How to protect your home from wildfires
Prepare yourself and your family
18 May 2021
Wildfires are on the rise and becoming more widespread and fiercer than ever due to the world’s changing climates. If you live in a very hot, dry climate, or near a forest or rural area, then you’ll face the risk of a wildfire, but they can occur anywhere.
You may have seen pictures of wildfires raging on social media and on the news, or perhaps you know someone who has first-hand experience of one, and if so, you’ll know they can be terrifying as well as causing extreme damage to property and health.
What experts predict for wildfires in 2021
Experts warn this year’s wildfire season is likely to be another extreme one, but there are steps you can take both before, during and after a wildfire to help protect you, your loved ones, and your property.
For example, did you know that fire chiefs warn it’s better to sleep with your bedroom door closed at night because it could give you extra crucial minutes to escape from a wildfire before being overwhelmed by smoke? If not, read on.
What are the three main elements needed to start a fire?
The three elements that start a fire are heat, fuel, and oxygen.
- Heat. The heat sources which start wildfires include campfires or embers.
- Fuel. A wildfire is fuelled by dry vegetation such as scrubland, or dry forests.
- Oxygen. Strong winds fan the flames of a fire and carry embers for miles, often generating mega-fires which cause billions of damage and burn for weeks.
The West Coast of America’s windy, hot, and dry climate, abundant winds, frequent electrical storms, plus the large, dry areas of scrubland at the end of a long summer often combine to make the perfect storm for an out-of-control mega wildfire.
United States wildfire statistics
In 2020 there was a total of 58,950 wildfires across the United States, which is a rise from the 50,477 wildfires in 2019, and almost 10.1 million acres were ravaged by wildfire in 2020, compared with 4.7 million acres in 2019.
Wildfires across the US in 2020
In 2020, the Western area of the United States was struck by a series of devastating wildfires. Extreme thunderstorms ignited a series of fires in Oregon, California and Washington in August, with more devastating fires caused by lightning raging across the West Coast in September.
These fires blazed into megafires, fanned by extreme winds across hot, dry land, killing at least 37 people and burning more than 10.2 million acres (41,000 square kilometres) to the ground. These megafires caused over $16.5 billion of damage to properties and racked up a $3.384 billion firefighting bill. Tens of thousands of firefighters were called out, and over ten thousand buildings were destroyed.
Climate change and poor forest management practices were partly to blame for how savage these wildfires were.
What causes wildfires?
Wildfires can sometimes be due to extreme weather, but they often happen because of human error. 90% of wildfires in the United States each year are believed to have been caused by people.
Escaped embers from burning debris is one of the most common causes of wildfires. On a particularly windy day, escaped embers from can carry for miles on the wind, staying lit and igniting a wildfire.
A lit cigarette end thrown out of a car window and setting fire to dry scrubland at the end of a hot, dry summer can wreak havoc.
Other causes of wildfires include a barbecue raging out of control, a powerline could fall and start a fire, or sometimes they happen because of an auto accident.
Sometimes people light wildfires on purpose in a callous act of arson.
How to protect your home from wildfires - checklist
There are things you can do to help protect your home from a wildfire. First, check your insurance coverage and find out what you are covered for in the case of wildfires.
“Insurance policies can vary,” says Mark Chappell, SmartCitti’s US President. “Check the limits and the exclusions that are set out in your home insurance policy as these will be the key factors behind what you’ll be able to claim for in the event of a wildfire.”
Mark adds: “If you don’t have adequate coverage, shop around for a better quote and switch to the best home insurance provider you can find. You can get real value for money now, and it only takes a few minutes to search for cheap quotes.”
Put together an emergency plan with your family
Keep pairs of running or hiking shoes by your bed, along with a flashlight in case of sudden evacuation.
Your family emergency plan should include a meeting place and making sure everyone knows what to do if they hear the smoke alarm go off.
Make sure everyone knows how to call 911 and keeps their cell phones fully charged, near their beds. You can put them in airplane mode so they don’t ring and wake you up while you sleep, but you can switch them on for cell coverage if needed.
Teach everyone your home evacuation routes and at least two ways to escape from every room in your home. Practice your home escape plan at least twice a year. Look at emergency transportation options and consider if you have a place to stay with family or friends in case of an emergency.
Practise the emergency move ‘stop, drop and roll’ – which is what you do if you or your family’s clothes catch on fire.
Don’t sleep with your bedroom doors open at night as having them closed can give you invaluable minutes to evacuate your home if a wildfire did spread towards your home as it would slow it spreading from room to room.
Teach your family about fire prevention. Remember just one burning ember can travel for miles proving fatal for some.
Install the correct number of smoke alarms in your home, test them once a month and replace the batteries once a year.
Create a fire-resistant zone at least 30 feet from your home. Always clear up dead vegetation, leaves and debris as these are flammable.
Store flammable and combustible materials such as gasoline in safety containers a safe distance away from your home. Move your BBQ propane tank away from the house.
Consider which valuables you would take with you in the event of a fire. If it’s a precious family photo, why not get a digital copy? If it’s important documents, you can store copies of these in a Dropbox online. Store personal priceless items in a safe place, which is easily accessible in an emergency.
How to put together an emergency supply kit
A comprehensive emergency supply kit will prove invaluable in the event of a wildfire. Store near your bed or in a place that’s easy to access and make sure your family all know where it is.
Here’s a list of what to include:
Canned condensed meat and vegetable soups
N95 masks and coverings.
A three-day supply of food and three gallons of water per person.
Food might include items such as:
- Canned fruits, fruit juices, and vegetables
- Ready-to-eat cereals and uncooked instant cereal
- Peanut butter
- Hard candy and nuts
- Protein drinks
- Pet food and water for your family’s pets
A map marked with at least two evacuation routes out of your area.
First aid kit.
A couple of whistles and emergency flares.
Prescriptions and special medications.
Changes of clothes. Pack lightweight layers and spare glasses or contact lenses.
A spare set of car keys, credit cards and cash.
Battery-powered radio and extra batteries. This will be crucial for learning updates.
Toilet paper and baby wipes. Tampons and sanitary towels.
Copies of important documents (birth certificates, passports, etc.)
Items to take if time allows:
Easily carried valuables
Family photos and other irreplaceable items
Personal computer information on hard drives and disks
Chargers for cell phones, laptops, etc.
If you see a fire approaching your home or if you’re trapped, call 911. If you’re told to evacuate it’s important to leave your home immediately. Remain calm and evacuate immediately: drive at regular speeds with windows rolled up and headlights on.
Emergency procedure to follow during a wildfire
If you’re told to wait at home, here’s some points to keep in mind:
Put on your N95 masks to protect your lungs from harmful particles.
Stop, drop and roll if you or your family’s clothes catch on fire.
Always stay with your family and pets and keep your disaster safety kit nearby.
Close all windows, doors and vents inside your home.
Move flammable furniture, especially outdoor furniture into the centre of the home away from windows and doors.
To make your house more visible in smoke, turn on outside lights and leave a light on in every room.
After the fire
Send messages to family and friends to tell them you’re well and have not been harmed.
Only return home when authorities have told you it’s safe. Have a professional come over to examine your home and make sure it’s not filled with toxic smoke or fumes. Do not drink, prepare food, or wash with water until officials deem the water source safe.
Remain vigilant and check your home and surrounding areas for small, lingering embers at least twice a day.
Photograph any damages for your personal records and contact your insurance agency.
Look into trauma therapy and physical medical checks for you and your loved ones.
If you enjoyed this, why not take a look at the link between happiness and safety?