How to Prepare for and Cope With Wildfires

To people in some areas of the country, summer heat means barbeques, pool parties and ice-cold popsicles. But if you live in an area prone to wildfires, or you are moving to one soon, you may have preparations to make and safety considerations to take before you relax and enjoy the summer sun. Because fires can strike suddenly, the best way to prepare for a fire is by planning in advance. Knowing what to do will help you react quickly to protect your family and your home.

Preparing your home

Although there is no way you can completely protect your home from a wildfire, you can maintain your home with fire safety in mind. These tips may help protect your home:

  • Clear brush and dead vegetation away from your home. You will want to maintain a safety zone of at least 100 feet and mow your grass frequently.
  • Cut the lower branches on nearby trees. Also, remove any dead branches and vines that overhang or climb your house.
  • Keep an area of ten feet clear around propane tanks and grills. Remove other flammable items from your yard such as woodpiles, lawn furniture and tarps.
  • Use fire-resistant material on your roof and on the exterior of your home and plant fire-resistant trees and shrubs near your home.
  • Keep your roof and gutters clean and free of debris, leaves and pine needles.
  • Screen beneath porches, decks and floor areas to help keep embers off the exposed wood. Also, screen openings to the roof and attic.
  • Keep a rake, ax and shovel handy to use as fire tools. Keep a ladder that will reach your roof nearby. Make sure that you have water hoses on hand that are long enough to reach all areas of your home.

Understanding your insurance policy

In most cases, homeowner's insurance covers fires, including wildfires. Following are some things you can do to understand how your insurance policy works:

  • Check your insurance policy to be sure you understand what's covered and what's not, and check for exclusions. 
  • Understand that replacement cost will cover the cost of new items while actual cash value will only cover what your items are presently worth. 
  • Take a written, video or pictorial inventory of everything in your home and store it in a safety deposit box or other safe place.

Preparing your family

In case of a wildfire or other emergency, you'll be able to respond quickly if you and your family have planned ahead. The website has a downloadable Family Emergency Plan to help you put it all together. Here are some things to think about:

  • Choose two emergency meeting places: one near your home for emergencies such as a house fire and one outside of your neighborhood in case of a larger-scale disaster.
  • Ask an out-of-state friend or relative to be a contact. All family members should know the contact's phone number, and call the contact person with their location during a disaster.
  • Be sure your children know your phone numbers and younger children have your numbers written on a card with them at all times.
  • Find out if your community has an emergency communication service and if so, sign up for it.
  • Understand the emergency plan at your children's school or child care facility. 
  • Learn about emergency shelters in your area and find out if staying with family or friends is an option. 
  • Discuss what to do in an evacuation. Have a plan for getting your children from school. 
  • Discuss where you will meet each other in various situations.
  • Plan how you'd care for pets. Make sure you have a crate or other carrier and enough pet food and water. Confirm that your evacuation location will allow pets, as most shelters do not allow pets.
  • Put together a disaster supplies kit. This should be easy to grab in case you need to evacuate in a hurry. Get a list of items that should be included at

Evacuating your home

If you are asked to evacuate during a wildfire, it's important to do so immediately. You can read more detailed information on evacuations at Military OneSource. Here are some things to remember in case of an evacuation:

  • Wear protective clothing, including sturdy shoes, long pants, a long-sleeve shirt and a handkerchief to cover your face.
  • Pack your disaster supplies kit. 
  • Lock your home and choose a route away from the fire. Keep your radio tuned to local stations to get updates on evacuation routes.
  • Let someone know when you left your home and where you are going

If you have time, you can prepare your home by doing the following:

  • Shut all inside doors and shut off gas and propane.
  • Open the fireplace damper, but close the fireplace screen.
  • Connect garden hoses to water spigots and fill any buckets you may have with water. 
  • Place lawn sprinklers on the roof and leave them on.
  • Place a ladder against the house.
  • Remove flammable curtains or blinds.
  • Turn on outside lights and a light in every room so the house is more visible in heavy smoke.

After the fire

After a wildfire, you may be anxious to get back to your home and assess the damage. You should take the following precautions when returning home to make sure you and your family stay safe:
  • Call 911 if you perceive danger at any time.
  • Check with fire officials before returning to your home.
  • Be cautious when you enter a burned area, as flare-ups can occur. Check for hot spots or smoldering stumps and vegetation. Use your pre-filled water buckets to extinguish these. Continue to check problem areas for several days.
  • Check the roof, exterior areas, attic and throughout the house for burning sparks or embers.
  • Let family and friends back home know you're safe and well. One way to do this is to register yourself after the disaster with the American Red Cross Safe and Well program. Loved ones searching the site will be able to find your name and a brief message.
  • Consult with local experts on the best way to restore and replant your land. If there was extensive burning outside your home, watch for soil erosion.
You can't always control your environment, but you can be prepared and informed when disasters strike. You can learn more about preparing for, enduring and recovering from disasters on Military OneSource.


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