Why talk about
and more people are making their homes in woodland settings in or near forests,
rural areas, or remote mountain sites. There, residents enjoy the beauty of the
environment but face the very real danger of wildland fire. Wildland fires often
begin unnoticed. They spread quickly, igniting brush, trees, and
are three different classes of wildland fires. Surface fires
the most common type. They burn along the forest floor, killing or damaging
young trees. Ground fires
usually started by lightning. They burn on or below the forest floor in the
humus layer down to the mineral soil. Crown fires
along the tops of trees and are spread rapidly by wind. More than four out of
every five wildland fires are started by people. Negligent human behavior, such
as smoking in forested areas or improperly extinguishing campfires, is the cause
of many wildland fires. Lightning is another cause.
How can I
protect myself from wildland fire?
people who live, work, or play in areas prone to wildland fire should carefully
consider how to get out of the area quickly and safely in case of fire. In
addition, residents in areas at risk for wildland fire should do everything
possible to minimize their vulnerability. One of the most important ways to
protect yourself and your property is to use fire-resistant materials outside
and inside your home. You should also maintain a buffer zone around your home to
reduce the odds that a wildland fire could reach your home.
What is the
best source of information in the event of a wildland fire?
radio and television stations are the best sources of information about wildland
fire in your area.
|Prevent Wildland Fires
fires can quickly spread out of control.
• Build fires
for debris burning, campfires, etc. away from nearby trees or
Embers and firebrands can float in the air and can start wildland fires where
• Have handy a
way to extinguish the fire quickly and completely (water,
sand, fire extinguisher).
• Stay with a
leave a fire—even a cigarette—burning unattended.
Be Prepared for Wildland
CORE ACTION MESSAGES
• Determine your risk.
• Make your home easy
to find and easy to access.
• Identify and maintain outside water
general preparedness, every household should create and practice a family
disaster plan and assemble and maintain a disaster supplies kit. In addition,
households at risk for wildland fire should take firespecific precautions and
plan and practice what to do in the event of a fire.
Learn about your area's wildland fire risk.
your local fire department, state forestry office, or other emergency response
agencies for information on fire laws and wildland fire
If you are at
risk for wildland fire, you should:
• Talk with
members of your household about wildland fires—how to help prevent them and what
to do if one occurs.
• Make sure that
fire vehicles can get to your home by clearly marking all driveway entrances and
displaying your address number. Make
sure the driveway is wide enough to allow fire emergency vehicles easy access to
the home with ample turnaround space. Keep the driveway in good
• Post fire
emergency telephone numbers by every phone in your home. In
a wildland fire, every second counts.
• Plan and
practice two ways out of your neighborhood. Your
primary route may be blocked; know another way out just in case. (See
Sheltering and Post- Disaster Safety.”)
• Identify and
maintain an adequate water source outside your home, such
as a small pond, cistern, well, swimming pool, or hydrant. Keep a garden hose
that is long enough to reach any area of the home and other structures on the
property. 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 (15 meters) from the home. Firefighters may be able to use
• Keep handy
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. Having this equipment will make your
efforts more effective. • Develop a
wildland fire-specific evacuation plan and
coordinate it with your Family
CORE ACTION MESSAGES
• Design or modify your
structures and landscaping to make them as wildland fire resistant as
• Maintain your structures and outside areas to decrease the
risk of wildland fire.
If you live in an area at risk for wildland fire, you
- Design and
landscape your home and outbuildings with wildland fire safety in mind.
local building codes and weed-abatement ordinances for structures built near
wooded areas. There may be restrictions on the types of materials or plants
allowed in residential areas. Following local codes or recommendations will help
reduce the risk of injury to you and damage to your
building materials and plants that can help resist fire rather
than fuel it. Use only fire-resistant or noncombustible materials (tile, stucco,
metal siding, brick, concrete block, or rock) on the roof and exterior structure
of the dwelling. Treat wood or combustible materials used in roofs, siding,
decking, or trim with fire-retardant chemicals that have been listed by the
Underwriter's Laboratory (UL) or other certification laboratories. Avoid using
wooden shakes and shingles for a roof. Use only thick, tempered safety glass in
large windows. Sliding glass doors are already required to be made of tempered
electrical lines installed underground if
you live in an area where this is an option. There is a greater chance of fire
from overhead lines that fall or are damaged, such as in an earthquake or
- Create safety
separate your home and outbuildings, such as barns, from plants and vegetation.
