Wildfires are devastating disasters. To help you mentally prepare, we’ve answered some of the most common fire-related questions.
What causes a wildfire?
According to the US National Park Service, about 85% of wildfires are started by humans, either because of improperly disposing of cigarettes, leaving campfires unattended, burning debris carelessly, misusing equipment, or experiencing malfunctions, and arson.
The most common natural cause of forest fires is lightning, but occasionally volcanic matter and the spontaneous combustion of dry natural materials can be the culprits.
What are the effects of a forest fire?
Wildfires have many impacts, both short and long-term. Some of the impacts include:
- Environmental impacts: The environment suffers greatly after wildfires. The air becomes polluted, wildlife habitats are destroyed, and the risk of other natural disasters taking place increases. Due to the burning of vegetation, the topography of the region becomes altered, thereby allowing for the potential of landslides, floods, and debris flows.
- Economic impact: Sending first responders and helicopters, fire trucks, and other firefighting equipment to the scene takes a major toll on the economy of the local and regional governments.
- Personal impact: Wildfires that reach communities are commonly responsible for the destruction of some infrastructure. Property owners face major life setbacks in rebuilding their lives after a wildfire has destroyed their home and/or community. Not to mention, those who lose loved ones in the fire.
- Psychological impact: Wildfire survivors can experience anxiety and PTSD due to the experience they had during the disaster. If you, or someone you know, is experiencing psychological trauma after a wildfire, there is help available! Get in touch with the crisis hotline here.
Who monitors wildfire activity?
NASA’s satellites detect fire activity all over the world, but more importantly in remote areas where fires would otherwise burn for long periods without being detected.
How can we stop wildfires?
Although we can’t necessarily stop wildfires, there are several things we can do to help prevent them.
- Call 911 or a local fire department if you see an unattended fire.
- Never leave a flame unattended and always have water or a fire extinguisher nearby in case that flame gets out of hand.
- Be careful when lighting flammable liquids, such as a grill that runs on propane.
- Always dispose of a match or cigarette carefully. Never throw them out while they’re still lit.
- If you burn debris on your property, do it in a controlled and careful manner. Do not burn garbage or debris on windy days.
- Create defensible space within your property. Learn all the home mitigation tips for wildfire prevention here.
- If you’re out camping, you should always make sure your fire pit area is clear from dry leaves and overhanging branches. When you’re done with your campfire, put it out completely before you go to sleep and double-check it before you leave the campsite. Put water or dirt over the flames and ashes to ensure no are embers remaining.
- Beware of oil or gas leaks from your car and avoid parking over dry grass or vegetation.
- Be extra careful when lighting fireworks.
How do I know if I need to evacuate?
Fire officials may notify the public directly or the news outlets of a fire threat and evacuation order. It’s common for police officers to drive through neighborhoods and make announcements over a loudspeaker.
If you feel threatened by the smoke but haven’t received an evacuation notice, go with your gut feeling and evacuate. Remember to give your neighbors a heads up that you’re leaving. This might prompt them to evacuate as well, which may be life-saving.
If you’re ordered to evacuate, make sure to only take the recommended evacuation routes. There’s a reason emergency personnel give you the green light on some roads and not on others. Trust what you’re told and comply.
How much time am I given to evacuate during a wildfire?
Every wildfire situation varies drastically. In Paradise, CA, residents didn’t even receive an evacuation warning. The flames approached faster than emergency personnel could respond and get the word out.
In less dramatic circumstances, a voluntary evacuation order might be given until the fire officials determine if the community is truly threatened of not. A mandatory evacuation notice means that evacuation should take place immediately.
What should I bring if I have to evacuate?
Having a stocked and up-to-date emergency backpack or evacuation kit is essential when preparing for wildfires. In this article, we provide you a list of important items that we recommend you evacuate with. We made the list downloadable so that you can print it and keep it with your emergency supplies for last-minute reminders.
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