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How to prepare for wildfires

In 2020, 75 people lost their lives in the United States due to devastating wildfires Approximately 90 percent of wildfires in the United States are started by people. The remaining 10 percent were started naturally, by either lightning or lava. Approximately 4.5 million U.S. homes were identified at high to extreme risk of wildfire with nearly half of those homes in California alone.


According to the National Interagency Fire Center, there were about 57,000 wildfires in 2019. In 2020, there were more than 10.3 million acres burned by wildfires. Five of the top 20 largest wildfires in 2020 were in California, killing 31 people. There were also large fires burning in Idaho, Montana, Oregon, Washington, Texas, Colorado, Oklahoma, Montana, and Utah. Several evacuations resulted from wildfires. Most of these fires were fueled by drought conditions.


Every year around the globe, individuals and families evacuate their homes to escape wildfires. Unfortunately, too many people return to their scorched homes and neighborhoods to discover that they have lost everything. Firefighters who pledge to protect life and property have also lost their own lives trying to help others.

August 18, 2020 snapshot of U.S. west coast fires from AccuWeather.com

You and your family can do your part in this battle against annual wildfires.


What things can I do to prevent wildfires?

  • Educate yourself and teach your children about fire safety.

  • Be sure you have a ready water source that can reach every part of your property.

  • Rake leaves, dead limbs, and clear out flammable vegetation.

  • Remove leaves and rubbish from under your house and other structures.

  • Make sure there is a 15-foot space between tree crowns.

  • Cut off any tree limbs within 15 feet off the ground.

Often, wildfires begin with hardly a notice. They may have been triggered by lightning, accidents, or by human error. They can spread quickly, threatening property and lives.


How do I prepare for wildfires?

  • Purchase fire insurance if in fire-prone areas

  • Obtain a disaster supply kit

  • Make a family emergency plan

  • Plan where you will evacuate to

  • Return to your home only when it is safe

  • Document the damage to your property

If you cannot evacuate, block off a designated room that can be closed off from outside air. Close all doors and windows in this room. Ready.gov provides important information you need to know to be prepared for wildfires:

  • Recognize wildfire warnings and alerts.

  • Sign up for community alerts (EAS) Emergency Alert system and (WEA) Wireless emergency alert.

  • Pay attention to air quality alerts and weather reports.

  • Make an emergency plan for everyone in your family. They should each know what to do no matter where they might go throughout the day or night.

  • Be aware of where your important documents are and keep them safe and up to date.

  • Keep a secure copy of your important documents online.

  • Prepare your home by removing debris and flammable materials or objects.

  • Use high-efficiency filters in your central air conditioning system to capture fire particles from smoke. Set the system to circulate mode and close outside intake damper.

  • Purchase a portable air cleaner to keep in your safe room.

  • Know your evacuation zone and Have regular drills with your family, including pets.


What should I do if I have to evacuate?

  1. Acquire or put together a 72-hour kit - with sufficient water, food, and sanitary necessities for each person.

  2. Listen to local authorities and follow their instructions. They are trained and can provide the latest information. If they tell to evacuate, follow their orders. The Red Cross has shelters and an app where you can find the one nearest to you.

  3. Have a respirator to keep smoke particles out of the air you breathe. N95 respirators can limit your exposure to smoke.

  4. Keep your cell phones charged when there is a wildfire in your vicinity.

  5. Make plans with family and friends if something should happen where you cannot return to your home.

If trapped, call 911 and give them your location. Be aware that there may be a delay and have a reflector to signal rescuing firefighters and first responders.


If smoke levels are high, do not use anything that burns, including candles and fireplaces, especially when the air is very dry. Do not smoke as it puts pollution into the air.


Be aware of those in your family who have health symptoms, including asthma or COPD, respiratory conditions, and heart disease. It is good to have medical records with you in case you need to go to the hospital.


What more can I do to prepare for wildfires?

  • Mark the entrance to your property with address signs that are clearly visible from the road.

  • Keep lawns trimmed, leaves raked, and the roof and rain gutters free from debris such as dead limbs and leaves.

  • Stack firewood at least 30 feet away from your residence.

  • Store flammable materials liquids, and solvents in metal containers outside your residence at least 30 feet away from structures and wooden fences.

  • Create defensible space by thinning trees and brush within 30 feet around your residence. Beyond 30 feet, remove dead wood, debris, and low tree branches.

  • Landscape your property with fire resistant plants and vegetation to prevent fire from spreading quickly. Make sure water sources, such as hydrants, ponds, swimming pools, and well, are accessible to the fire department.

  • Use fire resistant, protective roofing and materials like stone, brick, and metal to protect your residence. Avoid using wood materials.

  • Cover all exterior vents, attics, and eaves with metal mesh screens to prevent debris from collecting and to help keeps sparts out.

  • Install multi-pane windows, tempered safety glass, or fireproof shutters to protect large windows from radiant heat.

  • Use fire-resistant draperies for added window protection.

  • Have chimneys, wood stoves, and all home heating systems inspected and cleaned annually by a certified specialist.

  • Insulate chimneys and place spark arresters on top. Chimney should be 3 feet above the food.

  • Remove branches hanging above and around the chimney.

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