To escape a wildfire, one must be prepared and ready to act quickly. It is important to have an evacuation plan and to identify the quickest route to safety. It is also vital to stay informed on the situation and any updates from authorities. Ensuring that one brings the essentials and stays away from combustible items can help in ensuring a safe escape.
It is natural to be panicked when facing a wildfire, however, it is important to remember that this kind of reaction can be fatal. Therefore, instead of running blindly, it is best to stay calm and take the necessary steps to protect oneself.
If the air is not extremely smoggy, try breathing exercises to relax. Inhale deeply for four seconds, and then release your breath slowly for four seconds. Keeping a relaxed and healthy mindset is an essential step to getting through the situation.
Safeguard your respiratory system
Often overlooked, having the right Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) is critical for any fire escape plan. As fires rage, air quality can decline quickly, and toxins, ash, and other irritants can become hazardous to breathe in or come in contact with the eyes. To protect oneself from these elements, a respirator or gas mask with proper filters is indispensable. CBRN-rated gas masks will completely shield the face from any of the air’s harmful particles. Moreover, the filter should be of high-grade quality to allow the user to breathe in the toxins for an extended period. It is important to note that gas masks will not work without oxygen. Carbon monoxide is also a major threat, as it can displace oxygen in the area. To combat this, a Self Contained, Breathing Apparatus (SCBA) system is necessary. In the context of the average civilian, all PPE gear should be seen as a tool for escape and evasion, and the priority should be to get oneself and their family out of the area safely.
Moving against the wind, and then back down the incline
To start, identify the course of the breeze. You can do this by glancing up into the atmosphere and observing where the smoke is drifting, providing that there is sufficient visibility.
Moving in the direction of the wind
If the wind is directed away from you and towards the fire, then you should take a course against the wind. On the other hand, if the wind is blowing from behind the fire and towards you, the best option would be to move in a direction that is perpendicular to the wind in order to stay away from both the blaze and its movement trajectory.
Descending on a Slope
If you are on an incline, it is best to move to level ground. Uphill locations are more hazardous due to the greater speed of fires caused by updrafts, so you should be careful to avoid being uphill and downwind.
It is important to not descend into canyons or ravines while hiking; these areas can focus an immense amount of heat and you may be unable to escape if the blaze moves around you.
Heading to a place where the fire is not an issue
After you’ve figured out the route you want to take, go to the area with the lowest probability of going up in flames. Here are a few ideas that may help:
- A big body of water that is not obstructed by plants
- Marshy parts
- Arranged stones
- Expansive grasslands
- Plowed plots
- A clear-cut piece of woodland
- And as a last option, a place that has recently burned
Stay away from overgrown brush and high grass. Generally, large trees are more hydrated than open, dry areas, so if you do not locate any non-combustible terrain, keep away from areas with a small, arid brush. These will ignite faster than lush greens.
Avoid areas such as gorges, valleys, and places that have a pass-like shape, as these regions tend to be very hot and can potentially prevent escape from a fire.
Attempts to outpace the flames are futile
When looking for a way to flee a wildfire, it’s easy to think about running away. However, you ought to keep in mind that these fires can move swiftly, up to 20mph, and could quickly overtake a person running on foot.
In the event that it is not possible to escape a wildfire using the mentioned strategies, it is safer to attempt to traverse the edge of the blaze and reach an area that has already been incinerated. This option is not desirable but is a safer alternative than remaining in an area with a high likelihood of burning.
If you find yourself in a situation where you can’t move, hunker down until you can get out.
When you are caught in a fire with no option of escape, look for an area with no vegetation that is lower in elevation than the surrounding area. Clear the area and dig a shallow trench or gully. Then, while lying on your stomach, put your feet in the direction of the flames.
In order to protect yourself from the blaze, find something to cover your body such as a jacket, dirt, rocks, etc. In addition, inhaling the air close to the ground in order to prevent burning your lungs. Remain in this position until the fire is over.
Staying alert to the risks of fire is important
The US Forest Service has declared that nearly all wildfires are the result of human activity, including campfires left unattended, fireworks, sparks from machines or vehicles, burning leaves, and even discarded cigarettes from vehicles.
The most effective way to stay safe from wildfires is to avoid them in the first place. If you are planning to go on a hike, make sure to take the following precautions:
- Adhere to the Leave No Trace principles.
- In areas with dry conditions, do not build a campfire unless you check with park officials to ensure there are no burn bans in effect.
- Utilize a designated fire ring or pit for your campfire.
- If there is no designated location, select a spot that is far from tents, trees, and brush.
- Keep your campfire small and under control; never leave it without supervision.
- Allow the fire to burn fully to ashes, and then pour enough water to make sure all the embers are extinguished. Keep in mind that the fire may still be burning underground in the roots of trees or bushes. Stir up the ashes and add more water until all hissing stops. Double-check to make sure everything is cool to the touch.
- When using a portable stove, make sure the area is free of grass and any other material that may catch fire.
If you see smoke or fire, note the location and contact authorities immediately.