Wildfire Preparedness

Why Wildfire Preparedness Matters

Hey Prepper Nation,
We’ve certainly had our share of acts of God lately, what with hurricanes, earthquakes, and now, wildfires.  Wildfires, over 170 separate ones, have destroyed nearly 1,400 homes in Central Texas where 1200 firefighters from several states have been battling to get things under control.  As of this morning, there have been at least 2 confirmed deaths.     Firefighters now report that the fires are about 30 percent contained, after burning out of control for the last 3 days.  What exactly does that mean?
Containment means that a line has been established around the perimeter of a fire so that it won’t spread any further.  30% contained would mean that such a line exists over 30% of the perimeter, but that 70% is still spreading, or “out of control”.  It’s also an indirect statement of how likely they believe the fire will stay within the control line established.  A fire that is “under control” means that the authorities are confident that they have completely stopped the spread of the flames.

Wildfires and Prepping

What’s amazes me is that Tropical Storm Lee apparently had a hand in causing the wildfires to take off and spread (I thought that Lee would have put out the fires).  Despite bringing some rain into the area, It appears that the winds whipped up by the storm took smaller fires and turned them into conflagrations of near-biblical proportions.  As a matter of fact,  authorities credit an easing of the winds from Tropical Storm Lee as the only real reason that the fires are partially contained at present.
So what does this have to do with prepping?   Well, many in the preparedness community either already have or are planning to have a rural retreat for when things go south.   These fires mean that, if you’re going to live in God’s Country, you’re going to have the responsibility to not only defend it from hordes of marauding zombies, but also acts of nature such as the occasional wildfire.  Luckily, most of this involves something we Preppers have in abundance, and that common sense.
One thing that’s important is what we call “vegetation management”.   You’ll want to direct fires AWAY from your house.  There are a few ways to do this:  you’ll want to clean up dead wood lying on the ground close to your buildings and off the roofs.  Keep woodpiles and other flammables away from structures. Also, you’ll have to remove some of the living vegetation from around your home.  This is counter to some advice you’ll get regarding keeping your home invisible, and it means that you’d have to remove those thorny bushes you’ve planted under your windows for defense.    This can be a tough decision, but you just might have to make a choice between fire protection and privacy.
Another factor to consider is the materials that your retreat is made of.  How much fire resistance does your structure have? A wood frame home with wooden shingles will go up like a match in a wildfire.  You should try to build as much flame resistance into your home as possible.
So, let’s create a defensible space.  A defensible space is an area around a structure where wood and vegetation are treated, cleared or reduced to slow the spread of wildfire towards a structure.  Having a defensible space  will also provide room to work for those fighting the fire.
The amount of defensible space you’ll need depends on whether you’re on flat land or on a steep slope.  Flatland fires spread more slowly than a fire on a slope (hot air and flames rise).  A  fire on a steep slope with wind blowing uphill spreads fast  and produces “spot fires”.  These are small fires that ignite vegetation ahead of the main burn, due to small bits of burning debris in the air.
You’ll want to thin out those thick canopied trees near your house.  Any nearby tree within 50 feet on flatland, or 200 feet if downhill from your retreat on top of the mountain, needs to be thinned, so that you’re pruning branches off below 10-12 feet high, and separating them by 10-20 feet.  Also, eliminate all shrubs at the base of the trunks.
 Other things you should do:
1)Clean up all dead wood in the area.
2)Stack firewood at least 20 feet from any building.
3)Keep gardening tools and other items stored away.
Of course, once you have a defensible space, the natural inclination is to want to defend it, even against a forest fire.  Unfortunately, you have to remember that you’ll be in the middle of a lot of heat and smoke.  Unless you’re a 20 year old Navy Seal in full fire gear and mask, you’re probably not going to be able to function effectively.  The safest recommendation would be to hit the road if there’s a safe way out.   It’s a personal decision, but make it a realistic decision.
If you’re leaving, have that bug-out bag already in the car, as well as any important papers you might need to keep and some cash.  Make sure you shut off any air conditioning system that draws air into the house from outside.  Turn off all your appliances, close all your windows and lock all your doors.  Like any other emergency, you should have some form of communication open with your loved ones so that you can contact each other.  Don’t forget to bring some eyewash, smoke will irritate your eyes.
If there is any possibility that you might find yourself in the middle of a fire, make sure you’re dressed in long pants and sleeves and heavy boots.  A wool blanket is very helpful as an additional outside layer because wool is relatively fire-resistant.  If you don’t have wool blankets, this is a good time to add some to your storage, or keep some in your car.  If you’re in a building, stay on the side of the building farthest from the fire with the least number of windows (windows transfer heat to the inside).
Stay there unless you have to leave due to smoke or the building catching fire. If that’s the case and you have to leave, wrap yourself in that blanket, leaving only your eyes uncovered.  Some people think it’s a good idea to wet it first.  Don’t!   Wet materials transfer heat much faster than dry materials and will cause more severe burns.  If you’re having trouble breathing because of the smoke, stay low, and CRAWL out of the building if you have to. There’s less smoke and heat the lower you go.   Keep your face down towards the floor.   This will protect your airway.
Protecting your airway is the most important thing you can do.  Remember, you can heal from burns on your skin, but you can’t heal from burns in your lungs.  
Wildfires, hurricanes, tornadoes, earthquakes; all of these catastrophes can threaten your life and the lives of your loved ones.  A little planning  and some supplies will give you the best shot at getting through them in the best shape possible.
Dr. Bones

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