The 2020 wildfire season was a devastating one, with over 10 million acres burnt. Almost half of those were in California, whose wildfires set new state records.
This year’s wildfire season is expected to break records. Already, conditions are worse than they were this time last year – over 700,000 acres burned so far. Most of these wildfires have been brought on by record-breaking drought levels that western states are currently experiencing.
When is wildfire season? Wildfires typically happen during the summer months and peak between July and November due to hot, dry weather and winds. Wildfires, especially in the west, are unavoidable, but there are several ways to prepare and keep yourself and your home safe.
How to stay safe during wildfire season
Have emergency supplies readily available.
Having a prepared emergency kit with proper supplies could mean the difference between life and death during a fire-related emergency. We recommend putting together a kit which includes:
- Respirators and filters
- Chargers for electronics
- Face masks
- At least three days’ worth of non-perishable food and three gallons of water per person
- Proper medications
- A map with evacuation routes
- First aid kit
- Sanitation supplies
- Battery-powered radio, such as an NOAA Radio
It’s also vital to have easy-to-carry valuables and irreplaceable items such as family photos within reach in the event of an evacuation.
Since they rely on us for their safety and wellbeing, we can’t forget about our four-legged friends. The Red Cross suggests having a second emergency kit ready, this one with them in mind. An emergency kit for your dog or cat should include:
- Leashes, harnesses, or carriers to prevent escape
- Plenty of food and clean water, plus bowls
- Toys, beds, and blankets (if easily moveable)
- Any relevant information regarding their medical condition, feeding schedule, and the name of your veterinarian
Keep track of fires in your area.
If you live in an area prone to wildfires, you should find a reliable way to keep an eye out for any fires in your area. Options include AirNow’s Fire and Smoke Map, Weather.gov’s Hazard Map, and the Emergency Alert System on the NOAA Weather Radio.
There are several good fire map apps available that can be downloaded directly to your phone as well, which all allow you time to prepare and evacuate. Consider downloading one like Wildfire Alert, DisasterAlert, AFIS, or Fireguard.
Know your community’s evacuation plans.
In addition to being aware of your surroundings, it’s essential to know how to escape your surroundings if you need to. Research any evacuation plans your community has put into place, but go even further to find several ways to leave the area on your own.
When creating your evacuation plan, mark it clearly on a map and practice. When driving the route, find any shelter available and mark those, as well.
In preparing for evacuation, determine several accessible meeting points along the route if you and your group become separated. Consider investing in walkie-talkies in case your cell phone dies or you lose reception.
Prepare your home for wildfire
Of course, an important part of being ready for wildfire is making sure your home is as safe as possible. It’s not just direct exposure to flames that can destroy your home: Radiant heat and flying embers can destroy homes as well and are responsible for a significant number of destroyed homes.
There are steps you can take to harden your home to increase the likelihood of its survival when fire hits. This includes retrofitting your roof, building surfaces with ignition-resistant or non-combustible materials, and installing dual-pane windows to reduce the chance of shattered glass.
Additionally, make sure your property includes defensible space. This is a space that includes grass, trees, shrubs, or woodland that serves as a buffer between the fire and your home. This area will help slow or even stop the fire, and help protect your home from catching fire due to heat, flame, or embers. Additionally, it will provide firefighters a safe working area.
Ready for Wildfire has a great guide to getting your home ready, which you can see here.
Wildfire is one of the most devastating natural disasters, and with the season in full swing, it’s crucial to be prepared. If you do nothing else, do the following: Be ready to evacuate at a moment’s notice, stay informed by listening to local news and radio stations, keep your emergency kit within arms’ reach, and identify nearby shelters.