*Prepredness for Wildfires*
By: Fred Heiser
04 November 2003

You'll look really silly (not to mention how you'll feel) if your retreat that was supposed to offer you refuge WTSHTF burns to the ground during a forest fire. If that fire starts because (or after) TSHTF you probably won't survive. You should put your greatest effort into preparing for that which is more likely. In a lot of areas fire is a very real possibility. In remote regions suffering from a century of fire suppression and a failure to clear out dead and dying trees (like southern California) uncontrolable conflagrations can almost be counted on. Fortunately you can do a lot to protect your property and your life.

Some of these preparations will also help protect your house from the thermal pulse of a nuclear explosion and any ensuing fires.

Your pre-Fire Emergency Plan:
Contact your local fire department, health department, or forestry office for information on fire laws. Report hazardous conditions that could cause a wildfire.

Teach children about fire safety. Keep matches out of their reach.

Post fire emergency telephone numbers by every phone. Show responsible family members how and when to shut off water, gas, and electricity at main switches.

Learn first aid CPR and all that stuff.

Plan several escape routes away from your home by car and by foot.

Talk to your neighbors about wildfire safety. Plan how the neighborhood could work together after a wildfire. Make a list of your neighbors' skills, such as medical or technical. Consider how you could help neighbors who have special needs, such as elderly or disabled persons. Make plans to take care of children who may be on their own if parents can't get home.

Meet with your family & discuss the types of disasters that could occur. Explain how to prepare and respond to each type of disaster. Discuss where to go and what to bring if advised to evacuate. Practice what you have discussed.

Plan how your family will stay in contact if separated by disaster. Pick two meeting places, a place a safe distance from your home in case of a home fire and a place outside your neighborhood in case you can't return home. Choose an out-of-state friend as a "check-in contact" for everyone to call.

*Emergency Supplies:*
When wildfire threatens, you won't have time to shop or search for supplies. Assemble a bug out bag with items you may need if advised to evacuate. Store these supplies in sturdy, easy-to-carry containers such as backpacks, dufflebags, or trash containers.

A three-day supply of water (one gallon per person per day) and food that won't spoil.

One change of clothing and footwear per person and one blanket or sleeping bag per person.

A first aid kit that includes your family's prescription medications. Toilet paper, soap.

Emergency tools including a battery-powered radio, flashlight, and plenty of extra batteries.

5 mile FRS radios all around.

Fire proof gun safe or underground cache for all firearms/ammo you can't take with you.

An extra set of car keys and a credit card, cash, or traveler's checks.

Special items for infant, elderly or disabled family members.

An extra pair of eyeglasses. Contact lenses will be nearly useless. If ash gets thick a pair of goggles will be very useful. Work gloves.

Keep important family documents in a waterproof container. Assemble a smaller version of your kit to keep in the trunk of your car.

Don't forget a fire extinguisher for the car!

*Before the fire modify your living space to be defensable:*
Make sure that fire vehicles can get to your home. Clearly mark all driveway entrances and display your name and address.

Keep lots of open space around the house and keep it mowed down and well watered. (Think of it as a free-fire zone that doubles as a fire-free zone.) Ice plant makes a very good fire break. It is almost entirely water. When the water boils off there is little left to burn.

It is best if no tree is closer than its height from your house but in no case should one be any closer then fifteen feet. The drip line of any trees near your house should be no less than fifteen feet apart.

Set up lawn sprinklers around your house. Have portable sprinklers on hoses you could set up on your roof.

A simple filtration system for your air. Hospital masks at the least. It can get very noxious and hard to breath near a major fire.

A LARGE water tank or swimming pool, a means to pump it through hoses and auxiliary power for the pump. Tools, like shovels and rakes, chain saws, axes, a ladder and fire extinguishers. A small dozer would be a good idea if you can afford one. I don't know where you'd get it but fire retardant foam sounds really good to me.

Plan for any livestock and pets as well as for yourself. Horse trailer?

Radio comunications as backup. Fire can take out cell phone towers, the phone line and the electricity.

Stack firewood at least 100 feet away and uphill from your home. Clear combustible material within 20 feet.

Mimimize the externally exposed flamable material. Metal railings instead of wood. Paint exposed wooden surfaces with light colored heat resistant paint. Stucco walls and tile or metal roofs. Failing that, aluminum siding and composition roofing. Wood shake roofing is a death trap.

White metal venetian blinds for the windows. The radiant heat from an outside fire can start an interior fire right through a closed window.

Aluminum screens instead of plastic. Plastic melts and burns. Also be prepared to place precut metal covers external ground and attic vents. We've had houses go up in flames because embers came in through attic ventilation turbines.

Above all, be ready to bug out at a moment's notice. Have several alternate routes and keep abreast of current fire developments. The wind can shift and "safe" areas can be imperiled almost instantly. Expect all routes to be crowded.

*When the fire threatens:*
Seal attic and ground vents with sheet metal cut to size. Second best is 1/2 inch steel mesh. Wooden covers are better than nothing but are still flammable.

Turn on the lawn sprinklers.

Turn off propane tanks. Move them far from the house if they are portable.

Any outdoor furniture that might burn must go inside.

Close windows, vents, doors, venetian blinds or non-combustible window coverings, and heavy drapes. Remove lightweight curtains.

Connect the garden hose to outside taps.

Set up the portable gasoline-powered pump or electric pump and generator in case you lose power.

Place portable lawn sprinklers on the roof and near above-ground fuel tanks. Wet the roof. Start soaking everything around you with water at the first hint of danger.

Turn on fixed lawn water sprinklers. Wet or remove shrubs within 15 feet of the home.

Gather fire tools.

Open fireplace damper. Close fireplace screens.

Move flammable furniture into the center of the home away from windows and sliding-glass doors.

Turn on a light in each room to increase the visibility of your home in heavy smoke.

Turn your gas pipes off at the meter. Shut off all pilot lights.

Listen to your radio for evacuation instructions.

Park your car in an open area facing out. You may need every second you can get if you have to leave. Load up your bug out supplies, pets and your most important personal belongings.

Wear light colored protective clothing--sturdy shoes, cotton or woolen clothing, long pants, a long-sleeved shirt, gloves, and a handkerchief or mask to protect your face. No synthetics. The tinest of sparks can ignite them and then they can burn and stick like napalm.

*Bug Out Time!*
If advised to evacuate, do so /immediately/! We had a number of people who died because they waited and their vehicles were caught in the wild fire.

Don't be hesitant to evacuate before being told to. Last minute evacuees may clog the roads and bring travel to a crawl. One wreck on a narrow road and it may not move at all.

Lock up. Advise others where you are going and leave a note behind on the door.

Choose a route away from fire hazards. You should already have several in mind. Be guided by official information on the radio. Watch for changes in the speed and direction of fire and smoke.

Drive cautiously. Smoke may obscure your vision. Water from firefighting efforts may make the road muddy. Emergency vehicles may be traveling at high speed, so may fleeing residents.

Pray for rain, but no so much as to cause mudslides and floods..
Fred Heiser

All materials at this site not otherwise credited are Copyright 1996 - 2003 Trip Williams. All rights reserved. May be reproduced for personal use only. Use of any material contained herein is subject to stated terms or written permission.