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Wildfires - Before, During and After the Crisis

  • Published: 2012-07-02 : Author: Wendy Taormina-Weiss
  • Synopsis: Preparing for a wildfire is essential homes that survive a wildfire do because the owners prepared for possibility of a fire.
Wildfire - A wildfire is any uncontrolled fire in combustible vegetation that occurs in the countryside or a wilderness area. Brush fire, bushfire, forest fire, desert fire, grass fire, hill fire, peat fire, vegetation fire, and veldfire may be used depending on type of vegetation being burned.

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The numbers of people who are building homes in woodland settings such as rural areas, in or close to forests, or even remote mountain areas is increasing. Homeowners like the beauty of these environments, yet they face the real dangers presented by wildfires along with the choice to live in these areas. The Colorado Springs area has just experienced such a wildfire.

Each year in America, some homes make it through wildfires while other do not. The homes that survive nearly always do because the owners of the homes prepared for the possibility of a fire; something that is a force of nature in wild land areas that are fire-prone. Preparing for a wildfire if you live in these areas is essential.

A wildfire many times goes unnoticed when it begins. The fires are commonly started by accidents or lightning and spread rapidly, igniting trees, brush, as well as homes people live in. To reduce your risk of damages from a wildfire it is important to prepare right now, before a wildfire starts. Hold a family meeting and decide what actions to take and where you are going to go if a wildfire begins in your area. There are actions you can take before, during, and after a wildfire to protect your family, your property, and your home.

Preparing Before a Wildfire Begins

People can do several things to prepare for a wildfire before one begins. To start preparing, build an emergency kit and create a communications plan for your family. Design your home and the landscaping around it with wildfire safety in mind. Choose plants and materials that can help to contain a fire instead of providing a fire with fuel to burn.

The choice of materials for your roof and the exterior of your home is an important decision. Use materials that are non-combustible or fire-resistant, or treat wood or combustible material for use in siding, roofing, or trim with fire-retardant chemicals. Plant trees and shrubs that resist fire. As an example; hardwood trees are less flammable than evergreen, pine, fir, or eucalyptus trees. Keep your roof and gutters clean.

Clean your chimney at least once a year and inspect it at least two times each year. Keep the dampers on your chimney working properly, and equip it with a spark arrester that is in accordance with the National Fire Protection Association Standard 211. Use 1/8th in screen mesh under your decks, porches, floors, and your home. Be sure to screen openings to your roof, attic, and floors.

Install dual-sensor smoke alarms on every level of your home, particularly next to bedrooms, and make sure you test the alarms every month, changing the batteries at least once a year. Teach every member of your family how to use a fire extinguisher and show them where it is located in your home. Keep items such as an axe, a rake, a hand or chain saw, a shovel and a bucket that can be used to fight a fire.

Own a ladder that has the ability to reach your roof. Consider installing heavy fire-resistant drapes or protective shutters. Clear items from around your house that will burn such as lawn furniture, wood piles, tarp coverings, or barbecue grills. Move these types of items outside of an area you can defend in case of a fire.

Planning Your Water Needs

Planning your water needs is an important part of being prepared for a wildfire. It is important for you to identify and maintain an adequate outside water source such as a well, a pond, a cistern, a hydrant, or a swimming pool. Make sure that you have a garden hose that is long enough to reach any area of your home or other structures you have on your property.

Install freeze-proof exterior water outlets on at least two sides of your home, as well as near other structures on your property. Also install additional outlets that are at least 50 feet away from your home. You might consider getting a portable gasoline-powered pump in case your electrical power is cut off.

Actions to Take During a Wildfire

If you have been advised to evacuate your home, do it immediately. Take your disaster supply kit with you, lock your home up, and select a route away from the wildfire. Pay close attention to changes in both the direction and the speed of the fire, as well as the smoke. Make sure you tell someone where you left and where you are going to.

If you see a wildfire, but have not received an order to evacuate yet, call 911. Do not make the assumption that somebody else has already called. Describe the location of the fire to the 911 operator; speak clearly and slowly, and answer the questions the operator asks. If you are not ordered to evacuate and still have time to prepare your home, there are several actions you can take.

Make arrangements to stay temporarily with a relative or a friend who lives outside of the area that is threatened by the wildfire if you need to evacuate. Wear protective clothing when you go outside such as:

My husband and I wore this kind of clothing, to include a wet handkerchief, as we ran from the Waldo Canyon Fire in Colorado Springs. Among the mistakes people made as they ran from the building we live in were parking the wrong way in the parking lot, panicking, and blocking fire doors open allowing smoke to enter the building.

Gather together your fire tools such as an axe, a rake, a hand or chainsaw, your shovel and bucket. Close any vents to your attic, eaves, the basement, any doors, windows, or pet doors. Remove any curtains or drapes that are flammable. Make sure you close any blinds, shutters, or heavy non-combustible window coverings in order to reduce the amount of radiant heat.

