This lesson will discuss WILD FIRE.
- What is a Wild Fire.
- What causes them.
- The dangers associated with them.
- How to determine your RISK Level of them.
What is a Wild Fire?
Wildfires are any unwanted and uncontrolled fires that burn combustible uncontained vegetation in a natural habitat. Depending upon conditions, the United States sees about 60,000 to 80,000 wildfires per year, burning 3 million to 10 million acres of land. Most of these fires are located in the “wildlands” (areas that have not been cultivated or developed for civilized human activity). However, as more and more people move closer to and into the wildlands, the dangers to property and life increase.
The United States Department of Agriculture calls this convergence of Wildland and Housing the “Wildland-Urban Interface (WUI)”. It is estimated that one-third of U.S. homes are located in a WUI. Most people associate this development of the wildlands to be a west coast phenomenon. But the State of Connecticut has more than two-thirds of their homes identified as being located in a WUI. http://www.fs.fed.us/openspace/fote/reports/GTR-299.pdf
As more and more people decide to have their homes in the WUI, the risk to property and lives will increase. Weather patterns continue to shift which changes the probability of an areas chances for Wild Fires. Drought is a major influencer on the potential for Wildfires. Drought in the U.S. is becoming a bigger and bigger problem, creating a disaster unto itself. Below are two U.S. Drought Maps that are just 4 years apart. It is very obvious how drastically different they are in such a short period of time.
Just because you haven’t been threatened by a Wild Fire in the past – doesn’t mean that you won’t be in the future. Things change – Your Risk to Wild Fire can change.
What causes Wildfires.
Natural Fires are actually important to the ecology of the wildlands. Many plants and animals depend upon the conditions resulting from a “Natural Fires”. Natural Fires clean out dense old vegetation creating sunny openings and letting newer and healthier vegetation to grow. The “Lodgepole Pine” requires fire to open their pine cones so that they can spread their seeds. Some fish and amphibians benefit from Natural Fires by the sunny areas and open waters created by Natural Fires. It’s just Mother Nature doing her thing.
However, Wildfires are much different than Natural Fires. Wildfires are killers, killing an average of 15 people per year. Mostly the victims are firefighters trying to control the wildfires while they are defending people’s property.
“The Peshtigo Fire on October 8, 1871” in Peshtigo, Wisconsin caused the most deaths by fire in U.S. history killing between 1,500 and 2,500 people and burning 2.5 million acres. It is “thought” that this Wild Fire and all of the other fires in Illinois, Michigan and Wisconsin that day were caused by the impact of Comet Biela. This theory cannot be proven – but no other source to the fire was ever discovered.
The largest Wildfire in North America was the “1950 Chinchaga Fire” in British Columbia, Canada. That wildfire burned 3.5 million acres. About the size of Connecticut.
Wildfires are caused by either nature (mostly lightning) or by man (both intentional and un-intentional).
Nature only accounts for approximately 10% of the Wildfires. Humans account for the balance.
- Unattended campfires.
- Burning of debris.
- Carelessly discarding cigarettes.
- Intentional acts of arson.
The Dangers Associated with Wild Fire
Flooding & Mudslides caused by the wildfires destroying the ground cover. When the rains come, there is no vegetation to hold the soil in place and the water just runs down the hills.
Bad Air caused by the smoke form wildfires can cause respiratory problems from the smoke and gasses developed. Children and seniors are most susceptible. Burning or watery eyes, coughing, scratchy throat, wheezing, fatigue, shortness of breath and possible heart problems. Individuals with already existing heart and lung problems will be the most impacted.
Complete loss of property or heavy smoke damage due to the wildfire to your home, belongings and irreplaceable possessions.
Quality of Water will be negatively impacted by the smoke, soot, ash, debris etc. produced by the Wildfire.
Protection from a Wild Fire.
The first step is to go and ask the experts in your area. If you live in a Wildfire zone, then your local fire department or forestry service should be able to give you very detailed information about Wildfire precautions and safety in their specific area. You tax dollars are paying for these services, so you should use them. Your local offices will be experts when it comes to:
- The Wild Fire History of the area.
- Local Wild Fire seasons and Forecasts.
- Types of vegetation (the Wildfires’s fuel source) in the area.
- The Geography and Topography of the area.
- Evacuation procedures and routes.
- General guidelines of what they are suggesting for the area.
Have a Wild Fire Plan and communicate it to all family members. Who will be responsible for what. Where the Fall Back Spots are located. What are the escape routes. A plan to get together with any missing family member. Make sure every family member understands the plan.
Know where your natural fire breaks are in your area: Streams, Rivers, Lakes, Open Fields, Roads, etc.
