How To Avoid & Survive A Wildfire

Rilor Staff
Update: June 18, 2022
Table of Contents

Numerous factors can cause a wildfire. Human and non-human interference may result in it. But recently, it has been evident that climate change has aggravated the number of wildfires we have seen throughout the country. 

People who love to go to the woods, forests, and grasslands are already prone to dangerous wildfires. They can occur without you knowing. Therefore, it is essential for these individuals to be prepared at all times. Planning is no longer optional; it is necessary. 

Read on to learn more about how you can avoid a wildfire and navigate your way through it. 

What Is A Wildfire?

Technically speaking, a wildfire is a sudden, usually-uncontrolled blaze that razes various forms of vegetation. Usually, it happens in rural areas. It can take place in savannas, grasslands, forests, and other areas that can support fire. 

Wildfire happens naturally. For instance, lighting strikes can generate fire on dry vegetation. But over the years, man-made wildfires have also taken place. They can last for very long periods if there are no interventions. Weather conditions may also impact the scale of the wildfire. High temperatures and wind can be blamed for the rapid spread of a wildfire. 

Interestingly, the topography of an area dictates if it is prone to massive wildfires. Based on research, fire can burn faster on uphills than on downhills. 

Wildfires are dangerous, especially if they erupt near cities or human residences. The 2018 wildfire in Butte County has ravaged Paradise town. Its aftermath also left over 80 people dead. 

However, keep in mind that wildfires can be life-savers for some species of plant. Specific plants, such as the chamise and manzanita, require a certain degree of heat before their seeds can germinate.

Of course, wildfires can help in the check-and-balance of an ecosystem. For instance, these fires are essential in killing diseases and wildfires that harm the environment. For example, wildfires naturally clear out under bushes and scrubs so that new grasses would be able to grow. The fire residues can even nourish the soil. 

For humans, wildfires are dangerous. Hence, it is essential that it should be avoided at all costs. 

How To Avoid Wildfires While Hiking?

Here are some of the strategies that you can implement to navigate your way from the dangerous fires:

Prepare To Cancel Your Trip

As the adage goes, prevention is better than cure. This means that if you have the opportunity to cancel the trip, you should cancel it. You should consider this decision during wildfire seasons. You can't just simply risk yourself for any hiking or outdoor trip. The danger will never be worth it. 

Of course, canceling a trip is quite annoying, especially if you have prepared for it for quite some time already. Once you have prepared your luggage and permits, backing off seems to be less than ideal. 

However, there's always a justification for changing your mind. National parks can always close and prohibit entry to people, especially if there's a likelihood of wildfires. Once this happens, drop the trip and find an alternative somewhere else. Enduring the embers and smokes will never be fun; it is not thrilling at all. 

Inhaling smoke from wildfires can also cause respiratory problems. And the dangers of being inflicted by fire-related injuries will never make any pre-planned trip worth it. Hence, if there's a warning about wildfires, take heed. Your safety should be a priority. 

Reducing Dangers While Planning For The Hike

Predicting wildfires is not easy. As mentioned earlier, it occurs due to human and non-human factors. Even if things are seemingly clear, there's no telling if a blaze will never happen. 

Fortunately, planning ahead can mitigate the risks that wildfires can do to you. 

  • One way of doing this is by understanding your destination. You should identify different trails and routes that let you escape if the fire starts.
  • You should also seek information from local rangers and land managers regarding wildfires. They should be able to tell you which areas are the safest to travel to. Probably, they will suggest that you travel to areas that have been razed with fire already. Burnt areas have little to no fuel to start a fire. 

What Do You Need To Know Before Your Hiking Trip?

