clear a 10-foot area around propane tanks and grills. Place a screen over the grill – use non-flammable material with mesh.
  • Regularly throw away newspapers and trash at an approved site. Follow local burning regulations.
  • Place any ashes in a metal bucket, soak in water for two days and then bury the ashes in mineral soil.
  • Store gasoline, oily rags and other flammable materials in approved safety cans. Place cans in a safe location away from buildings.
  • Stack firewood at least 100 feet away and uphill from your home. Use only UL-approved wood-burning devices.

Plan Your Water Needs

  • Identify and maintain an outside water source such as a small pond, cistern, well, swimming pool or hydrant.
  • Have a garden hose that is long enough to reach any area of the home and other buildings on your property.
  • Install freeze-proof exterior water outlets on at least two sides of your home. Install additional outlets at least 50 feet from the home.
  • Consider obtaining a portable gasoline powered pump in case electrical power is cut off.

When Wildfire Threatens

If you are warned that a wildfire is threatening your area, listen to your battery-operated radio for reports and evacuation information. Follow the instructions of local officials.

  • Back your car into the garage or park it in an open space facing the direction of escape. Shut doors and roll up windows. Leave the key in the ignition. Close garage windows and doors, but leave them unlocked. Disconnect automatic garage door openers.
  • Confine pets to one room. Make plans to care for your pets in case you must evacuate.
  • Arrange temporary housing at a friend or relative’s home outside the threatened area.

If Advised to Evacuate, Do So Immediately

  • Wear protective clothing – sturdy shoes, cotton or woolen clothing, long pants, a long-sleeved shirt, gloves and a handkerchief to protect your face.
  • Lock your home.
  • Tell someone when you left and where you are going.
  • Choose a route away from fire hazards. Watch for changes in the speed and direction of fire and smoke.

 

If You’re Sure You Have Time, Take Steps to Protect Your Home

Inside

  • Close windows, vents, doors, venetian blinds and heavy drapes. Remove lightweight curtains.
  • Shut off gas at the meter. Turn off pilot lights.
  • Open the fireplace damper. Close fireplace screens.
  • Move flammable furniture into the center of the home away from windows and sliding-glass doors.
  • Turn on a light in each room to increase the visibility of your home in heavy smoke.

Outside

  • Seal attic and ground vents with pre-cut plywood or commercial seals.
  • Turn off propane tanks.
  • Place patio furniture inside.
  • Connect the garden hose to outside taps.
  • Set up the portable gasoline-powered pump.
  • Place lawn sprinklers on the roof and near above-ground fuel tanks. Wet the roof.
  • Wet or remove shrubs within 15 feet of your home.
  • Gather fire tools.

Protect Yourself: Health Precautions for Californians

Instructions for Those Most Adversely Affected by Smoke Inhalation

Young children, the elderly and those with lung or heart ailments are especially vulnerable in smoky conditions and should follow these guidelines:

  • Individuals with lung or heart disease should make sure that they are on their medication and have at least a five-day supply on hand.
  • Individuals with asthma should consult their physician about an asthma management plan and stick to it during the unusually smoky conditions.

How to Tell if Smoke is Affecting You

  • Smoke can cause:
    • Coughing.
    • Scratchy throat.
    • Irritated sinuses.
    • Shortness of breath.
    • Chest pain.
    • Headaches.
    • Stinging eyes.
    • Runny nose.

If You Have Heart Disease, Lung Disease or a Pre-Existing Respiratory Condition, Smoke Might Make Your Symptoms Worse

  • People who have heart disease might experience:
    • Inability to breathe normally.
    • Cough with or without mucus.
    • Chest discomfort.
    • Wheezing and shortness of breath.
    •  
    • Even healthy people may experience some of these symptoms in smoky conditions.

Protect Yourself

Following are ways to protect your health:

  • Pay attention to local air quality reports. Listen and watch for news or health warnings about smoke.
  • If you are advised to stay indoors, keep indoor air as clean as possible. Keep windows and doors closed unless it is extremely hot outside. Run an air conditioner if you have one, but keep the fresh-air intake closed and the filter clean to prevent outdoor smoke from getting inside. If you do not have an air conditioner and it is too warm to stay inside with the windows closed, seek shelter elsewhere.
  • Use a high-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filter to reduce breathing problems. Room air cleaners, which utilize a HEPA filter, may reduce the number of irritating fine particles in indoor air.
  • Do not add to indoor pollution. When smoke levels are high, do not use anything that burns, such as candles, fireplaces or gas stoves. Do not vacuum because it stirs up particles already inside your home. Do not smoke because smoking puts even more pollution into the air.

Masks

Most dust masks are not effective in reducing smoke exposure during a wildfire because they are not designed to filter very small particles and do not fit well enough to provide an airtight seal around the wearer’s mouth and nose.

  • Surgical masks that trap small particles are designed to filter air coming out of the wearer’s mouth and do not provide a good seal to prevent inhalation of small particles or gases in smoke.
  • Inexpensive paper “comfort” or “dust” masks commonly found at hardware stores are designed to trap large particles and do not provide enough protection for your lungs.
  • Mask use may give the wearer a false sense of security, which might encourage too much physical activity and time spent outdoors. Also, wearing a mask may actually be harmful to some people with heart or lung disease because it can make the lungs work harder to breathe.
  • Many types of masks cannot effectively filter out small smoke particles. They can however, provide some protection from the larger smoke particles that can become airborne when sweeping up soot or ash during cleanup activities. Some types of masks can also filter out up to 95% of small smoke particles. These masks are marked with one of the following: “P95,” “R95” or “N95”, and tend to be more expensive than ordinary dust masks. Other masks with higher ratings (marked “P100,” “R100” or “N100”) can filter out even more particles. If properly fit to the wearer’s face, such masks can provide significant protection against particles in smoke. Without a good seal around the wearer’s mouth and nose, even these masks will not be effective. Also, they do not protect against irritating gases in smoke.

Information adapted from the American Red Cross and the Federal Emergency Management Agency.