Coping with Wildfires
If you live in Colorado or other states, you may be coping with the aftermath of recent wildfires. Wildfires occur in almost all states and typically ignite during dry, hot weather and especially during droughts. Most often, they are started accidentally and spread quickly, jumping from brush to trees and even homes. Since wildfires are difficult to contain, damage to property, wildlife and natural resources can be devastating. Here we offer tips and strategies on how to prevent, prepare for and cope with a wildfire.
Note — This information is intended as a guideline only. Always follow any specific instructions provided by local authorities.
To protect yourself and your environment from wildfires, contact your local fire department or forestry office for information on fire laws in your area — and strictly follow them. In addition, follow these wildfire safety practices:
- Report hazardous conditions that could cause a wildfire. For instance, if you see smoldering campfires or smoking hazards that are not properly extinguished, notify your local fire department immediately.
- If you must build a campfire, follow any posted or local rules or regulations. Also, keep the campfire small and build it away from overhanging branches, dry grass and leaves, and rotten stumps or logs. Scrape away litter or other burnable material within a 10-foot circle to keep the campfire from spreading. Keep plenty of water handy and make sure the fire is completely doused — stir it and douse it again to be sure — and that the coals are cold before leaving.
- Where smoking is permitted, smoke only in clearings where there are at least three feet around you on all sides. Grind out the cigarette, cigar or tobacco in the dirt, never on a stump or log.
- Follow all manufacturers’ instructions when using lanterns, stoves, or heaters outdoors. Always make sure they are completely cool before refueling and move the appliance to a new clearing before lighting it, especially if fuel spills when filling it. Never light lanterns, stoves or heaters inside a tent, trailer, or camper. If you move them inside, make sure there is adequate ventilation.
- If you must burn trash or debris, observe local regulations (it is not legal to do so in some communities; others have specific regulations). Do not burn on the ground where ashes or sparks can be blown around; use a container placed in an area clear from branches and overhead wires.
- Make sure your vehicle’s spark arrester is working properly by checking with the dealer or a mechanic. If you use other equipment such as chain saws, generators, trail bikes, etc., in wooded areas, they too must be equipped with working spark arresters.
Protecting Your Family and Home from Fires
As a safety precaution, learn about your community’s risk for wildfires by contacting your local emergency management office, planning and zoning department or forestry office. They can usually provide valuable information on how to safeguard your home and how to react when a wildfire is a threat.
In addition, the following safety tips may help:
- Install smoke detectors on each level of your home. Test them monthly and change batteries at least once a year.
- Make sure all family members know where the fire extinguisher is located and how to use it.
- Clean roofs and gutters regularly. Inspect chimneys at least twice a year and have them cleaned annually. Chimneys and stovepipes should also be equipped with spark arresters.
- Clear flammable shrubs, leaves, dead limbs, and twigs within a 30- to 100-foot zone around your home and beneath porches and decks. Stack firewood at least 100 feet away and uphill from your home.
- Store flammable materials such as gasoline, oil, kerosene, turpentine, etc., in approved safety containers and away from the base of your home.
- Maintain a garden hose that can reach all areas of your home and identify another outside water source such as a hydrant, swimming pool, pond, etc., that can be utilized in case of fire.
- Consider investing in protective shutters or fire-resistant drapes.
- Develop an evacuation plan with your family.
- Assemble a disaster supplies kit that contains: a first aid kit, an emergency cash fund, canned food and can opener, at least three gallons of water per person, a change of clothing and footwear, bedding and/or sleeping bags, a battery-powered radio and flashlights (including extra batteries), and any essential items for children, pets, or elderly and/or disabled family members (medications, diapers, warm clothing, etc.).
- Talk to your insurance agent to make sure that all of your insurance policies are up to date and contain adequate coverage.
- Keep insurance policies, photographs of your home and valuables (for insurance purposes, should they be damaged or destroyed), legal documents, and other valuables in a safe deposit box or fireproof and waterproof container.
Important Note about Roofs
It’s important to know the difference between a flammable and non-flammable roof. It is almost impossible to prevent a wood shingle roofed house from igniting if it is in the path of a wildfire. And once ignited, few professional firefighters will make even a token attempt to put out the flames, knowing that this effort is almost futile. Fire crews must quickly assess what can be saved and/or what can be defended when multiple structures are involved. A house with a wood shingle roof will not even be considered unless nothing else exists.
If you live in an area in which wildfires occur, your number one priority to protect your home must be to ensure that the roof is made out of a fireproof or Class A fire-resistant material.
When a Wildfire Threatens Your Community
If wildfires are threatening your community, listen regularly to your local radio or television stations for updated reports and evacuation information. In addition, take the following steps:
- Create an emergency plan with your family and make sure you all understand it. Make plans for evacuation and care of pets as well.
- Back your car into the garage or park it facing the route of escape. Close the garage and car doors and windows against smoke and disconnect automatic garage door openers (in case of power failure) so you can make a fast getaway. Also, know where your keys are so you can leave in a hurry.
