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Wildfires

Wildfires are a growing natural hazard in most regions of the United States, posing a threat to life and property, particularly where native ecosystems meet developed areas.Four out of every five wildfires are caused by people.

However, because fire is a natural (and often beneficial) process, fire suppression can lead to more severe fires due to the buildup of vegetation, which creates more fuel.

In addition, the secondary effects of wildfires, including erosion, landslides, introduction of invasive species, and changes in water quality, are often more disastrous than the fire itself.

 

The Basic Elements of Fire

The word "fire" refers to the natural phenomenon that occurs whenever a combustible fuel comes into contact with oxygen at an extremely high temperature. Fire is the byproduct of a chemical reaction in which fuel stored in a combustible fuel is converted to a gas. A fire's flame refers to the visual indication of light that occurs once the gas is heated, and is evidence that a fire has taken place.

The Fire Triangle

The Fire Triangle was developed by natural scientists as a simple way of understanding the factors of fire. Each side of the triangle represents one of the three ingredients of fire – oxygen, heat, and fuel – demonstrating the interdependence of these ingredients in creating and sustaining fire. Remove any of these three factors from the triangle, and a fire will die.

The interaction of the three equal sides of the fire triangle: heat, fuel and oxygen, are required for the creation and maintenance of any fire. When there is not enough heat generated to sustain the process, when the fuel is exhausted, removed, or isolated, or when oxygen supply is limited, then a side of the triangle is broken and the fire is suppressed.

Fire is Nature's Housekeeper Since the dawn of time, fires have burned regularly, consuming vegetation, accumulations of insects and diseases, and triggering a rebirth of forests. Without periodic fire, plants and animals requiring nutrients and vegetation from other parts of the cycle disappear. Fire, in places where it is a crucial part of the ecosystem, promotes vegetative and wildlife diversity, helps maintain wilderness and wildland areas, and eliminates the heavy fuel accumulations which can ultimately lead to catastrophic wildfire. Many plants have evolved adaptations that protect them as a species against the effects of wildland fire, and some are even strengthened by it. Nearly every ecosystem in the country has some kind of fire dependent plant or tree.

Prescribed Fires are Good Fires

As one of the most important natural agents of change, fire plays a vital role in maintaining healthy ecosystems. Prescribed fire reintroduces the beneficial effects of fire into an ecosystem, producing the kinds of vegetation and landscapes we want, and reducing the hazard of catastrophic wildfire caused by excessive fuel buildup.

Wildfires are Bad Fires

They destroy wilderness, property, and lives. As more homes are built in and around forested areas, and as more people take to our country's wildland areas, wildfires are also on the rise. Through discarded smoking products, sparks from equipment in operation, arced powerlines, campfires, arson, debris burning and other careless means, wildfires are often ignited, and its fires such as these – unplanned, uncontrolled and unnecessary – that could be most easily prevented.

Safety Tips

•  Don't park your vehicle on dry grass.
•   If off-road vehicle use is allowed, internal combustion equipment requires a spark arrester.
•   Know your county's outdoor burning regulations. Unlawful trash burning is a punishable offense.
•   At the first sign of a wildfire, leave area immediately by established trails or roads. Contact a Ranger as soon as possible. If escape route is blocked, go to the nearest lake or stream.
•   Leave campsite as natural as possible, traveling on trails and other durable surfaces.
•   Inspect your site upon leaving.
•   Never take burning sticks out of a fire.
•   Never take any type of fireworks on public lands.
•   Keep stoves, lanterns and heaters away from combustibles.
•   Store flammable liquid containers in a safe place.
•   Never use stoves, lanterns and heaters inside a tent

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.
  • Ensure adequate accessibility by large fire vehicles to your property.
  • 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 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 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 noncombustible materials on the roof and exterior structure of the dwelling, or treat wood or combustible material used in roofs, siding, decking, or trim with fire-retardant chemicals evaluated by a nationally recognized laboratory, such as Underwriters Laboratories (UL). Plant fire-resistant shrubs and trees. For example, hardwood trees are less flammable than pine, evergreen, eucalyptus or fir trees.

Your best resource for proper planning is www.firewise.org which has outstanding information used daily by residents, property owners, fire departments, community planners, builders, public policy officials, water authorities, architects and others to assure safety from fire – it really works. Firewise workshops are offered for free all across the Nation in communities large and small and free Firewise materials can be obtained easily by anyone interested.

Create a 30- to 100-foot safety zone around your home

Within this area, you can take steps to reduce potential 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 suffice. Contact your local fire department or forestry office for additional information.