These are the essential resources that enhance the preparedness for your trip:

  • Weather forecast - You need to know about the current temperatures and weather patterns. As stated, high heat and thunderstorms can elevate the risk factors for wildfires.
  • Wildfire monitoring - Mobile apps today are dedicated to monitoring wildfires. You should download them if there's an available app for your area. You may also visit local wildfire websites for more information. Once you are in your destination, go to your local rangers to know if there are fire incidents in your area.
  • Inform the trailhead - It is crucial that the authorities know that you are in the woods. In this way, rescue can be commenced once a fire starts. 
  • Inform trusted individuals - Before you head out, make sure that some of your trusted friends and family members know about your trip. They should know when you are heading, the expected return date, and the destination.

What Gear Do You Need To Bring In Hiking?

If you want to prepare yourself for wildfires, there is essential equipment that you need to bring. The following are worth considering:

  • Weather radio - Information is an important weapon here. Escaping a wildfire happens fast if you know that it is happening, even if you aren't seeing signs yet. A radio with National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) service lets you know if there are nearby hazards.
  • First-aid kit - You should also carry a first-aid kit on the trip. Have a well-detailed medication plan that is tailored to fit your needs. In this way, you will be able to respond to emergencies. Keep in mind that you need medication for asthma and allergies. After all, wildfire smokes can trigger these respiratory illnesses.
  • Rugged boots - If you are expecting a wildfire, make sure that you have a pair of rugged hiking boots. Those that have thick soles will let you walk on soil filled with ember and soil.
  • Satellite messenger - A satellite messenger is more reliable than smartphones when it comes to outdoor communication. It helps you communicate with others even if there's no cellular signal. In hazardous scenarios, satellite messengers can help you get a rescue. 

How To Survive Wildfire Smokes

Visible fumes in the air suggest that there's a possible wildfire within your trailhead. So the dilemma here is whether to continue the trip or not. Between these two options, going back is the safest option. After all, venturing through the fire is not ideal. 

But even in the absence of fire, smoke remains to be a problem. Exposure to it can cause health problems. Fortunately, you can assess the level of severity of the smoke. 

  • If it has a red or orange color, the smoke is not good to be inhaled. You should avoid it at all costs.
  • Meanwhile, white smoke indicates that the fire is burning fast fuels, such as grass. They may die out fast. 
  • Dark smoke is an indicator that the ones burning are timbers or thick brushes. This fire can last long. 
  • If the smoke spreads in the column, you should escape immediately. 
  • Keep in mind that the direction of the bending of the smoke suggests the direction of the fire. If the smoke is heading your way, go the opposite direction.

How To Survive Wildfire?

These are the things that you need to do when you encounter a wildfire. 

  • Once you see the fire, react properly. But at the same time, you need to move wisely. Make sure that you are heading in a direction opposite to where it is going. If you see that the smoke is heading your way, it is time to escape.
  • Once the smoke catches you, do your best to get out of it. 
  • Keep in mind that fires tend to travel faster on uphills than on downhills. Hence, travel in a lower direction. 
  • If the fire is close, look for an area with little to no vegetation. 
  • It is safe to travel to areas that have been charred already because fire won't go there because of little fuel. But be wary not to place your boots in ash pockets. 

How To Prevent A Wildfire From Happening?

Many wildfires are due to human activities. If you decide to go hiking, make sure that you take the necessary steps to prevent one from happening. Essentially, following the Leave-No-Trace principles can prevent you from becoming a culprit 

Make sure that you are aware of fire restrictions in your destination. Ask the local managers of the park if there are particular rules when it comes to lighting campfires. 

If you are allowed to make a fire, don't do it carelessly. You need to create a fire ring first if there's none. At the same time, you should make the fire in an area where there is no vegetation. 

Of course, it is essential that you don't leave the campfire unsupervised. After all, the wind can carry the embers, causing an eventual wildfire. If you are done using the fire, better put it off using water. Douse the fire repeatedly, ensuring that no leftover embers are present. 

Here's a video of how you can douse a fire

Wildfires are dangerous. It can damage lives, properties, and ecosystems. Be a responsible hiker and prevent one from happening. 

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