DAVIS-MONTHAN AIR FORCE BASE, Ariz. — Poor visibility, difficulty breathing and extreme heat are only a few ways to describe the sensation of being near a wildfire. Wildfires are an unstoppable force that consumes anything in their path. They are a deadly hazard that can spark up at a moment’s notice from a negligent passerby’s cigarette or even lightning strike. If conditions are optimal, these fires can span thousands of acres and destroy multitudes of businesses and homes. You can minimize risks to your health and property by preparing your home, practicing proper fire safety, and knowing what to do if you get caught in a wildfire.
The first thing to do is create a fire safe zone which will be determined by the terrain features and foliage surrounding your home. Removal of branches, vines, leaves and all other flammable foliage from the surrounding area is a good way to help prevent wildfires spreading to your house. A basic recommendation is 30 to 100 feet, but calling your local fire department will help with your planning. Call the local power company to have them remove branches from power lines; you can contact Tucson Electric Power Company at (520) 623-7711. Do not store gasoline near the base of your house; instead choose an area 30 feet away. The basic premise is to keep all flammable and combustible materials. neatly organized and, if applicable, trimmed to prevent further feeding of the fire. Preparing your house is a good start but most wildfires can be prevented by practicing proper fire safety.
A good start to practicing fire safety is to learn and know the local burning laws. Before using a burn pit, make sure to notify local forest service or fire departments of your activities, and have the appropriate permit. Make sure to clear a 10 foot perimeter around your burn pit or incinerator to prevent stray ashes or flames from spreading. Have a fire extinguisher nearby when burning materials in the event the fire becomes out of control and you need extra assistance. Always have a large entryway, whether it is your driveway or an opening to the grounds of your house, to allow emergency response vehicles to respond if there is a fire near your home. Calling your local fire department (520)791-4512 will give you more ideas on how to properly practice fire safety.
Wildfires can travel at incredible speeds ranging from roughly 7 mph to 14 mph making it a danger for people evacuating the affected area. If caught on foot do not try to outrun the blaze; look for a body of water which will help protect you from the extreme heat. If there are no bodies of water nearby, look for a natural depression in the ground and clear away any flammable debris nearby. Lie close to the ground and cover your body with a wet towel or soil. Breathe air closest to the ground to avoid breathing in smoke. If you are stuck in a car at the time of the fire, remain inside until the fire passes. Roll up the windows, close all air vents and park far away from trees and brush cover. Make sure your car is off, lie on the floor, and cover up yourself with a coat or blanket. The car will get hot inside but it is safer than being outside. Proper protection when trapped in a fire is your number one priority, so if you find yourself having to evacuate remember the basic steps for keeping yourself safe.
Whether it is from protecting your home or yourself, wildfires are dangerous and should be planned for accordingly. Planning starts with fire proofing your house by clearing debris and combustible items from around your property. After making your house as fire proof as possible, it is up to you to prevent any man-made fires that can occur by practicing proper fire safety. In the event of getting caught in a wildfire, protect yourself by being prepared whether you’re stuck in a car or on foot. This advice can lead to a safer lifestyle if you live in an area that is susceptible to wildfires.
The Davis-Monthan Emergency Management Facebook page and www.beready.af.mil have more tips and information that you should use for planning and preparing.
Staff Sgt. Daniel Vance, 355th Civil Engineer Squadron, contributed to this report