Every summer wildfires rage across the western United States burning millions of acres of land. To make matters worse, burned land isn’t even the full extent of a wildfire’s influence. If you live on the west coast you’ve likely faced poor air quality, power outages, evacuations, loss of property — maybe even the loss of a loved one.
Wildfires are destructive. At best, they’re simply disruptive. At their worst they are frightening, dangerous, and can have tragic outcomes. They also aren’t likely to go away any time soon, so the question becomeshow do we deal with them? Specifically, how can we protect ourselves and our families from the effects of fires?
By making your home more fire-safe, teaching your family to be prepared, and educating yourself you can reduce the risk posed to you and your family by wildfires.
A little while ago we had a great sit down with Kris, from City Prepping. As we discussed fire safety and preparedness he gave us three great insights for how to make your home more fire-safe.
First, create what Kris calls a defensible space. Basically that means that you should remove as many flammable things as possible from around your home. In some places where fires are more frequent, your city or county may have specific recommendations as far as how much area should be kept clear around your house to prevent fires from spreading.
Second, where possible, Kris suggests retrofitting your home. That means replacing flammable materials in or around your home with non-flammable substitutes. Admittedly, this isn’t something you’ll be able to do overnight, but it’s still a great suggestion. If you live in a fire prone area and plan to stay there for a long time, consider making small changes over time. In the long run, it’ll pay off.
Third, be prepared for power outages. While the odds of your house catching fire are pretty low, the odds of experiencing a power outage due to a fire are significantly higher. Fire related outages can either be caused by fire damage to the grid or preventative measures taken by your power company. In either case, you should be ready in case the power goes out, especially if you rely on medical devices like oxygen machines or medication fridges.
Even more important than protecting your house and physical belongings is keeping your family safe and the best way to do that is by having a plan. Your family emergency plan might include things like an alternate meeting place, a map of all your home’s exits, medication lists, or emergency contact numbers. You may also want to assign different family members specific jobs or responsibilities during an emergency. Whatever your plan, make sure it’s tailored to your family’s needs and situation. To help get you started we’ve come up with an emergency plan PDF you can download and fill out.
One thing in particular that you should have a plan for is the possibility of an evacuation. There will be a lot of things to consider if you are forced to leave your home and it’s best not to leave those things to the last minute. Even preparing a checklist of items you would need to take with you can make a big difference.
It’s also a good idea to practice parts of your emergency plan such as how to get out of your home if certain exits are blocked, how to avoid smoke, or how to pack up in case of an evacuation. It’ll help your family build confidence for when an emergency does come up.
Knowledge is power. The more informed you are, the safer you and your family will be. Keep up to date with recommendations from your local government. Educate yourself and your family about fire safety habits. Learn about how you can help prevent wildfires from spreading. All of these will be tools in your belt to help you be ready to face the next wildfire.
Where can you find this information? There are a lot of resources online to help you learn what you need to know. For instance, the New York Times’ real-time fire map provides up-to-date information on the locations, size, and duration of wildfires across the US. Your power company and local government will have information regarding scheduled outages or outages caused by fires or other natural phenomena. Government websites like FEMA will have safety information you can reference as well as information regarding the government’s efforts. These and many other resources are just a few clicks away and will help take your fire preparedness to the next level.
The number of wildfires per year in the US has stayed roughly the same since 1984, but there is some evidence to indicate that the size of these fires is increasing (Climate). According to a report by the US Environmental Protection Agency, the total acreage burned by wildfires has steadily increased since 1984 and “of the 10 years with the largest acreage burned, all have occurred since 2004, including the peak year in 2015 (Climate).” In other words, wildfires have steadily gotten worse over the years.
Perhaps the best example of this is the 2021 Bootleg fire in Oregon. The Bootleg fire burned for 39 days and consumed approximately 413,000 acres of land (Bloch). According to the New York Times, this particular fire is so large that it has caused lightning storms and possibly even a fire tornado (Fountain). Despite the incredible amount of damage, there hasn’t been a single fatality since the fire started, a fact that was referred to as “remarkable thing for us to be able to say (Nash as cited in Paybarah).”
When faced with disasters like the Bootleg and other wildfires, we shouldn’t be content to just let things play out. We shouldn’t just cross our fingers and hope for the best. Instead we must be proactive in protecting ourselves and our families. As we all become more actively involved in fire safety it may no longer be so “remarkable” for fires to result in zero fatalities.
Take an active role in reducing the risk from fires to you and those closest to you. Prepare your home, prepare your family, and prepare yourself.
Written by: Eitan Mizrahi
Climate Science and Impacts Branch. (2021, April).Climate change indicators:
wildfires. U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Office of Atmospheric
Fountain, H. (2021, July 19). How bad is the bootleg fire? It’s generating its own
weather.The New York Times,link
Johnson, Destiny. “The Bootleg Fire Is Now 100% Contained.” Kgw.com, KGW8 News, 16 Aug. 2021, link
Paybarah, A. (2021, August 2). The Bootleg fire in Oregon is 84 percent contained, officials say.The New York Times, link
Wildfire maps of western U.S. The New York Times, link
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