(Consult your local fire department for recommendations about the safety zones
for your property.) Maintain the greatest distance possible between your home
and materials that may burn in a wildland fire. Within this area, you can take
steps to reduce potential exposure to flames and radiant heat. Swimming pools
and patios can help define safety zones.
- If your home
sits on a steep slope, standard
protective measures may not suffice. Fire moves quickly up steep slopes. A
larger safety zone may be necessary. Stone walls can act as heat shields and
deflect flames along a ridge. Contact your local fire department or state
forestry office for additional information.
clean roofs and gutters. Remove
all dead limbs, needles, and debris that spread fire.
- Equip chimneys
and stovepipes with a spark arrester that
meets the requirements of National Fire Protection Association Standard 211.
(Contact your local fire department for exact specifications.) This will reduce
the chance of burning cinders escaping through the chimney, starting outdoor
- Have a fire
extinguisher (“A-B-C” rated) and get training from the fire department in how to
use it. Different
extinguishers operate in different ways. A water extinguisher is better for
vegetation fires and to raise the moisture level in leaves and grasses. Unless
you know how to use your extinguisher, you may not be able to use it
effectively. There is no time to read directions during an emergency. (See
installing protective shutters or multi–paned windows.
The extreme heat created by the fire causes single paned windows to break,
permitting burning cinders and superheated air to enter and ignite the interior
of the building. The right shutters can reduce the potential for these cinders
to cause your home to burn.
- Keep a ladder
handy that will reach the roof.
You may need to get on the roof to remove combustible
low–flammability shrubs and trees in your safety zone and
on the remainder of your property. Low flammability plants are less likely to
ignite and spread fire closer to your home. For example, hardwood trees are more
fire-resistant than pine, evergreen, eucalyptus, or fir trees. Planting
“islands” help separate plants and trees without reducing shade or
- Clear all
combustible vegetation and remove wooden lawn furniture to
reduce the fuel load. Rake away leaves. Remove leaves, rubbish, dead limbs, and
twigs from under structures and dispose of them properly. Have a professional
tree service create a 15- foot (5-meter) space between tree crowns, and remove
limbs within 6 to 10 feet (2 to 3 meters) of the ground. This will help reduce
the chance of fire spreading from tree to tree or from ground to
- Remove dead
branches from all trees.
Dead branches are very combustible.
- Keep trees
adjacent to buildings free of dead or dying wood and
- Remove tree
branches and shrubs within 10 feet (3 meters) of a stovepipe or chimney
- If you have
horses or livestock, be
sure to sweep hay and other burnable feed away from the building that houses the
animals. Close windows and doors to prevent embers from entering
- Keep all tree
and shrub limbs trimmed so they do not come in contact with electrical
Electrical wires can be easily damaged or knocked loose by swaying
- Ask the power
company to clear branches from power lines. High-voltage
power lines can be very dangerous. If a line falls, it can cause injury or start
a fire. Only authorized and trained professionals should work around power
- Remove vines
from the walls of your home. Even
live vines can spread fire quickly.
- Mow and water
This will help reduce the fuel available for fire.
above–ground propane tanks at least 30 feet (9 meters) from the home or other
to NFPA 58: Liquefied Petroleum Gas Code for specific distances based on tank
- Clear a
10-foot (3-meter) area around propane tanks and the
Place a metal screen over the grill. Use noncombustible screen material with
mesh no coarser than one-quarter inch.
dispose of newspapers and rubbish at an approved site. Follow
local burning regulations. Regular disposal of combustible/flammable items will
reduce the fuel available for fire.
