Wildfire Safety Tips

Firefighters works the Esperanza Fire in Cabazon, Calif., Thursday, Oct. 26, 2006. A wildfire set by an arsonist and driven by fierce Santa Ana winds killed four federal firefighters and drove hundreds of people from their homes Thursday, authorities said. (AP Photo/Mike Meadows)
AP Photo/Mike Meadows
Fire crews struggled to protect homes Friday from a wind-whipped wildfire that trapped and killed four firefighters in a wall of flames Thursday. The blaze, which authorities said was arson, has blackened nearly 24,000 acres, almost 38 square miles, in the San Jacinto Mountains just west of Palm Springs.

What is a wildfire?

Wildfire is one of the most destructive natural forces known to mankind. While sometimes caused by lightning, nine out of ten wildfires are human-caused. "Wildfire" is applied to any unwanted and unplanned fire burning in forest, shrub or grass. More than 900 homes are destroyed by wildfires each year.

Why has there been an increase in wildfires?

Past fire suppression policies, including one of "total suppression," which allowed for the accumulation of fuel in the form fallen leaves, branches, and excessive plant overgrowth in forest and wildland areas have contributed to wildfires. In addition, there has been increasingly dry, hot weather, changing weather patterns across the United States, and increased residential development in the wildland/urban interface.

How can you protect your house for wildfire safety?

  • Design and landscape your home with wildfire safety in mind.
  • Select materials and plants that can help contain fire rather than fuel it.
  • Use fire resistant or non-combustible materials on the roof and exterior structure of the dwelling. Or treat wood or combustible material used in roofs, siding, decking, or trim with UL-approved fire-retardant chemicals.
  • Plant fire-resistant shrubs and trees. For example, hardwood trees are less flammable than pine, evergreen, eucalyptus or fir trees.
  • How are wildfires battled?

    Wildland firefighters are faced with the difficult task of containing the sprawling blazes while withstanding intense heat, poor visibility and perils of the wilderness. A combined effort of agencies within the Department of Agriculture and the Department of the Interior includes thousands of full-time firefighters and volunteers, a fleet of engines, planes and helicopters and an array of technology ranging from infrared imaging to shovels.

    Smokejumpers: Specially trained firefighters parachute into otherwise inaccessible areas of a fire during the initial stages of the attack.

    'Helitack' Crews: When landing is not an option, equipment is lowered in pslings and firefighters rappel to the surface.

    Airtankers & Infrared Aircraft Large aircraft drop water or retardant - up to 3,000 gallons at a time - in a long string to create a line. Pink dye allows the pilot to see where it lands.

    Build Firelines: Using shovels and other tools, firefighters clear away fuels, such as leaves and branches, to form a path 3 feet to 5 feet wide.

    How do wildfires spread?

    In combination, weather, topography and fuel supply determine how destructive a wildfire will be. A fire burns in a patchwork of intensity and as it spreads, it can even create its own weather patterns. Spreading into the crown of the tree, the fire nourishes itself with oxygen drawn from below (like a chimney). Hurled by the convective drafts, floating embers can ignite dry fuel far from the fire.

    How can you prevent wildfires?

  • Don't park your vehicle on dry grass.
  • If off-road vehicle use is allowed, internal combustion equipment requires a spark arrester.
  • Know your county's outdoor burning regulations. Unlawful trash burning is a punishable offense.
  • At the first sign of a wildfire, leave area immediately by established trails or roads. Contact a Ranger as soon as possible. If escape route is blocked, go to the nearest lake or stream.
  • Never take burning sticks out of a fire.
  • Never use stoves, lanterns and heaters inside a tent.
  • Store flammable liquid containers in a safe place.
  • To learn more about wildfires:

    • Click here for an interactive and photo essay of California wildfire disasters.

    • Click here to read about how to prevent wildfires.

    • Click here to read more information from the National Interagency Fire Center.