Once an isolated incident, wildfires advancing into rural and metropolitan areas are now a regular occurrence in the state of California. The latest wildfires devastating California have caused nearly $1 billion in property damage. Over 7,000 homes and buildings have already been destroyed, and the number is expected to rise as crews continue to work in areas ruined by fires that have killed at least 40 citizens.
While firefighters and other first responders remain the first line of defense against these natural disasters, the intensity and longevity of these fires have resulted in additional safety measures requiring attention. For some residents, the wildfires are so intense that evacuating the area is the only way to ensure their safety and the safety of their families.
Causes for Wildfires in Rural Areas
Fires in rural areas are caused by different situations than non-rural areas. Dry and brittle landscapes are already environmental danger zones, add in the threat of heat and you have one of the leading causes of residential structure fires in rural areas. In fact, over 30 percent of rural residential fires are started from malfunctioning heating devices.
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Household elements such as fireplaces and stovepipes that have not been properly maintained are major causes of rural fire incidents. This unfortunate trend requires people who live in these types of areas to re-educate themselves on preventive measures against accidental fires. Ensuring that people know how to maintain their household equipment will go a long way in fire prevention, which in turn helps protect against the rising occurrence of wildfires in rural areas.
One of the first things to do to prepare for any emergency, let alone wildfire emergencies, includes creating an emergency supply kit and evacuation plan. Whether you live on your own or with a group, you should have immediate access to various necessities you can grab at a moment’s notice. Things like bottled water, emergency rations, batteries and chargers, maps of the surrounding area, and two-way radios are some of the things to keep stocked.
These initial preparations will serve you well regardless of the disaster you’re faced with. Pairing your kit with an evacuation plan focused on safely escaping the danger area will allow you and your group to remain clear-headed during the situation. Panic can be as dangerous and deadly as any external threat.
While you want to avoid being trapped in an unfavorable situation, especially in regards to wildfire disasters, there are a few options to consider if you’re backed against the wall. For instance, a local river or dam can serve as a viable last resort option if you’re cut off from evacuation. In fact, with proper maintenance beforehand, even a residential pool can save your life or the lives of your loved ones until rescue arrives.
For several years, it’s been recommended for homeowners to prevent fire damage by wetting their home and surrounding foliage with available pool water. In the case of wildfires, if there are no available fire hydrants, then your (or a neighbor’s) pool is the next best thing.
Fires, just as earthquake events, are especially dangerous because of the domino effect they can set off. Most rural areas are either full of flammable elements such as plants or trees, or wide open spaces that allow for ample air currents to flow and feed the flames. In fact, the true threat of fire disasters in rural areas will come from the additional threats that the event triggers and less from the actual flames.
If you’re faced with such a situation, you’ll want to keep yourself covered to protect your body from radiant heat. The smoke in the air can travel for miles and build up in the atmosphere, creating a hazardous environment for citizens with asthma or other medical issues — which makes a face/breathing mask a valuable item. For homesteaders and farmers, your livestock will suffer from these same threats so you should have a plan to protect and evacuate your animals as well.
Overall Issues and Goals
In the end, it all comes down to how quickly the threat can be extinguished. The longer a wildfire burns, the greater the damage. Homes in rural areas are more likely to be situated farther from emergency services than non-rural homes. Also, the lower the population, the greater chance a small brush fire can grow into a larger threat as it will go unnoticed for a longer amount of time.
It’s important to keep an eye on your surroundings. Know the signs to look for, have a route mapped out and commit it to memory. Also, have an emergency pack ready and available and do not procrastinate — if you’re given the order to evacuate, do so. Things taken by fire can be replaced, lives less so.