Wildfires: What should you do before, during and after a wildfire?

More than 10 million acres of land in the United States were burned in wildfires in the U.S. in 2020.

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If you live in a wildfire hazard zone — areas that are at greater risk of damage from wildfires — there are things you can do to help protect your home, family and belongings if a fire is threatening.

From FEMA, the National Fire Protection Association and Ready for Wildfire, here are some suggestions on what to do before, during and after a wildfire threatens.

Before

  • Sign up for your community’s warning system. The Emergency Alert System (EAS) and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Weather Radio also provide emergency alerts.
  • Know your community’s evacuation routes and find several ways to leave the area. Drive the evacuation routes and find shelter locations. Have a plan for pets and livestock.
  • Gather emergency supplies, including N95 respirator masks that filter out particles in the air you breathe.
  • Keep in mind each person’s specific needs, including medication. Don’t forget the needs of pets. Keep important documents in a fireproof safe. Create password-protected digital copies.
  • Use fire-resistant materials to build, renovate, or make repairs.
  • Find an outdoor water source with a hose that can reach any area of your property.
  • Create a fire-resistant zone that is free of leaves, debris, or flammable materials for at least 30 feet from your home.
  • Review insurance coverage to make sure it is enough to replace your property.
  • Adhere to all local fire and building codes and weed abatement ordinances.
  • Prune all lower branches eight feet from the ground.
  • Replace missing shingles or roof tiles to prevent ember from connecting with the roof.
  • Repair or replace damaged or loose window screens.
  • Keep roof surfaces clear of pine needles, leaves and debris at all times.
  • Clean chimneys and check and maintain spark arresters twice a year.
  • Use approved fire-resistant materials when building, renovating or retrofitting structures.
  • Be sure your house numbers show clearly from the street, both day and night.
  • Store combustible or flammable materials in approved containers.
  • Store all important papers in a fireproof container or keep copies at another location.
  • Make evacuation plans with family members. Include several options with an outside meeting place and contact person. Practice regularly.
  • Keep battery-operated radios and flashlights with additional fresh batteries on hand.

During

  • Evacuate. Leave immediately if authorities tell you to do so.
  • If trapped, call 911 and give your location, but be aware that emergency response could be delayed or impossible. Turn on lights to help people find you.
  • Listen to EAS, NOAA Weather Radio, or local alerting systems for current emergency information and instructions.
  • Use an N95 mask to keep particles out of the air you breathe.
  • Turn on a TV or radio to get the latest emergency information.
  • If you have a ladder, prop it against the house so you and firefighters have access to the roof.
  • If hoses and adequate water are available, set them up. Fill buckets with water.
  • Remove combustible material from the area surrounding the house (lawn chairs, tables, etc.).
  • Turn a light on in each room for visibility in case of smoke.
  • Open or take down flammable drapes and curtains.
  • Close all Venetian blinds and non-flammable window coverings.
  • Move upholstered furniture away from windows and sliding glass doors.
  • Be ready to evacuate all family members and pets when requested to do so.
  • Turn off air conditioning/air circulation systems.
  • Detach electrical garage doors. Back in your car and leave the keys in the ignition.

After

  • Listen to authorities to find out if it is safe to return and whether water is safe to drink.
  • Avoid hot ash, charred trees, smoldering debris, and live embers. The ground may contain heat pockets that can burn you or spark another fire. Consider the danger to pets and livestock walking the ground.
  • Send text messages or use social media to reach out to family and friends. Phone systems are often busy following a disaster. Make calls only in emergencies.
  • Document property damage with photographs. Conduct an inventory check and contact your insurance company for assistance.
  • Check with fire officials before attempting to return to your home.
  • Use caution when re-entering a burned area — flare-ups can occur.
  • Check grounds for hot spots, smoldering stumps and vegetation. Use your buckets of water.
  • Check the roof and exterior areas for sparks and embers.
  • Check the attic and throughout the house for hidden burning, sparks and embers.
  • Continue to check for problem areas for several days.