Climate 101: Wildfires

Unlike many natural disasters, most wildfires are caused by people—and can be prevented by people, too. Meteorologists are not yet able to forecast wildfire outbreaks, so people in fire-prone areas should plan ahead and prepare to evacuate with little notice. Here are some tips on how to prevent wildfires and what to do if you're caught in the middle of one.

How to prevent a wildfire

  • Contact 911, your local fire department, or the park service if you notice an unattended or out-of-control fire.
  • Never leave a fire unattended. Completely extinguish the fire—by dousing it with water and stirring the ashes until cold—before sleeping or leaving the campsite.
  • Always take care when using and fueling lanterns, stoves, and heaters. Make sure lighting and heating devices are cool before refueling. Avoid spilling flammable liquids and store fuel away from appliances.
  • Do not discard cigarettes, matches, and smoking materials from moving vehicles, or anywhere on park grounds. Be certain to completely extinguish cigarettes before disposing of them.
  • Follow local ordinances when burning yard waste. Avoid backyard burning in windy conditions, and keep a shovel, water, and fire retardant nearby to keep fires in check. Remove all flammables from the yard when burning.

Evacuation tips

  • If advised to evacuate, do so immediately.
  • Know your evacuation route ahead of time and prepare an evacuation checklist and emergency supplies.
  • Wear protective clothing and footwear to reduce harm from flying sparks and ashes. (Get more wildfire safety information.)

Before you leave, prepare your home

  • Remove combustibles, including firewood, yard waste, barbecue grills, and fuel cans, from your yard.
  • Close all windows, vents, and doors to prevent a draft.
  • Shut off natural gas, propane, or fuel oil supplies.
  • Fill any large vessels—pools, hot tubs, garbage cans, or tubs—with water to slow or discourage fire.
<p>Firefighters battle the Woolsey Fire in Malibu, California, on November 12, 2018. That blaze burned nearly 97,000 acres in Southern California, killing three people and damaging an estimated $6 billion in property.</p>

Firefighters battle the Woolsey Fire in Malibu, California, on November 12, 2018. That blaze burned nearly 97,000 acres in Southern California, killing three people and damaging an estimated $6 billion in property.

Photograph by Eric Thayer, Reuters

If caught in a wildfire

  • Don't try to outrun the blaze. Instead, look for a body of water such as a pond or river to crouch in.
  • If there is no water nearby, find a depressed, cleared area with little vegetation, lie low to the ground, and cover your body with wet clothing, a blanket, or soil. Stay low and covered until the fire passes.
  • Protect your lungs by breathing air closest to the ground, through a mask or moist cloth, if possible, to reduce smoke inhalation.

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