- Place stove,
fireplace, and grill ashes in a metal bucket, soak
in water for two days, then bury the cold ashes in mineral soil. Fires can start
quickly from hidden cinders or burnt materials that are still hot. Once they are
burned, chunks of flammable items can ignite at lower temperatures. Bury ashes
to avoid potential fires.
- Stack firewood
at least 30 feet (9 meters) away and uphill from your home.
combustible material within 20 feet (6 meters) of the stack. Fire tends to
travel uphill, so keep highly combustible firewood and other materials above
- Use only
wood-burning devices that are listed by UL or
other certification laboratories and approved by your local fire
- Box eaves to
prevent sparks from entering the structure under the roof
- Place metal
screens over openings to prevent collection of litter.
Cover openings to windows, floors, roof, and attic with metal screen (not
vinyl). Use at least quarter-inch screen beneath porches, decks, floors, and the
home itself. Eighth-inch mesh screen is better. Litter, such as leaves,
branches, twigs, and loose papers, quickly increases the fuel available for a
- Avoid open
burning completely, especially
during the fire season. Ash and cinders can float in the air, and they may be
blown into areas with heavy fuel load and start wildland fires. Check with your
local fire department for burning regulations and permits.
hazardous conditions that
could cause a wildland fire. Community responders may be able to eliminate or
reduce conditions that could cause fire.
What to Do When
Wildland Fire Threatens
CORE ACTION MESSAGES
• Keep informed.
• Get ready to leave at a
moment’s notice. The earlier a person leaves, the safer they will be.
If you have time, take steps to protect
If there are
reports of wildland fires, you should:
regularly to local radio or television stations for updated emergency
the instructions of local officials. Local officials will be able to advise you
of the safest escape route, which may be different than you expect. Wildland
fires can change direction and speed suddenly. In addition to listening to radio
and television reports, go outside to look at the fire from time to time. If you
believe the fire is too close to your location, evacuate immediately. The fire
may move too fast for officials to issue evacuation notifications.
• Back your car
into the garage or park it in an open space facing the direction of escape.
the car doors and roll up the windows. Leave the key in the ignition. Close
garage windows and doors. Remove all obstacles to a quick
• Confine pets
to one room. Make
plans to care for your pets in case you must evacuate. Pets may try to run if
they feel threatened by fire. Keeping them inside and in one room will allow you
to find them quickly if you need to leave. If you think an evacuation may be
advised, and if you have large, unusual, or numerous animals, start evacuating
them out of harm’s way as soon as you are aware of impending danger. If you are
using a horse or other trailer to evacuate your animals, move early rather than
wait until it may be too late to maneuver a trailer through slow traffic and
temporary housing at a friend’s or relative's home outside the threatened area.
will be more comfortable in someone's home than in a public shelter. Plus, many
shelters do not allow pets.
• If you are
sure you have time, take steps to reduce the chance of your home catching fire
lessen the amount of damage from a nearby fire:
-Shut off gas
at the meter only if advised to do so by local officials on
the radio or television.
-If you have a
propane tank system, turn
off the valves on the system, and leave the valves closed until the propane
supplier inspects your system.
dampers. Close fireplace screens. Burning
embers will not be “sucked down” into a home from the outside. Moreover, if a
spark arrestor is used on the chimney to prevent embers from getting out, it
will also prevent embers from getting in.
windows, vents, doors, blinds, or noncombustible window coverings, and heavy
drapes. Remove lightweight drapes and curtains.
furniture into the center of the home away
from windows and sliding-glass doors.
doors and windows inside
your home to prevent draft.
valuables that will not be damaged by water in a pool or pond.
sprinklers up to 50 feet (15 meters) away from the structures
raise the moisture level of nearby vegetation.
and ground vents with
precut plywood or commercial seals.
combustible items from
around the home, lawn, and poolsidefurniture, umbrellas, tarp coverings,
garden hose to outside taps.
