Like all fires, a wildfire (also known as a forest fire, brushfire or bushfire) requires three ingredients: oxygen, heat and fuel. A wildfire is a large, uncontrolled and potentially destructive fire that spreads quickly and may change direction or jump across gaps. Wildfires can affect rural and urban areas, and can start in just seconds, sparked by a range of natural causes (for example, lightning) or human carelessness (such as a discarded cigarette). The spread of wildfires depends on the topography, the fuel available, and the weather. Dry vegetation and abundant or uncleared dead wood are an enormous source of deadly fuel. [Source: IFRC, “Public Awareness & Public Education For Disaster Risk Reduction: Key Messages”]
How do I prepare?
Create an Emergency Preparedness Kit
- Pack a first aid kit and essential medications, canned food and manual can opener, bottled water, maps of the area, flashlights and a battery-powered radio with extra batteries.
- Include essential legal and identifying documents in your kit in the event that you must quickly evacuate. Set aside household items that can be used as fire tools (e.g. a rake, ax, shovel, bucket, chain or hand saw). [Source: ARC]
Prepare Your Home
- Select building materials and plants that resist fire.
- Regularly clean your roof and gutters to remove flammable debris.
- Identify and maintain an adequate water source outside your home to saturate your home’s perimeter if needed.
Plan and practice a wild fire plan
- Learn about wildfire risks in your area.
- Talk to everyone in your household about what to do if a wildfire occurs.
- Select a place for family members to meet outside your neighborhood in case you cannot get home or need to evacuate.Plan a secondary way out in case your primary escape route is blocked.
Monitor conditions, stay informed, listen to the radio and follow instructions
- Listen to local radio and television regularly for updated information and instructions.
- Stay in touch with neighbors if possible.
Respond to early warnings
- Stay alert for emergency warnings and respond to them immediately.
- Know the alarm system that will be used, and practice your response.
- If you are advised to evacuate, leave immediately.
- Take your pets or service animals with you.
- Call your out-of-area contact to notify them where you will be going.
Leave if you think you should, or if authorities tell you to
- If you are advised to evacuate, or if you think you are in danger, evacuate immediately. The fire may move too fast for officials to issue evacuation orders.
- If you are not trained and equipped to fight a wildfire, don’t risk your life.
- Leave right away: delay could be deadly.
- Make sure all fire tools are outside and easy to access.
Protect your animals
- If you have livestock or horses, sweep hay and other combustible feed away from the barn or stable.
- Close windows and doors to prevent embers from entering buildings.
- Consider opening barn doors and corrals to let animals escape.
Keep your vehicle fuel tank full and ready to go
- Face your vehicle in the direction of escape.
- Shut your car doors and close the windows.
- Have your key ready, or leave it in the ignition.
Wear protective clothing
- Wear sturdy shoes, long cotton or woollen trousers/pants, long-sleeved shirts and gloves.
- Carry a damp handkerchief to protect your face.
- Carry wet towels to cover your head or bare skin or to wrap your feet, in case you need to run through small area of fire.
Prepare your home for a fire, if you have time
- Shut off the gas at the meter.
- Close the valves on propane tanks.
- Open fireplace dampers.
- Close windows, vents, doors, blinds and non-combustible window coverings.
- Use wet cloths to block any other openings.
- Remove lightweight or combustible window coverings.
- Move combustible furniture to the center of the home away from windows and doors.
- Place in a pool or pond any valuables that will not be damaged by water.
- Remove combustible items from around the home.
- Connect hoses to outside taps.
- Gather your fire tools.
If your area has a ‘stay or go’ policy, and if you are trained, you may decide to stay
- If you plan to stay, make sure that you keep and know how to use fire suppression tools, including a rake, an axe, a handsaw or chainsaw, a bucket, a shovel, a ladder and sand buckets.
- You may have to fight small fires before professional help arrives.
- Remember that normal water pressure may not be available to you.
