How To Survive a Wildfire

How To Survive a Wildfire
There's just one problem with the warm, sunny days of summer. The heat leads to one inevitable disaster. Fire. If your home is anywhere near natural bushland or heavily forested areas, one particular crisis you need to be wary of in the warmer months is wildfires. It's already hitting families in California hard, as thousands are relocated from their homes. But that's not even the worst part. The worst part is these massive forces of destruction are usually triggered by people. Perhaps some kids shooting off fireworks, campers who were too lazy to properly bury their campfire, or careless hikers who tossed a cigarette butt into the brush. Combine a source of ignition, along with acres and acres of dry forest and you get a wildfire. They're almost impossible to stop, and burn through and destroy everything in their path. The dry vegetation in the forest adds more and more fuel to the fire, and if your home is in the disaster zone you may be facing the loss of everything you've worked so hard for. Today, I'm going to cover the basics of understanding how wildfires work, along with the techniques you can use to survive one. Just in case.

Prevention is the best step

Fire definitely has it's uses, from keeping you warm at night to purifying your water and cooking your food, but it's not without risks. A fire does what it wants, it's up to you to be responsible with it. Do something a little silly, like bringing it inside your debris shelter is a recipe for disaster. Generally speaking, you should only ever light a fire in a safe area, where there's no additional fuel on the ground or in the trees above to catch alight. If you're spending any amount of time out in the wild, whether it's because you've got a property that backs onto the forest or you just like camping and hiking on the weekends, you need to be extra careful every time you're using fire, because all it takes is a single ember, dropped in the wrong place, to start a wildfire.

Being prepared for the worst

When you're living in a high-risk area, your local council is going to make it very clear about the rules and restrictions when it comes to open fires. Where I live, there's a total fire ban for a few months each year, to reduce the chances that a wildfire will be started. Abide by the rules, they're in place not only for your safety, but that of all the other families and homes around you. I'd also recommend clearing the land around your home. Fire needs fuel to burn, and if you've taken the time to properly clear the majority of the brush from around your home, there's a chance that any fire burning through will pass you by.

Pay attention to what's around you

As soon as you notice a wildfire is coming, you need to take action. If you can hear the fire burning or smell the smoke, you already need to be moving. Grab your bug out bags, get in the car and head in the other direction. Of course, if you're listening to your local news you may have a little more time to prepare and evacuate, but be warned. A wildfire is not to be trifled with, and is one of the few situations where you'll be safer bugging out, than staying in. And you should evacuate as soon as possible. Having a bug out bag stocked with the essentials is key to getting on the road fast.

Escaping the wildfire

One of the biggest natural elements that will control the fire is the wind. How fast it's blowing and in what direction will determine where the fire spreads to, so think before you start driving in a direction where you may get trapped. Wildfires can move as fast as 10 miles an hour, which is going to be difficult to stay ahead of if you've not got a vehicle. If you can see the flames you're too close, turn around and escape in the opposite direction. If you're a little further away, it's better to move in a diagonal direction to escape. This way, you'll be able to get to a safer position, eventually reaching the edge of the fire and getting into a safe zone where the wildfire can pass you by. Fires also burn uphill faster than downhill, so make it quick over any crests and into the gulley's beyond and keep moving. You want to avoid travelling up any canyons or draws as these can act as chimneys for the fire, and be wary of the canopy overhead. This can often alight faster than the ground so you risk burning branches falling on you as you are trying to escape. If you get to a point where the roads stop, or continuing to drive takes you back towards the fire, don't abandon your car. Instead, take it off road. Yes, even your little sedan. The shell of your car will help protect you from the heat of the fire, and if you ruin it at least you've managed to keep yourself alive. On foot, you stand very little chance outrunning a wildfire.

When escape isn't an option

This is not an ideal situation, but if you're stuck and aren't able to outrun the fire, you can still survive. Remember that the fire is going to kill you one of three ways
  1. The heat overpowers your body and it shuts down
  2. The smoke poisons your lungs and you cannot breathe
  3. The oxygen is sucked out of the air by the flames and you cannot draw a breath
To survive, you need a place where you are protected from these on all fronts, so you can ride out the fire. Of course, this is a very risky situation and should only ever be your last resort. But do this and you'll have the best chance of survival. First, find somewhere that's not going to burn. The sparks from a wildfire can jump up to 100 feet, potentially more depending on the wind and the fire.
  • Get underwater and submerge yourself in a stream or pond
  • Find a rocky area with little vegetation that will burn
  • Get underground in a cavern or bunker that's insulated by the earth
Then just ride out the fire to the best of your ability. Water soaked rags are a great tactic for breathing when there's smoke, and hold tight until the fire passes. But that's not always possible. And being a survivor, I don't like giving up. So, if you're facing a wildfire, you could also do what's known as a backfire. It's exactly what it sounds like, you create a smaller, controlled fire, to clear the land around your property, so when the wildfire comes there's nothing left to burn. This is highly dangerous, and you need to be constantly burning, then putting out the areas to create the safe zone. The key to surviving a wildfire is to be smart. Of course, not starting a fire in the first place is probably a good place to start, but if a fire is coming your way the best thing you can do is escape. Failing that, find somewhere to shelter where you'll be insulated from the heat and smoke of the fire, and as a last resort you could always try back burning before the wildfire reaches you.

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