5 wildfire safety steps everyone should know

Wildfire safety tips, like evacuating efficiently and listening to those in charge of rescue efforts, will help ensure your family survives a wildfire


Hundreds of acres of land are damaged by wildfires each year, leaving behind a trail of destruction. However, by utilizing proper wildfire safety procedures, these disaster don’t have to result in the loss of life.

The important thing to remember about wildfires is their unpredictability; they can jump over barriers that would seemingly stop them, such as highways. If there is a risk of wildfire near your community, or you become aware of a wildfire heading your way, it’s time to follow wildfire safety protocols and be ready if the threat continues to move closer.

The following five steps are critical to a community’s emergency planning for wildfire.

#1 Listen to Emergency Notices

Most deaths from natural disasters occur due to people ignoring the warnings and notices of first responders and other rescue organizations. Wildfire safety and preparation means understanding what each step of an emergency notification means, and heeding the information.

Fire Weather Watch -- Issued when the potential for severe fire weather exists in the near future. A watch is used when there is a relatively low probability of occurrence and less chance of verifying. The fire danger rating is usually in the high to extreme category. A Fire Weather Watch normally will be issued 12 to 24 hours in advance of the expected onset of severe fire weather conditions.

Red Flag Warning -- Issued to indicate the imminent danger of severe fire weather and a relatively high probability of occurring. The fire danger is usually in the high to extreme category. A Red Flag Warning will normally be issued for severe fire weather events less than 12 hours away from occurring.

Evacuation Order -- Evacuations are issued when there is an extensive threat to life and property, and should be taken seriously and followed.

#2 Wildfire Safety Requires Planning Ahead

There are areas around the country that are susceptible to wildfires; most of the states out west, particularly California, see hundreds of wildfires each year. If you live in an area that has a history of being threatened by wildfires, you need to be planning ahead. That includes:

  • Mapping multiple evacuation routes, in case your preferred route is closed
  • Gathering important documents that can be easily grabbed before evacuating
  • Putting a change of clothes, first-aid kit, non-perishable food and water in your car
  • Coordinating future evacuation plans with family members

If you have pets, you should plan accordingly to prevent tough decisions in the heat of the moment. Service animals will be accepted at shelters, but if you need to evacuate with a pet, visit PetsWelcome.com to help find lodging that can accommodate both your two-legged and four-legged family members.

#3 Protect Your Home From Wildfire

With strong, severe wildfires, even the most well-developed wildfire safety preparation wont’ be enough to prevent damage to your home, but certain measures could help stop smaller fires from creeping upon your property. The following wildfire safety tips could prevent extreme damage to your home and may be helpful to communities in regions that experience regular wildfires.

  • Remove and clear anything that could be considered additional fuel, such as dry leaves, from all areas surrounding the home, including gutters.
  • Remove flammable lawn furniture and put in inside, in the middle of your home, away from the doors and windows.
  • Create fuel breaks, such as cement or gravel walkways.
  • Purchase and install extra-long garden hoses that are able to reach every part of your home, from front to back.

#4 Confirm Wildfire Danger Has Passed Before Returning Home

In the aftermath of a disaster, wildfire safety is still important. There are many hazards left behind by the flames that could be a threat to human life. Watch out for:

  • Ash pits, which are large holes of hot ash from burned up trees
  • Hot spots, which are sreas of the ground that are still hot from extinguished flames and have the potential to flare up
  • Falling debris from damaged homes and buildings
  • Downed power lines

#5 Stay Vigilant While Surveying Wildfire Damage

Visit the attic to check for damage and any signs that part of your home is still on fire, such as smoldering areas or smoke. If you find evidence of fire, evacuate the house immediately and call 911.

If the house is safe, before touching anything, document your entire home and property every and record area of damage for insurance claims.

See the below Gov1 articles for more information on emergency preparation, and review and download these smoke precaution tips from American Medical Response.

AMR2017_SmokePrecautions by Ed Praetorian on Scribd

Rachel Engel is an award-winning journalist and the senior editor of FireRescue1.com and EMS1.com. In addition to her regular editing duties, Engel seeks to tell the heroic, human stories of first responders and the importance of their work. She earned her bachelor’s degree in communications from Cameron University in Lawton, Oklahoma, and began her career as a freelance writer, focusing on government and military issues. Engel joined Lexipol in 2015 and has since reported on issues related to public safety. Engel lives in Wichita, Kansas. She can be reached via email.