If you are trapped by fire, crouch in a pond, river or pool
- If there is no body of water nearby, look for shelter in a cleared area among a bed of rocks. Lie flat, face down and cover you body with soil. Breathe air close to the ground.
- You cannot outrun a fire.
Select a safe location for your building
- Build on level ground. Fire spreads more rapidly even on minor slopes.
- Set single-storey structures at least 10m (30ft) from any ridge or cliff. For taller buildings, increase the distance.
- Ensure that there is enough distance between buildings, following local or international standards (see Sphere standards for emergency shelter).
Design, build and maintain your structures with wildfires in mind
- Plant low-flammability landscaping to reduce fuel for a wildfire.
- Design and construct buildings to limit their flammability.
- Use fire-resistant or non-combustible building materials whenever possible.
- For roofing, use terracotta, clay, metal, slate, cement, or asphalt (Class A), tiles.
- For exterior walls, use stucco or masonry rather than vinyl or wood.
- Treat wood or combustible materials with fire retardant.
- Use only thick, tempered safety glass in large windows and sliding glass doors.
- Install electrical lines underground if possible.
- Install and maintain a lightening rod.
- Install spark arrestors in chimneys to prevent large particles from escaping and starting a fire.
- Provide at least two ground-level doors, for easy and safe exit, and two means of escape from each room (doors or windows).
Maintain water sources for fire fighting
- Maintain an irrigation system.
- Identify and maintain outside water sources such as ponds, cisterns, wells, swimming pools and hydrants.
- Keep hoses long enough to reach any part of any buildings.
- Create a separate pump hydrant or use swimming-pool circulation pumps for dowsing properties.
- Install freeze-proof exterior water outlets on two sides of the home and additional outlets 15m (50ft) from home for fire fighters to use.
To prepare better your workplace read also the household and community preparedness tips.
Additionally, consider creating a or revising your current workplace's Business Continuity Program.
Regularly inspect your home and property for fire hazards
- Learn about the risks and potential impacts of severe tropical storms that can impact your location (especially winds, storm surge and flooding).
Report hazardous conditions
- If evacuation is necessary, work with your network to determine various transportation options.
- If you do not know the different options, ask your local emergency manager about plans for people without private vehicles, or for anyone requiring assistance.
- Make sure everyone in your household knows where to go if they have to leave the area.
Make your property for fire teams to easily find and access
- Work with your community to identify safe local cyclone shelter locations for anyone who will need them.
- Make sure each household member knows the location and route to the agreed shelter.
To prepare better your community read also the household and workplace preparedness tips.
What do I need to know?
A small fire can become a rapidly spreading inferno in a matter of minutes – particularly in windy conditions. Although they can have some ecologically beneficial effects on forest and wilderness areas, wildfires can cause extensive damage. The impacts include death, injury and property damage, loss of shelter and livelihood, disruption of lifeline infrastructure and destruction of community. They may also result in adverse environmental consequences, such as loss of wild habitats, threats to biodiversity, land degradation and increased risk of erosion. Meanwhile, the chemicals used to fight the fires can pollute natural water sources.
Here are some tips to mitigate wild fire risks:
- Never discard cigarette butts on the ground.
- Never leave an outside fire unattended.
- Always ensure that campfires are completely extinguished after use.
- Clear outdoor areas of broken glass which can reflect sunlight and start a fire.
- Dispose of glass bottles in closed recycling bins.
Clear flammable materials away from your property
- Regularly clean roofs and gutters, removing twigs, dead leaves, needles and other debris.
- Remove all dead wood and dense vegetation within at least 7m (30ft) around your home.
- Prune trees and shrubs so that the lowest limbs are 2–3m (6–10ft) from the ground.
- Dispose of cuttings and debris.
- Avoid using wooden lawn furniture.
Take precautions with flammable materials
- Avoid open burning, especially during fire season.
- Site above-ground propane tanks at least 9m (30ft) from buildings.
- Dispose of ashes in a metal bucket, saturate them in water for two days, then bury them in mineral soil.