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Emergency Preparedness

Wildfire preparedness guide & safety tips

In 2017, wildfires burned about 10 million acres of land in the United States. While some might think that wildfires only happen during certain seasons and in specific regions, wildfires can happen in any arid season or climate. In fact, the National Fire Protection Association estimates that over 72,000 communities are at risk of wildfires across the United State. For business owners, wildfire damage can lead to a total loss of livelihood. Since 2017, wildfires caused over $5.1 billion in property damage over a 10-year period. Understanding wildfire hazards combined with having an emergency prep plan in place are key to being ready in the event of a wildfire. Learn about wildfire safety tips and see how to protect yourself and your property from wildfire damage.

Wildfire risks & danger levels

According to the National Park Service, human activity causes 90% of wildfires. Only 10% of wildfires are caused by natural events, such as lightning. This makes it critical for people to know how their actions could spark a wildfire. The National Park Service relies on the National Fire Danger Rating System to predict fire the likelihood of a wildfire to occur. Understanding this rating system will help you be aware of the risk of wildfires in your area.

Green - Low risk. Wildfires are not likely to occur. Weather conditions are not conducive to wildfires.

Blue - Moderate. Wildfires can occur, but the hazard is not elevated. Exercise routine caution.

Yellow - High. Conditions are permissive to wildfires, and wildfires are likely to happen. Burn bans could be in effect during select times of the day.

Orange - Very high. Wildfires can easily spark and spread. Burn bans are likely to be in effect.

Red - Extreme. Wildfires will spark and spread with rapid speed. A total ban on all outdoor burning is likely to be in effect.

Check your local news or weather station or contact your local fire department’s non-emergency line for accurate information about the fire danger level in your area. If you’re not sure if it’s safe to engage in certain activities involving an open flame, such as lighting a burn barrel to get rid of waste, find out before you ignite. Not only will this help you prevent wildfires, but this can also help you avoid costly fines if a burn ban is in effect.

Before a wildfire

A critical part of being wildfire-ready is having an emergency preparedness strategy in place before wildfires become an active threat. Your wildfire emergency preparedness plan should include taking safety precautions to protect your property, determining your evacuation plan, and assembling an emergency prep kit.

Protect your property

Prior to an active wildfire threat, you should work to make it as difficult as possible for wildfires to spread to your property. This is known as the defensible space concept, which is recommended by the National Fire Protection Association. According to the defensible space concept, property is broken into three zones with the furthest zone extending 200 feet outward from structures on your property. Defensible space creates a buffer that can slow the spread of wildfires, making it safer and easier for firefighters to defend your property. The precautions you should take are unique to each zone.

Up to 30 feet from structures on your property

  • Clean your gutters regularly.
  • Remove dry and dead vegetation.
  • Prune bushes and keep plants well-watered.
  • Flammable and combustible material, like firewood, leaf piles and grills, should not be kept in this zone at all, unless secured in fireproof storage equipment.
  • Non-flammable outdoor furniture and decorations are recommended for use in this zone.

30 to 100 feet from structures on your property

  • Trim grass so that it does not exceed more than four inches in height.
  • Clear out dry or dead vegetation, like leaf piles or fallen tree limbs, unless they are required to prevent erosion.

Bonus tip: In both Zone 1 and Zone 2, put plenty of distance between trees. Keep in mind that wildfires spread faster uphill than on flat surfaces, so take ground slope into consideration when spacing trees and shrubs.

  • Flat surfaces: Keep trees and shrubs 10 feet apart or more.
  • Moderately sloped surfaces: Keep trees 20 feet apart or more.
  • Steep surfaces: Keep trees and shrubs 30 feet apart or more.

100 to 200 feet from structures on your property

  • Thin out small trees and remove as much dead or dry vegetation as possible, unless required to prevent erosion.
  • Prune tree limbs to minimize the contact between trees.

Bonus tip: Take picture of your property and the structures on your property at regular intervals throughout the year. If a wildfire does cause damage, recent pictures will be useful when you file insurance claims.

Determine your evacuation plan

Knowing where you’ll go ahead of time and communicating your plan with your family and coworkers will help you stay safe in the event of a wildfire.

  • Encourage your coworkers to develop a plan with their families.
  • Designate a safe meeting place and a backup meeting place.
  • Plan multiple evacuation routes in the event that one of the routes is blocked by wildfires.
  • Mark the evacuation routes on a physical map since GPS technology might not work in the event of a wildfire.

Create your emergency prep kit

Another precaution to take before there is an active wildfire is to assemble an emergency prep kit, and store the kit in a portable chest or case. Some of the items your emergency prep kit should include are:

  • Water
    • Include enough water for three days for every person who is evacuating with you.
  • Phone chargers
  • Portable radios
  • Prescriptions

Whether for wildfires, hurricanes, tornadoes or other natural disasters, having a preassembled emergency prep kit will allow you to evacuate quickly with the right supplies.

During a wildfire

In the event of a wildfire, early evacuation is the key to safety. Wildfires spread quickly, so take that into consideration when deciding whether or not to evacuate. Local authorities will issue a mandatory or voluntary evacuation depending on the severity of the wildfire threat.

  • Voluntary - Wildfire danger is not immediate, but likely to happen in a designated area. Evacuation is not required, but it is advised.
  • Mandatory - Danger is imminent in a designated area and evacuations is required. Depending on where you live, noncompliance could be against the law.

Because of their speed, it is often better to err on the side of caution and leave if a voluntary evacuation is issued for a wildfire. If local authorities issue an evacuation order, follow these evacuation tips:

  • Get your emergency prep kit and put it in your vehicle.
  • If you have time, stage your property to make it easier for firefighters to defend:
    • Leave the lights on to increase your property’s visibility. This will allow firefighters to spot your property among the flames.
    • Store a ladder in a visible area on the outside of your property to allow firefighters to access your roof.
    • Turn off gas lines, air conditioners and propane tanks.
    • Do not leave sprinklers or water running. This can reduce water pressure to fire hydrants.
    • Shut all windows and doors, but do not lock them.
  • Execute your predetermined evacuation plan.

While you evacuate, continue to monitor local news sources on your vehicle’s radio or on your portable radio for updates and safety advisories.

After a wildfire

Only return to your property once local officials have declared it safe to do so. Once you return, remember to follow these safety precautions:

  • Stay away from downed power lines. If there are downed power lines, report them to utility companies as soon as possible.
  • Make sure that the buildings on your property are structurally sound before entering them.
  • Inspect a structure’s main circuit breaker and gas lines for signs of damage before turning them on.
  • Check the roof and attic for hot embers inside building structures and around your property.
  • Take pictures and report all damage to your insurance company in order to begin the claims process.

Once the insurance claims process is initiated, consider the extent of the damage to determine whether you are able to clean up and make repairs on your own or if you should hire a professional recovery team. If you decide to clean up and make repairs on your own, be sure to use the proper safety equipment. Avoid injury by wearing the right protective apparel, such as:

Ferguson is here to help you in the good times and the bad. Whenever disasters do happen, know that Ferguson is more than your business partner; we're also part of your community. Count on us to have preparedness resources and safety supplies to help you make it through emergency situations.