How to Stay Safe During a Wildfire

Don't wait until it's too late. Learn how to prepare for a wildfire and stay safe during and after the disaster with expert guidance and tips from the WFCA.

Published:July 25, 2023
Edited:
March 1, 2024

Table of Contents

    Don’t wait until it’s too late. Learn how to prepare for a wildfire and stay safe during and after the disaster with expert guidance and tips from the WFCA.

    Wildfires can start suddenly and grow rapidly under drought and high wind conditions. Be aware of the wildfires in your area so you can have the most time possible to prepare before wildfire threatens your neighborhood. You can also develop emergency plans before natural disasters, review and practice evacuation routes, and harden your home against fire with landscaping and building choices.1 Read on to discover ways to protect yourself and your family members during a wildfire event in your area.

    Prepare Before the Wildfire

    This is part of the Ready, Set, Go! wildfire preparedness program that asks you to Be Ready. Prepare ahead of time for wildfire events, including defending your home and property from wildfire. This is also when you Get Set with a plan before you are asked to evacuate.2 Other steps to take to Be Ready and Get Set before a wildfire include:

    • Gather emergency supplies. Focus on important, irreplaceable documents and items that will help you evacuate the fire and stay comfortable in the aftermath.3 The American Red Cross advises having a ‘Go-Kit’ of 3 days of supplies that you can carry with you, and a ‘Stay-at-Home Kit’ that has 2 weeks of supplies if you must stay home and the stores and pharmacies are closed.4
    • Stay connected with a communication plan. You may become separated or lose cell service during a natural disaster. When a wildfire is threatening your area, determine a location outside of the hazard zone for your loved ones to meet. You should also designate a point of contact. This out-of-area friend or relative will be the source of communication among all family members in case you are separated.5
    • Prepare your property for evacuation. Shut off the gas and air conditioning, make sure doors and windows are closed, bring outdoor items inside, turn all lights on, move furniture away from walls, and ensure your home is accessible to firefighters.6 Clear combustible material from the immediate area within 30 feet of your home.7 You can also water down your walls and the area within 10 feet of your house.8
    • Dress for evacuation. Cover as much skin and hair as possible to protect yourself from getting burned. Wear clothes made of natural materials (e.g., wool, cotton, leather), which are less flammable than synthetic fibers.9
    Large homes on the edge of a hill with wildfire smoke raising from below.
    Do you have an emergency ‘Go-Kit’? How about an evacuation plan and outside point of contact? These are some of the recommended steps to take when preparing for an emergency.

    Stay Safe During the Wildfire

    When the wildfire is close, it is time to GO! Evacuate early and ensure your family and home are prepared to survive the wildfire.2 Some of the steps to take once you evacuate include:

    • Remain aware of the latest news about wildfire danger. Make sure your devices are charged and that you are signed up for emergency reports.
    • Protect yourself from smoke. Close windows and doors, use a portable air cleaner, avoid cooking or vacuuming (which can create more fine particulates in the air), and avoid strenuous activity while wildfire smoke is affecting air quality. An N95 mask will help guard against smoke inhalation.1 You may wear a respirator if you have one, though note that these items are not made to fit children.8
    • Evacuate if needed. There are three levels of evacuation status based on how imminent the fire danger is. Be ready to go before there is immediate, extreme danger in your area and you need to evacuate straight away.
    • Remember the Five Ps of Evacuation:10
      • People and pets (including livestock)
      • Prescriptions (including medication, medical equipment and its batteries and charging devices, eyeglasses, hearing aids, etc.)
      • Papers (e.g., hard copy documents and/or electronic backups saved to a portable flash drive or external hard drive)
      • Personal needs (including food and water, a first aid kit, money, important electronics and chargers, and comforting items)
      • Priceless items (e.g., pictures, mementos, valuables)

    After the Wildfire

    The aftermath of a fire is a difficult time. Take the following steps to keep yourself and your family safe after a fire, ensure your home and property are safe to return to, and document damages for insurance.

    • Only return once it is safe. The local or state fire department or the forestry service will let you know when the fire danger has passed. They will also note additional risks, such as flood or debris flow risks, and if the air quality in your area is safe.11
    • Be cautious when returning to an area affected by fire. Roads and driveways may be damaged or blocked. There may be debris such as burned trees, utility poles, or collapsing slopes.12 Travel during daylight and take care when parking to ensure you are not near any structures that have been burned or destroyed, or under any trees that have been burned.
    • Wear protective clothing. Protecting your eyes, nose, throat, and lungs is the priority, as there may be ash or other particles in the air. It is also important to protect your skin from any material that may still be smoldering. Wear thick gloves if you are handling any objects or debris.
    • Inspect your property. Check the house, the grounds, and the roof for embers, hot spots, or sources of smoke.13
    • Take an inventory and document property damage. Make a list and photograph damaged items. Contact your insurance company to report the damages.7

    WFCA Wildfire Safety Resources

    Sources

    1. Ready.gov, “Wildfires.” Accessed June 12, 2023.
    2. Ready for Wildfire, “Prepare for Wildfire.” Accessed June 29, 2023.
    3. Ready.gov, “Build a Kit.” Accessed September 21, 2022.
    4. American Red Cross, “Wildfire Safety.” Accessed June 12, 2023.
    5. Cal Fire, “Create a Wildfire Action Plan.” Accessed September 2, 2022.
    6. Living with Fire, “Wildfire Evacuation Checklist.” Accessed September 12, 2022.
    7. The Hartford Insurance, “Wildfire Safety.” Accessed June 12, 2023.
    8. Municipal Website of the Village of Ruidoso, NM, “Everything you need to know to protect you, your family and property during a wildfire.” Accessed June 12, 2023.
    9. Fire Safe Marin, “Evacuation Go-Kit.” Accessed September 21, 2022.
    10. Washington State Department of Natural Resources, “How to Prepare for a Wildfire.” Accessed March 20, 2023.
    11. American Red Cross, “Wildfire Safety Checklist.” Accessed March 20, 2023.
    12. Ready for Wildfire, “Returning Home After A Wildfire.” Accessed March 22, 2023.
    13. Ready for Wildfire, “What To Expect After A Wildfire.” Accessed October 24, 2022.

    Firework Safety Tips: How to Stay Safe

    Discover essential firework safety tips to ensure a dazzling display without accidents. Learn how to celebrate responsibly with expert guidance from WFCA.

    How AI is Aiding in Wildfire Prediction and Prevention

    Explore the role of AI in wildfire prediction with guidance from the WFCA. Learn how advanced algorithms and data analytics enhance early detection and response.

    How to Create a Community Wildfire Protection Plan (CWPP)

    Empower your community with a detailed guide on creating a Wildfire Protection Plan. Explore crucial steps and strategies with expert guidance from the WFCA.

    Scroll to Top