-Gather fire tools (shovels,
What to Do if You Must
CORE ACTION MESSAGES
• Leave as early as
• Prepare your home if you have time.
• If you think you
should or if authorities tell you to evacuate immediately, go right away; delay
could be deadly.
If advised to evacuate
immediately, do so immediately.
You may have only minutes to act.
Save yourself and those with
If advised to
evacuate as soon as possible, you should:
shoes, cotton or wool long pants and long-sleeved shirt, and gloves. Bring a
handkerchief to protect your face. Hot embers or cinders can burn your skin if
you come in contact with them. Smoke can make it difficult to breathe and damage
• Prepare your
home and leave early. If
you wait until the last minute, you place yourself at risk and also interfere
with fire department response.
Take your Disaster Supplies Kit
which you have placed prescription medications for household members, as well as
copies of essential papers and identification items. Also, if time permits, load
your vehicle with other essential items that could not be replaced if they were
destroyed by fire.
• Take your pets
and your pet disaster supplies with you.
• Lock your
may be others who evacuate after you or return before you. Secure your home as
you normally would.
• Call the
out-of-town contact you
chose when creating your Family Disaster Plan and tell him or her what has
happened and where you are going.
• Choose a route
away from the fire. Watch
for changes in the speed and direction of fire and smoke. Staying as far away as
possible will provide you with the greatest safety. Continue to listen to a
local radio or television station for evacuation
• If you are
trapped, crouch in a pond, river, or pool. Do
not put wet clothing or bandanas over your nose or mouth because moist air
causes more damage to airways than dry air at the same temperature. If there is
no body of water, look for shelter in a cleared area or among a bed of rocks.
Lie flat, face down, and cover your body with soil. Breathe the air close to the
ground to avoid scorching your lungs or inhaling smoke. You cannot outrun a
fire. Wildland fires move very fast and create their own wind, helping them to
move even faster and burn even hotter.
the unlikely event that you choose not to evacuate, make sure all fire tools are
outside and easy to access, including hoses in the front and back yards. Be
aware that water pressure will probably decrease because of the heavy demand for
firefighting, or water may not be available at all because electric pumps have
failed or water reservoirs are drained.
What to Do When
You Are Allowed to Return After a Wildland
CORE ACTION MESSAGES
• Get permission from fire
officials before entering a burned wildland area.
• Look out for hazards,
such as fallen wires and poles and ash pits.
• Look out as burned trees
can fall because of weakened roots.
• Be alert to the possibility of
• Take precautions while cleaning up.
return to your home after a wildland fire, you
permission from officials before entering a burned wildland
• Use caution
exercise good judgment when re-entering a burned wildland area. Hazards may
still exist, including hot spots, which can flare up without
• Avoid damaged
or fallen power poles or lines, and downed wires. Immediately
report electrical damage to authorities. Electric wires may shock people or
cause further fires. If you come across dangerous wires, if possible, remain on
the scene to warn others of the hazard until a repair crew
• Watch for ash
pits and mark them for safety. Ash
pits are holes full of hot ashes created by burned trees and stumps. You can be
seriously burned by falling into an ash pit or landing on one with your hands or
feet. Warn your family and neighbors to keep clear of the
• Watch animals
all your animals under your direct control. Hidden embers and hot spots could
burn your pets’ paws or hooves.
• If there is no
power, check to make sure the main breaker is on.
may become disoriented, particularly because fire often affects scent markers
that normally allow them to find their homes.
-Your pets may be able to
escape from your home or through a broken fence. -In addition, the behavior of
pets may change dramatically after a fire, becoming aggressive or defensive, so
be aware of their well-being and take measures to protect them from hazards,
including displaced wild animals, and to ensure the safety of other people and
may cause breakers to trip. If the breakers are on and power is still not
present, contact the utility company.
precautions while cleaning your property. You
may be exposed to potential health risks from hazardous materials.
children away from these hazardous sites.