  • Rake leaves, dead limbs and twigs. Clear all flammable vegetation.
  • Remove leaves and rubbish from under structures.
  • Thin a 15-foot space between tree crowns, and remove limbs within 15 feet of the ground.
  • Remove dead branches that extend over the roof.
  • Prune 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 the barbecue. Place a screen over the grill – use nonflammable material with mesh no coarser than one-quarter inch.
  • Regularly dispose of newspapers and rubbish at an approved site. Follow local burning regulations.
  • Place stove, fireplace and grill ashes in a metal bucket, soak in water for 2 days; then bury the cold ashes in mineral soil.
  • Store gasoline, oily rags and other flammable materials in approved safety cans. Place cans in a safe location away from the base of buildings.
  • Stack firewood at least 100 feet away and uphill from your home. Clear combustible material within 20 feet. Use only wood-burning devices evaluated by a nationally recognized laboratory, such as Underwriters Laboratories (UL).
  • Review your homeowner's insurance policy and also prepare/update a list of your home's contents.

Protect your home

  • Regularly clean roof and gutters.
  • Inspect chimneys at least twice a year. Clean them at least once a year. Keep the dampers in good working order. 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.)
  • Use 1/8-inch mesh screen beneath porches, decks, floor areas, and the home itself. Also, screen openings to floors, roof and attic.
  • Install a dual-sensor smoke alarm on each level of your home, especially near bedrooms; test monthly and change the batteries at least once each year.
  • Teach each family member how to use a fire extinguisher (ABC type) and show them where it's kept.
  • Keep handy household items that can be used as fire tools: a rake, axe, handsaw or chain saw, bucket and shovel.
  • Keep a ladder that will reach the roof.
  • Consider installing protective shutters or heavy fire-resistant drapes.

Plan your water needs

  • Identify and maintain an adequate 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 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 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.
  • Take your Disaster Supplies Kit.
  • 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, blinds, or noncombustible window coverings and heavy drapes. Remove lightweight curtains.
  • Shut off all utilities if possible, including bottled gas.
  • Open 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 precut noncombustible coverings.
  • Turn off propane tanks.
  • Place combustible patio furniture inside.
  • Connect the garden hose to outside taps.
  • Set up a portable gasoline-powered pump.
  • Place lawn sprinklers on the roof and near aboveground fuel tanks. Wetting the roof may help if it is shake-shingled.
  • Wet or remove shrubs within 15 feet of the home.
  • Gather fire tools.

Emergency Supplies

When wildfire threatens, you won't have time to shop or search for supplies. Assemble a Disaster Supplies Kit with items you may need if advised to evacuate. Store these supplies in sturdy, easy-to-carry containers such as backpacks, duffle bags, or trash containers.

Include:

  • A three-day supply of water (one gallon per person per day) and food that won't spoil.
  • One change of clothing and footwear per person and one blanket or sleeping bag per person.
  • A first aid kit that includes your family's prescription medications.
  • Emergency tools including a battery-powered radio, flashlight, and plenty of extra batteries.
  • An extra set of car keys and a credit card, cash, or traveler's checks.
  • Sanitation supplies.
  • Special items for infant, elderly, or disabled family members.
  • An extra pair of eye-glasses.
  • Keep important family documents in a waterproof container. Assemble a smaller version of your kit to keep in the trunk of your car.

Create a Family Disaster Plan

Wildfire and other types of disasters – hurricane, flood, tornado, earthquake, hazardous materials spill, winter storm – can strike quickly and without warning. You can cope with disaster by preparing in advance and working together. Meet with your family to create a disaster plan. To get started…

Contact your local Emergency Management Agency or your local American Red Cross chapter

  • Find out about the hazards in your community.
  • Ask how you would be warned.
  • Find out how to prepare for each type of disaster.

Meet with your family

  • Discuss the types of disasters that could occur.
  • Explain how to prepare and respond to each type of disaster.
  • Discuss where to go and what to bring if advised to evacuate.
  • Practice what you have discussed.

Plan how your family will stay in contact if separated by disaster

  • Pick two meeting places:
    1. a place a safe distance from your home in case of a home fire.
    2. a place outside your neighborhood in case you can't return home.
  • Choose an out-of-state friend as a "check-in contact" for everyone to call.

Complete these steps

  • Post emergency telephone numbers by every phone.
  • Show responsible family members how and when to shut off water, gas, and electricity at main switches.
  • Contact your local fire department to learn about home fire hazards.
  • Learn first aid and CPR. Contact your local American Red Cross chapter for information and training.

 

ONLY YOU CAN PREVENT WILDFIRES

Credit: USGS, CDC, Smokey  Bear, US Forest Service,NASA, National Geographic