It’s one thing to prepare your home and property for a wildfire. It’s entirely different to deal with a fire as it occurs. Just because your land is physically prepared does not mean that a fire will not threaten your home, and in moments of panic people often lose common sense and make potentially fatal mistakes. However, you and your household can easily avoid injury if you simply remain calm and remember a few simple fire damage preparation and evacuation techniques.
There are a number of steps you should take if a wildfire is occurring near your home to protect it from potential fire damage. Those steps are as follows:
Each of these steps is outlined in detail below.
The first step is the simplest and yet most commonly overlooked; call the fire department. Many people notice a wildfire and assume someone else in the area has reported it. This is a dangerous mistake. Time is of the essence in the case of wildfires, and it is better the proper authorities receive too many calls than none at all.
Evacuation is the next step during an approaching wildfire. All pets and any household members with medical conditions or physical limitations should be evacuated first, as should children and the elderly. In fact, anyone that is unfit or unnecessary to preparing the home for the fire should leave immediately. Do not spend time saving personnel documents and photos from the fire. Document recovery is possible after a fire; recovering lives may not be. Those staying behind should wear protective clothing and facemasks to avoid smoke inhalation.
Removing combustible material is another important step. Any item that will easily burn should be moved from around the house. These include wood piles, tarps, lawn furniture, barbeques and grills, yard debris, and any other flammable material. However, be careful not to move them to areas rescue teams will need to get through. Move important documents like family archives, blueprints, photos and other important papers to one area and cover it with a non-flammable tarp. This will increase the likelihood of protecting your documents from fire damage as well as potential water damage caused by firefighters.
After you have removed dangerous items from around your house it is time to focus on the building itself. Make sure all openings are properly closed, including vents, windows, and doors. Non-combustible window coverings should be closed to reduce radiant heat.
Combustible window coverings should be removed and stored in a safe place in the house. Interior doors should also be closed to prevent draft. Make sure not to lock your doors, however. Firefighters may need to enter your home and busting down a locked door wastes precious time in the rescue effort.
After you’ve closed all doors and windows you will want to make sure all fuel sources are shut of. Natural gas, propane and fuel oil supplies need to be turned off at the source.
Water will be one of your biggest advantages in a fight against a wildfire. Turn on all hoses and outside water sources and fill any pools, hot tubs, garbage cans, and recycling bins. Creating a water barrier around your home is a simple and effective way of reducing home fire damage.
If a fire has come close enough to prevent evacuation, don’t panic. Stay calm and stay inside your house. Most wildfires will pass before they completely burn down a structure. Stay away from windows and doors. If smoke becomes a problem, stay low to the ground and try to breathe through a shirt or towel.
Being near a wildfire is a powerful and frightening occurrence. Being caught in one is even worse. The most important thing to remember if a fire is threatening your home is to stay calm and under stand that fire restoration is possible. Keeping a clear head during a time of crisis will increase you and your household’s chance of survival immensely. Working calmly and methodically, you can help prevent injury to yourself and others as well as minimizing fire and water damage to your property.
~Ben Anton, 2008