Listen to the news and the authorities. Constantly monitor your emergency radio and news for updated information regarding the Wildfires and your location. If you are instructed to evacuate – then evacuate. If you feel that the fire is getting to close to your home, or your evacaution route, then don’t wait for the authorities to tell you to evacuate. Evacuate on your own. Get the family into the car and get to your Fall Back Spot. A Fall Back Spot is where you will be evacuating to. You should have several of them and they should be in different directions (i.e. North, South, West and East) with evacuation routes. This will ensure that you are covered no matter which direction the Wildfire is coming from.
These Fall Back Spots don’t have to be that far away. Ten to twenty miles should be sufficient. You just want to get out of the Widlfires path, leave it pass your area, then when it is safe you can go back in. Most of the time, once the Wildfire passes, it has already consumed most of the fuel source and will eventually burn itself out. Their may be hot spots, but the most dangerous spots are where the fire is burning. Right at the front line where there is lots of vegetation and fuel to feed the fire. Depending upon the circumstances, you may be away from your home for only a few hours – but then again, you must plan for it to be longer like a few days. This is another reason to have a Go Bag ready at all times. Wait for the authorities to advise that it is safe to go back to your home before returning.
If possible, have a 50 to 100 foot Fire Safety Zone around your house. This safety zone is an area that is cleared of any flammable materials, (i.e. dry vegetation, brushes, grasses, wood piles, fuel tanks, and any other items that can fuel the fire when it is approaching your home. You don’t want the fire to have any fuel source if it is getting this close to your home.
It would be a real advantage if your home can be, or was built from fire retardant materials. But if it wasn’t, make sure that your roof and gutters are cleared of any sticks, dry vegetation, or any other flammable materials. Again, you want to control and eliminate any fuel sources for the Wildfire.
Have your own set of fire fighting tools. Not necessarily for you – but for the firefighters to use. Put yourself in the firefighters boots for a minute. Depending where you home is located, the firefighters may not be able to reach your locations with their fire trucks and equipment. Or the trucks may be tied up fighting a fire somewhere else. If that is the case, the firefighters will be reaching your location with very limited supplies and resources. Once they reach your home, they will immediately assess the situation and make a decision if they have a chance of saving this piece of property. If they decide that they can’t protect this property, they will move on to the next property that they feel they have a chance on saving. One of the factors they will take into consideration is what do they have to fight the fire with. Therefore, supply them with the tools to help them fight YOUR house fire.
Give them a reason to fight for your house.
Give them the tools.
Fire fighting tools you should have available.
- Pick Axe
- Hand Saws.
- Several Buckets.
- A ladder that can reach to the top of your house.
- A garden hose that is long enough to reach all sides of your house. A couple of hoses would even be better.
- A cooler with cold water in it will definitely catch the firefighters attention. Some face towels that either wet or can be dipped in the coolers water will also be highly appreciated. If you have time – put it near the fire fighting tools. Help them out as much as you can.
Put the tools in an area that the firefighters will be able to see them – and be able to see see them quickly. You can have the best quality tools – but if you have them locked in your garage where the fire fighters can’t see them – they are useless. So place them in an area where they can easily be seen.
Garden sprinklers can be placed on the roof and used on the sides of the house that are facing the fire. The sprinklers can help control flying embers that may land on your roof or next to the house. Make sure to position the sprinklers so that they will be effective. If you see a Wildfire approaching and it is getting to close for comfort. Turn the sprinklers on. If you have a limited water source – you will need to balance how close the fire is to how much water you have available. You want to make sure that you have available water when you need it the most. If you need to evacuate – leave the sprinklers on – even if you do have a limited water supply. If you have a pool, a pond, or a nearby river or lake, you may want to consider having an auxiliary pumping system to supplement your normal water source.
If you need to put a ladder up against the house – make sure that you always use the safe side of the house or structure. The safe side of the house is the opposite side of the house from the Wildfire. The side facing the Wildfire is the Fighting Side of the house. Watch the direction that the smoke is traveling. That will tell you the direction that the wind is traveling and MOST likely [but not all of the time] the direction of that the fire is traveling. Leave the fighting side to the professionals. The safe side keeps the structure between you and the fire and it also is the direct link to your escape route and your Fall Back Spot. Never compromise your escape route. Always have two escape routes planned out and available. Always have a clear and direct access to your escape routes.
If you evacuate your house – and if you have the time. Turn off the GAS and PROPANE supplies. Close all doors and windows.
While you are evacuating – keep in mind: Fire will travel up a hill faster than it will travel down a hill. Heading for lower ground is usually the better bet.
