Wildfires are unplanned fires that burn in natural areas like forests, grasslands, or prairies. These dangerous fires spread quickly and can devastate not only wildfire and natural areas, but also communities. If you live in an area where your at risk at being impacted by a wildfire, then you need to be prepared to save yourself and your family.

Prepare for Wildfires

Recognize Warnings and Alerts

Make an Emergency Plan

  • Make sure everyone in your household knows and understands what to do if you need to quickly evacuate.
  • Practice your plan before wildfire season in your area to identify problems beforehand.

Review Important Documents

  • Make sure your insurance policies and personal documents like your ID are up to date.
  • Make copies of important documents and keep them in a secure location, such as a paid Cloud service provider.

Strengthen your Home

  • 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.
  • Designate a room that can be closed off from outside air. Close all doors and windows.
  • Set up a portable air cleaner to keep indoor pollution levels low when smoky conditions exist.

Know your Evacuation Zone

  • You may have to evacuate quickly due to a wildfire. Learn your evacuation routes, practice with household, and pets, and identify where you will go.

Gather Supplies to Flee Wildfires

  • Have enough supplies for your household, including medication, disinfectant supplies, masks, and pet supplies in your go bag or car trunk.
    • Being prepared allows you to avoid unnecessary excursions and address minor medical issues at home. This reduces the burden on urgent care centers and hospitals.
    • Remember that not everyone can afford to respond by stocking up on basic survival supplies. For those who can afford it, make essential purchases and slowly build up supplies in advance to allow for longer time periods between shopping trips. Keep in mind that this helps to protect those who are unable to buy basic survival supplies in advance of the wildfire. In addition, consider avoiding WIC-labeled products so that those who rely on these products can access them.
    • Set aside a respirator, like an N95 respirator, to keep smoke particles out of the air you breathe. Respirators are not meant to fit children. Cloth masks, surgical masks, and dust masks will not protect you from smoke inhalation.
  • Be cautious when carrying flammable or combustible household products that can cause fires or explosions if handled wrong, such as aerosols, cooking oils, rubbing alcohol, and hand sanitizer.
  • If you already have an N95 mask, use this to protect yourself from smoke inhalation. N95 masks also protect against the spread of COVID-19, however, they should be reserved for healthcare workers. If are in a public cleaner air space or shelter, use a mask to help slow the spread of COVID-19. 
  • Keep your cell phone charged when wildfires could be in your area. Purchase backup charging devices to power electronics.

Wildfires move fast, you should too!

  • Evacuate immediately if authorities tell you to do so!
    • Check with local authorities for the latest information about public shelters or download the free Red Cross Emergency App for a list of open Red Cross shelters in your area.
    • Consider making plans with friends or family to shelter with them where you may be safer and more comfortable.
    • If you can afford it, consider staying in a hotel until you are able to go back home. This can help reduce stress and anxiety for families who are not in a good position to provide a bed for you and your family.
  • If trapped, call 911 and give your location. Please be aware that emergency response could be delayed or impossible. Turn on lights to help rescuers find you if you have the ability to do so.
  • Pay attention to emergency alerts and notifications for information and instructions.

Wildfires Create Lots of Smoke and Particles

  • Use an N95 mask to protect yourself from smoke inhalation.
    • If you already have one at home, use a respirator, like an N95 respirator, to keep smoke particles out of the air you breathe. Respirators are not meant to fit children. Cloth masks, surgical masks, and dust masks will not protect you from smoke inhalation. If you do not already have N95 respirators, you can reduce your exposure to smoke by doing the following:
      • Choose a room to close off from outside air and set up a portable air cleaner or filter to keep the air in this room clean even when it’s smoky in the rest of the building and outdoors.
      • Use high efficiency filters (HEPA) in your central air conditioning system to capture fine particles from smoke. If your system has fresh air intake, set the system to “recirculate” mode and close the outdoor intake damper. Keep a couple of spare filters available if the filters clog up quickly.
      • Avoid burning anything in your homes, such as candles and fireplaces. Do not vacuum or use any appliance that can kick up a lot of dust.
    • If you are not ordered to evacuate but smoky conditions exist, stay inside in a safe location or go to a community building where smoke levels are lower.
    • Pay attention to any health symptoms if you have asthma, COPD, heart disease, or are pregnant. If you are sick and need medical attention, contact your healthcare provider for further care instructions and shelter in place, if possible. Call 911 if you are experiencing a medical emergency. If staying at a shelter or public facility, alert shelter staff immediately so they can call a local hospital or clinic.

Returning Home After a Wildfire

  • Do not return home until authorities say it is safe to do so.
  • Avoid hot ash, charred trees, smoldering debris, and live embers. If you are able to, spray down the area with water to help reduce the hazard of burns or starting another fire.
  • The ground may contain heat pockets that can burn you or spark another fire. When cleaning up ash, use a respirator to limit your exposure.
  • When cleaning, wear protective clothing, including a long-sleeved shirt, long pants, work gloves, appropriate cloth face coverings or masks, and sturdy thick-soled shoes during clean-up efforts.
  • Use appropriate masks or respirators.
  • When cleaning up ash, use a respirator to limit your exposure and wet debris to minimize breathing dust particles  
    • People with asthma and/or other lung conditions should take precautions in areas with poor air quality, as it can worsen symptoms. Children should not help with clean-up efforts.
    • Pay attention to any health symptoms if you or your children have asthma, COPD, heart disease, or are pregnant. Get to medical help if you need it.
  • Document property damage with photographs as soon as possible because your insurance company will need them. Conduct an inventory and contact your insurance company for assistance.
  • 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 following the disaster.
  • Meet virtually with your community through video and phone calls often. Remember, it’s normal to feel anxious or stressed, so be sure to accept this. Take care of your body and talk to someone if you are feeling upset since they may also benefit emotionally from talking to you.