A wildfire can change a family or a community in an instant. And this summer, the wildfire season started early.
In Utah alone, 40,000 acres of Beehive state’s landscape were already destroyed in June, while eight different wildfires continue to burn within state borders, KSL reported. These fires were helped by drought and record temperatures in the west.
“This year we are seeing fire activity which we tend to see in August and it is early June,” the spokesperson for the State Forestry, Fire and Land Division told KSL. Utah, Kait Webb.
So here’s some information to help you catch up with the wildfires and start preparing, just in case you and your family are unlucky enough to be on your way to one of those roaring hells.
Understanding the behavior of forest fires
First of all, it’s important to understand a bit about how wildfires act in nature and the factors that can turn a fireworks explosion or lightning strike into a deadly nightmare of thousands of acres.
In your college science class, you may have learned that three ingredients are needed to make a fire, often explained as a fire triangle. These ingredients include: fuel (a forest of dry trees), heat (lightning) and oxygen (in the air).
There is also a fire behavior triangle, according to the National Park Service, which represents how wildfires can spread. These three factors include fuels, weather and topography. Here’s why each is an important consideration in determining forest fire behavior:
- The fuel portion of the triangle includes anything a fire can burn, such as trees and plants, as well as other considerations about the density and humidity of that fuel.
Weather factors such as wind, temperature and humidity can contribute, often significantly, to the reaction of a fire. “Wind is one of the most important factors because it can bring a new supply of oxygen to the fire and push it to a new source of fuel,” according to the National Parks Service.
- The topography of an area – the shape of the land – affects how a fire will or will not move. A rocky slope, with little vegetation, can act as a natural fire barrier, while a fire can quickly move up a grassy slope as dry air rises and preheats fuel in the path of the fire.
Prepare your home before a forest fire breaks out
In an emergency, families and homeowners may only have a few minutes to evacuate their neighborhood before a wildfire rushes in and takes everything away. So planning ahead can go a long way in ensuring that those few minutes are not wasted.
The National Fire Protection Agency – a global nonprofit organization whose mission is to prevent fires – recommends that homeowners take several simple steps to help plan their homes against wildfires. These include:
- Remove fallen leaves and vegetation from gutters and anywhere within 10 feet of a house.
- Make sure flammable materials, such as firewood and propane tanks, are kept more than 30 feet from a home’s foundation or outbuildings.
- Trees should be pruned so that the lowest branches are 6-10 feet from the ground.
- For a full list of preventative housekeeping measures, visit the NFPA’s Firewise USA website for more details: Residents Reducing the Risk of Forest Fires
Ready.gov, the federal government’s emergency preparedness website, also suggests homeowners connect a hose to an outside faucet long enough to reach every corner of the property.
Pack the supplies you will need and don’t forget the dog
The American Red Cross recommends that people be prepared for a few different eventualities: 1) evacuate in an emergency with three days of supplies, or 2) be prepared to be stuck at home for a few weeks – potentially with limited power and no possibility of going to a store.
In its recommendations, the Red Cross also encourages families and individuals to have on hand:
- Water and food.
- At least a week’s supply of drugs and medical equipment.
- Personal financial and medical documents, such as birth certificates, passports, deeds and a list of medications.
- Baby supplies and toys for young children.
- Animal supplies.
- A complete list of emergency supplies suggested by the Red Cross is available on this website: Survival Kit Supplies.
It’s also good to practice evacuating and making sure everyone in your household knows your own wildfire emergency plan, suggests Ready.gov. On a rushed and smoky outing it would be awful to leave the dog behind, so practice loading the family pets too!
How to deal with forest fire smoke
Real flames aren’t the only danger in wildfires, as smoke can also lead to a medical emergency and cause logistical issues like closed roads and traffic delays.
- “The biggest health threat from smoke comes from fine particles. These microscopic particles can get deep into your lungs. They can cause a range of health problems, from burning eyes and a runny nose to worsening chronic heart and lung disease. Exposure to particle pollution is even linked to premature death, ”warns the Environmental Protection Agency.
- The health risks associated with smoke from wildfires are higher for children and the elderly, people with heart or lung disease, and people with diabetes, according to the EPA.
- To protect themselves and their unborn children from potential health problems, pregnant women should avoid wildfire smoke, according to the EPA.
A simple, and now very familiar, way to protect yourself from wildfire smoke is to use a mask, but not just any mask.
- For protection against wildfire smoke, people should use an N95 or P100 respirator, according to AirNow, the government’s air quality monitoring program.
- The EPA agrees with Airnow and also suggests an N95 or P100. Using surgical masks or fabric face covers (wet or dry) will not be enough to protect your lungs.
- Airnow offers an online tool that allows users to search for an air quality report for their region: Current Air Quality