One other important point about doors. If you are in a fire situation and you are faced with a closed door. Never open the door without first touching the door and determining if the door is hot. There maybe a fire going on behind the closed door. Use the back of your hand to feel the door’s temperature. You use the back of your hand in-case there are any electrical wires in contact with the door. If you get a shock, the electricity will force your hand to close. If you use the back of your hand, even if your muscles do cause your hand to clench – you still will be able to pull it away. Check 3 points on the door for heat: Top, Middle and Lower portions. A warm or hot door signals that there may be a fire in that room or hallway. Proceed accordingly.
If you are in your house when it is on fire or if there is a lot of smoke in the house; stay low to the floor. That is where your cleanest air will be. Plus the temperature down by the floor will be less than near the ceiling.
Keep your pets indoors. This will offer them the best protection from the Wildfire. It will also make it easier to catch them and put them in their carriers if you need to evacuate.
Personal Protection From Wild Fire.
Clothing made from wool offers the best protection from fire. Shirts and pants should be long sleeved and long pants. Cotton, Linen, Polyester, and Nylon do not offer as good of protection from fire as Wool. You may even want to consider having special clothing designed to be fire resistant. Click on this button to learn more about the Flammability of Fabrics. Flammability of Fabrics. https://www.google.com/?gws_rd=ssl#q=fire+resistant+clothing
Good pair of boots to protect your feet is highly recommended. A good comfortable pair of boots will be important (and very welcomed) during any prepping, fighting, evacuating, returning and recovering from the Wildfire.
There is going to much smoke and dust in the air during the Wildfire. Having an approved air mask to protect your breathing and lungs will be very important. The real dangers of smoke is the toxic gasses that are being generated. Make sure that the air masks that you choose – addresses not only the smoke and dust – but also the toxic gasses that will be present. You may want to consider a Smoke Hood for the younger children and seniors.
A good pair of heavy duty gloves for each family member to protect the hands from being burnt, cut, punctured or scraped. Even a small scrape can cause an infection. Control as many negative variables as you can. Make sure everyone has gloves.
A pair of safety glasses or goggles to protect your eyes from the dirt, dust, smoke, and flying embers.
A wool hat to protect you hair and head from catching on fire.
Consider a Fire Blanket for additional protection.
Every house should have Smoke / Fire / Carbon Monoxide detectors along with sufficient and correct types of fire extinguishers.
Have the “Good Old Reliable” Ax in the house. This one was recommended to me by a firefighter. If you need to get into a room and the door is locked or blocked – the ax will get you in faster than a key. If the door is completely blocked – then you can go through the wall with the ax. The ax should have a sufficiently sized head with a handle that is at least 24″ long. This will give you the weight and leverage to swing the ax to get through a: door, wall, floor, ceiling or roof. A very handy tool to have around and know how to use.
Have a Fire-Proof and Water-Proof safe in your home to protect all of your important and valuable documents.
Have escape ladders for every bedroom that is on the second floor or higher.
Good quality flashlights will not only help you see your way around in the smoke and dust – but also can be used to signal other family memebers and for help.
Wild Fire Risk Assessment:
FEMA has a very good website for information on Wildfires. The site has a Wildfire Activity Map by County 1994 to 2013 and a lot of good downloadable information. I highly recommend “How to Prepare for a Wildfire”. FEMA: How to Prepare for a Wildfire http://www.fema.gov/media-library/assets/documents/98111
The only problem that I noticed with the downloadable document is that the Wildfire Activity Map didn’t have the counties indicated. So, below is the map with the counties shown. This map shows the frequency of Wildfires that were greater than 300 acres in every county in the United Sates from 1994 through 2013. This is very good historical data that can be used for our Risk Assessment for Wildfires.
So, pull out your Risk Assessment Chart and we’re going to determine your risk for Wildfires in your location.
1) Using the FEMA map below, find the state and then the county where you are located. If you would like to see this map on FEMA’s website – click on the button: FEMA: Wildfire Activity Map http://www.community.fema.gov/connect.ti/AmericasPrepareathon/view?objectId=3221840
2) Note the Color of the county that you are located in.
3) Use this Table to Assign a Risk Factor for Wildfires to your chart.
4) Enter your Risk Factor into your Risk Level Chart.
5) You’re Done! You just determined your Risk Factor for a Wildfire for your location.
This is what you should be taking away from this module:
- What is a Wild Fire.
- The conflict between Development and the Wildlands.
- The Drought problem affecting the U.S.
- What causes Wild Fire
- The Dangers associated with Wild Fire.
- Determined your Risk Factor for Wildfires.
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