- Smoke and ash from the fires can cause poor air quality. Stay inside and use an air conditioner, preferably with an air filter, if you have health problems, especially asthma, emphysema, other lung problems or heart conditions. People who are not at risk for health problems should still be cautious and avoid exercising if the air is hazy and/or causes coughing or irritation.
- If possible, arrange to stay with a friend or relative in a safe area if you are instructed to evacuate.
If you are instructed to evacuate:
- Do so immediately. Go to designated community shelter areas and, if possible, notify a relative or friend in another part of the country of your plans and your whereabouts. Listen to instructions carefully and allow yourself as much time as possible.
- Wear protective clothing (i.e., sturdy shoes, cotton or wool pants and long-sleeved shirt, gloves, and a handkerchief to cover your face) to prevent burns.
- Take your disaster supplies kit (as described above).
- Keep mobile phones and/or two-way radios handy to communicate in case of emergency.
- Choose an escape route as far as possible from the fire.
If you’re sure you have time before you evacuate:
- Close windows, doors, vents, Venetian blinds or non-combustible window coverings, and heavy drapes. Remove flammable or lightweight curtains.
- Turn off gas at the meter and pilot lights. (Note — You will need to have a professional turn the gas back on.)
- Open the fireplace damper and close fireplace screens.
- Turn on lights in each room to make your house more visible through heavy smoke.
- Seal attic and ground vents with plywood or commercially available seals.
- Connect the garden hose to outside taps. Wet the roof and/or place lawn sprinklers on the roof and near fuel tanks. Wet or remove shrubs within 15 feet of your home.
- Move flammable patio furniture indoors.
In the aftermath of a fire, there will probably be many pressing issues to take care of, but your first priority should be your own safety and that of your family. If you are in need of emergency services (shelter, clothing, food, money, etc.), contact one of the emergency hotlines listed in the Emergency Resources section at the end of this digest. In addition, safeguard yourself and your family by taking the following tips into consideration:
- Listen to a portable radio for information on shelters, helpful resources, and safety advisories.
- Stay out of and away from damaged buildings. Return home only when authorities say it is safe. Children and pets should be constantly supervised.
- Be alert for potential hazards. Take extreme care when moving in an area damaged by fire.
- Cooperate with authorities. Whether you’re asked to relinquish telephone lines, keep off emergency roads or given other directions, do your best to comply.
- Remember to help others who may require special assistance — children, the elderly, and people with disabilities.
What to Do if Your Home Is Damaged or Destroyed
If there is a federal disaster declaration, a telephone “hotline” is usually made available to provide information about public, private, and voluntary agency programs to help you recover from the fire.
When assessing the damage to your home, use extreme caution. Watch for hidden dangers: areas that are still hot, falling structures, sharp metal, and other potential hazards. If you have insurance, make a detailed list of the damages and contact your insurance representative as soon as possible. If you aren’t able to call from your home, tell your agent where you can be reached — and try to be patient. Where there is extensive and widespread damage, insurance representatives usually handle claims on an as-needed basis, beginning with the most serious situations. Property insurance typically protects against financial loss due to damages incurred to real estate and/or personal property, but policies vary and many have exclusions. Read your policy carefully and contact your agent with specific questions about coverage or the claims process. In addition, the following tips may help:
- Consider hiring a reliable contractor to make repairs — but beware of frauds who prey on disaster victims. Your best bet is to get a reference from friends, neighbors, or co-workers who have had home improvement done. Get written estimates from several firms. Ask for explanations for price variations. Don’t automatically choose the lowest bidder. Be sure to get a signed contract from any contractor with whom you agree to work.
- Take pictures of the damage — both to the house and your possessions — for insurance purposes.
- Make temporary repairs to prevent further damage from rain, wind, or looting.
- Keep all repair receipts for your insurance agent.
- If you have to rebuild your home, check local building codes and ordinances to find out about fire-resistant designs and noncombustible materials that may help reduce the damaging effects of wildfires in the future. For example, use fire-resistant shingles or replace vinyl siding with other materials, such as stucco, that are less likely to melt. (See previous information.)
Numerous shelters are typically set up in the event of a natural disaster. To find the shelter nearest you, check your local newspaper, contact your local Red Cross chapter or emergency management service, or call one of the hotlines below. In addition, some of these organizations may be able to provide temporary housing or financial aid to families who have lost their homes.
Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA): 800-462-9029
(or 800-462-7585 for the hearing- and speech-impaired)
Red Cross Hotline: 800-HELP-NOW (800-435-7669)
Resources Are Available
For additional assistance please contact your WorkLife Solutions program toll free at 1-800-234-1327, TTY Users: 1-800-456-4006 or visit www.magellanHealth.com/member using the toll free number. Call us for more information, help, and support. Counselors are available 24 hours a day, seven days a week to provide confidential assistance at no cost to you.