Preparing For and Escaping From a Wildfire


People are building homes now in very remote areas that in many cases are woodland settings. This is particularly true of those people that want to live off grid or homestead away from the hustle and bustle of metropolitan areas.

However, while you are enjoying your solitude and living a self-reliant life a very real danger is lurking. That danger is a wildfire. Often time’s the fires go unnoticed at first, and thus are allowed to spread quickly. A wildfire is not something you prepare for as it is happening. You have to be prepared well in advance to protect yourself and home and to escape the inferno if necessary.

Stay informed, you simply cannot wake up one morning and realize your home is surrounded by flames. Anyone that lives in a wooded area or an area heavy with brush is susceptible to wildfires. Keep track of weather reports and know when your area is under a fire alert. You may hear of a fire that is miles away, but it can still be a threat to you and your home, so again it is important to monitor all news reports.

Burn bans may be in place and in some cases this can mean no open flames of any sort outside to include charcoal fires for meals. 

Develop an escape plan that includes more than one way out of your area, and start gathering emergency supplies that can be carried with you. One of the more critical aspects of surviving a fire in your area is having a vehicle in good working order.

Getting Your Home Ready

Reduce the risk by creating a 30-foot fire zone around your home. Clear brush and trim trees so the branches are not hanging over or touching the home. You want to deprive the fire of combustibles close to the home. However, no one wants a cleared area devoid of landscaping so you can plant trees and bushes that have high moisture content. Birch, maple and buckthorn are such trees as well as many others. Lilac bushes are also high in moisture content, and make ideal bushes for around the home.

Pine trees are heavy with resin, which is highly flammable so it is not recommended that they be planted within the fire zone. Any dead trees or bushes must be removed promptly. Ground cover can be river gravel, or grasses as long as they are kept watered so as not to become fire tinder.

Use fire resistant materials to build decks and outbuildings. Propane for gas grills should not be stored on any decking attached to the home. Roofing shingles should be fire resistant as well. Do not stack firewood or construction material within the 30-foot fire zone.

If you have a swimming pool or any water features in your yard, keep them filled or partially filled so the water can be used to fight the fire. If you know a fire has broken out miles from your home prepare to fight small fires that may pop up near your home. Attach a water hose to an outside spigot so you can spray the roof and surrounding area to douse any flying embers. Position a ladder so you can climb it to spray the roof. Keep gutters clean as well.

Once you know a fire has broken out in the area but you have not received evacuation orders yet pack your vehicle with your emergency supplies while waiting. Get the vehicle out of the garage and position it facing out.

Planning is important so you must have a staging area picked out for all members to meet at in the event one member is at work or if one has gone to pick up children at school. Pick out a staging area and make sure everyone knows how to get there from various points, including from work and from any schools the children attend.

Remove heavy drapes from the windows, shut off any air conditioners/heat exchangers so smoke is not drawn into the home through the ductwork. Leave interior and exterior lights on so your home can be more easily seen through the smoke. Leave doors unlocked so firefighters do not have to smash in the doors to get inside.

Once evacuation is ordered, all you have to do is get into your vehicle. Once again, it is critical that you have mapped more than one route out of the area. One route may be blocked by the fire or by other evacuees and/or emergency personnel.

Recommended Emergency Supplies

Obviously, adapt the list as needed for your situation.

  • Enough water for three days, typically it is one gallon per person per day
  • Food and eating utensils for three days and remember you will not be able to cook/heat foods so make sure they are foods that are ready to eat along with snacks for yourself and children
  • Cash/change
  • Thermal blanket (Mylar) two for each person
  • Have cell phones and car chargers
  • Battery operated or crank flashlights for each person
  • Radio to monitor for information
  • First aid kits, one for each family member
  • Carry emergency medications/maintenance medications that you or others need to take daily
  • Face masks/respirators for each member of the family
  • Hardhats/protective head gear for each person
  • Eye protection such as goggles/safety glasses for each person
  • Work gloves for everyone
  • Small shovel
  • Carry all important documents with you, documents such as deeds, insurance paperwork, passports and personal identification

Additional items for the home and car include emergency fire shelters if you do become trapped and the fire is close (fire shelters are only to be used as a last resort).

Have an ax or firefighters ax for rescue operations, and a shovel for putting out small fires near the home. Shovel dirt on embers and flames to help extinguish.