-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
-Wear leather gloves and heavy-soled shoes to protect hands
and feet 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 turned
off the valves on a propane tank system, contact
the propane supplier, and leave the valves closed until the supplier inspects
your system. Tanks, brass and copper fittings, and lines may have been damaged
by the heat and be unsafe. If fire burned the tank, the pressure relief valve
probably opened and released the contents.
• If you have a
heating oil tank system, contact
a heating oil supplier for an inspection of your system before using it. An
outside tank may have shifted or fallen from the stand and fuel lines may have
kinked or weakened. Heat from the fire may have caused the tank to warp or
bulge. Nonvented tanks are more likely to bulge or show signs of stress. The
fire may have loosened or damaged fittings and filters.
• Be careful
around burned trees and power poles.. Any
tree or power pole that has been weakened by fire may be a hazard. Winds are
normally responsible for toppling weakened trees and poles. The wind patterns in
your area may have changed as a result of the loss of adjacent tree
-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. If fire has burned deep into the
trunk, the tree should be considered unstable.
-Look for burned roots by
probing the ground with a rod around the base of the tree and several feet away
from the base. Roots are generally six to eight inches (15 to 20 centimeters)
below the surface. If the roots have been burned, the tree could be toppled by
-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. An evergreen tree that has been damaged by fire is
subject to bark beetle
attack. Seek professional assistance from the state forestry office concerning
measures for protecting evergreens from bark beetle attack.
• Discard food
that has been exposed to heat, smoke, or soot. The
high temperatures of fire and its by-products can make food unsafe. (See
and Water Safety During/Post Disaster”)
• If you are in
doubt about the safety of your water, contact local public health officials.
at undamaged homes should be safe, unless affected by a fuel spill. If you use
water from a public well, have a water sample collected and tested before
consuming it. Water may have been contaminated with bacteria due to a loss of
water pressure in the plumbing. (See “Food
and Water Safety During/Post Disaster”)
• Stay out of a
canyon below a burned hill or mountain if there is even a chance of rain.
canyons are dangerous if it has rained heavily recently, if it is currently
raining in the canyon, or if it is raining or could rain in the hills or
mountains above the canyon. Risks for mudslides and debris flows are high in
such burned areas for three to five years after a wildland
Media and Community Education Ideas
your community to learn how to manage the wildland fire hazards of the
wildland/urban interface by becoming a Firewise Community. Firewise programs
provide residents with the knowledge needed to maintain an acceptable level of
fire readiness and to provide optimal conditions for firefighters during an
emergency. Visit www.firewise.org
learn more about the Firewise Community/USA program.
to your neighbors about wildland fire safety. Plan how the neighborhood could
work together before and after a wildland fire. Make a list of your neighbors'
skills, such as 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 cannot get home. • Ask
your local newspaper or radio or television station to:
-Do a series on
the dangers of wildland fires and emphasize the areas most at risk for wildland
with officials of the local fire, police, and emergency medical services
departments; utilities; hospitals; emergency management office; and American Red
Cross chapter to prepare
and disseminate guidelines for people with mobility impairments about what to do
if they have to evacuate.
homeowners about local building codes and weed-abatement ordinances for
structures built near wooded areas. • Periodically
inform your community of local public warning systems.
your local emergency management agency, humane society, and animal control
agency to see if your community has sheltering options for animals and for
families with pets. If not, learn more about emergency animal shelters and
volunteer to include this option in local disaster preparedness
-Inform people about the advantages of creating a fire safety zone
around structures and of using fire-resistant roofing materials when building or
-Highlight the importance of staying informed about local weather
-Run public service ads about how to protect lives in
-Report on the advantages of regular chimney sweepings.
Help the reporters to localize the information by providing them with the local
emergency telephone number for the fire, police, and emergency medical services
departments (usually 9-1-1) and emergency numbers for the local utilities and
hospitals. Also provide business telephone numbers for the local emergency
management office and American Red Cross chapter.