Close all the doors inside of your house to prevent draft. Open the damper on your fireplace, but make sure you close the screen to your fireplace. Shut off any natural gas, fuel oil, or propane at the source. Connect your garden hoses to outdoor faucets, fill any hot tubs or swimming pools, as well as any tubs, garbage cans, or other large containers that can hold water.

Put any lawn sprinklers you have on the roof of your home and close to above-ground fuel tanks. Leave your sprinklers on and wetting-down your home and fuel tanks as long as you can. If you have gas-powered pumps for water, be sure they are fueled and ready to go. Put a ladder against your house in plain view.

If you have an automatic garage door opener disconnect it so the garage door can be opened manually if the power goes out and close the garage door. Put valuable mementos, paperwork, or anything you simply can't live without inside of your car so you can leave quickly. Put your pets in the car. Put any valuables you own that will not be damaged by water into a pool or pond. Move furniture that is flammable into the center of your home and away from windows or sliding glass doors. Turn the outside lights on and leave a light on in every room in your home to make it more visible in heavy smoke.

Actions to Take After a Wildfire

As I look out the window of my home today, the mountains outside of Colorado Springs are burnt, black, and there is still a haze in the air from the wildfire. The areas that were under a mandatory evacuation have mostly been lifted meaning that many people here can return to their homes. More than 300 homes have burned to the ground in the Mountain Shadows neighborhood.

There are a number of actions people can take depending upon their circumstances in the time following a wildfire. People can go to a designated shelter if they have been ordered to evacuate, or if they do not feel safe to stay in their home. If you have been burned, or are with people who have been, call 911 or seek assistance immediately. Cool and cover burns to reduce the opportunity for further injury, or the chance of infection.

If you chose to remain at home, make sure you check your roof immediately after the fire danger has passed. Put out any sparks, embers, or roof fires you find. Check your attic for any hidden burning sparks - one of the concerns this morning in Colorado Springs is smoldering homes. For several hours after the fire post a, 'fire watch,' and re-check for any smoke or sparks throughout your home.

If you evacuated your home, do not go back into your home until fire officials say it is safe to do so. In the Colorado Springs area, there was some trouble with looters, as well as people who went back into their homes before it was safe to. My husband and I were allowed to return home but we found the evacuation line was literally one block away. There were military police posted on the corner to watch for looters, fire, and to keep the neighborhood safe.

After a wildfire, if you have to leave your home because a building inspector has told you it is unsafe, ask someone you can trust to watch your property while you are gone. Be cautious when you enter an area that has been burned because hazards might remain such as hot spots, something that can flare up without warning. If you detect smoke or heat when you enter a building that has been damaged - evacuate immediately.

Items such as safes or strong boxes can hold intense heat for several hours - do not attempt to open them. If the door is opened before a safe or strong box has cooled down, the contents inside could burst into flames. Avoid power lines that have been damaged or have fallen, as well as downed wires and poles. Watch out for ash pits and mark them to warn your family members and neighbors and keep them safe and clear of any pits as well.

Watch your pets very closely and keep them under your control. Things such as hot spots or hidden embers have the ability to burn their paws or hooves. Follow public health advice regarding safe cleanup of ash and the use of masks. Wet down debris with the goal of minimizing dust particles you may breath.

Wear heavy soled shoes and leather gloves to protect your feet and hands. Any paint, cleaning products, or batteries, as well as fuel containers that have been damaged, have to be properly disposed of to avoid risks. Throw away any food that has been exposed to smoke, heat, or soot. Do not use water you suspect has been contaminated to wash dishes, prepare food, brush your teeth, make ice, wash your hands, or to make baby formula.

Do your best to stay calm and pace yourself. You might find yourself in the position of taking charge of others. Listen carefully to what other people are saying to you and patiently deal with the most urgent situations first.

As the Colorado Springs area has gone through the Waldo Canyon Fire that has found so many homes destroyed, as well as 32,000 people evacuated at the height of the fire, there have been some different organizations here helping people like my husband and I. Our immense Thank You to:

Enough cannot be said for the firefighters who defended homes and businesses in this area. In my opinion, these firefighters deserve a parade in their honor. Police departments from across the state helped to protect and defend the homes and property of those who had to evacuate and keep everyone safe during the evacuations. Be prepared in case a wildfire happens in your area.


Weather information from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

American Red Cross - Wildfire Preparedness Fast Facts

"More and more people are making their homes in woodland settings, rural areas or remote mountain sites. There, residents enjoy the beauty of the environment but face the very real danger of wild fires. Wild fires often begin unnoticed."

USDA - Active Fire Mapping Program

"The Active Fire Mapping Program is an operational, satellite-based fire detection and monitoring program managed by the USDA Forest Service Remote Sensing Applications Center (RSAC) located in Salt Lake City, Utah."

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