Wildfires are worsening due to climate change. This year, California wildfires have already burned three times more acreage than the historical average. Plus, wildfires in Idaho, Utah, Tennessee, Wyoming, Nevada, and all over the U.S. burn about six million acres per year. While wildfires are vital part of nature, they’re not good for people if you’re caught up in them. Here are six tips to help you prevent wildfires, keep fires from hurting you or your property, and protect your health during wildfire season.
1. Put in Fire-Resistant Landscaping
Wildfires thrive during dry, windy, hot conditions. Don’t make your yard fuel for a fire! Instead, implement smart landscaping that looks pretty and keeps flames away from your home. Start by building obstacles where fire can’t cross like ponds, stone patios, rock walls, and concrete barriers (such as driveways). Pick plants that don’t tend to dry out or have lots of sap. To save money on water, plant aloe, lilacs, sage, and deciduous trees (conifers like pine trees are very flammable in comparison) that are drought tolerant and fire resistant. Also, rake dead leaves, branches, and organic debris away at the end of the season and chop it up for compost so they don’t accumulate and turn into wildfire fodder. Smartly landscaping will protect your home better in case a wildfire happens near you.
2. Pay Attention to Burn Bans
Burn bans are in place for a reason. When the fire danger is high, heed the advice of safety experts! Don’t light off fireworks, have bonfires, or even grill during the hot and dry season. It only takes one silly mistake to cause a devastating fire—like the 2017 Brian Head wildfire in Utah caused by a man who was using a blowtorch to kill weeds. This fire burned more than 60,000 acres. Whoops. And each year, over 80 percent of all wildfires are caused by people. Don’t be one of them!
3. Learn How to Escape an Active Fire
Fires can be fast or slow—burning at five miles per hour or upwards of 30. If you’re fleeing a wildfire, run downhill because fire travels uphill quicker due to updrafts. If you find yourself stuck, dig a trench and lay in it face down. Leave a pocket of air beneath your face and cover yourself with a few inches of dirt. This is an extreme way to wait out a fire, but your only option if you don’t have anywhere to go. You can avoid this scary scenario if water is nearby. Then, you can just jump in and hang out until the fire clears and you can call for help.
4. Use an Air Purifier
Smoke from wildfires can drift hundreds of miles. People in the Western part of the United States are typically more vulnerable to this pollution, but it can harm anyone who breathes it in. During fire season, watch your weather report for smoke advisories. Keep your windows closed and run an air purifier that removes harmful carcinogens from the air. If you have breathing problems (like asthma), live with young or elderly people, or have allergies, you should be especially vigilant about your air quality during fire season. Wildfire smoke contains particulate pollution which embeds deep in your lungs and leads to strokes, heart attacks, and worse. Wildfire smoke also carries carbon monoxide which can kill you. Everything you breathe affects your body, so do everything you can to purify your air during wildfire season.
In the case of a wildfire, you might be stranded for a few days or weeks. Stock up on water, dry goods like beans and pasta, as well as toiletries you’ll need. You could be without power, so consider getting a generator or a solar powered cook-top and water heater to get by. Experts recommend you have at least one month of food rations per person in your household, which should be more than enough in the case of any natural disaster.
6. Listen to Evacuation Orders
Evacuations for wildfires aren’t the same as for a hurricane; hurricanes are harder to predict while fires are not. When the authorities tell you it’s time to go, listen! It’s hard to leave your home, but if you have renters or homeowners insurance (and even if you don’), all material items can be replaced. You can’t replace your life or one of a beloved pet or family member. Listen to authorities when they issue an evacuation. Get out immediately and seek safety. During wildfire season, you can even prepare a “go-bag” with some of your precious belongings and necessary items like food and water, so you can take what’s important and get the heck out.
Hopefully, you’ll never have to encounter a wildfire first-hand or feel its effects. However, millions of Americans do each year. That’s why it’s best to educate yourself with tips like these so you can stay safe and healthy during wildfire season—and prevent starting any fires yourself.
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