The Forest Fire Protection Guide – Tips and Survival

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A hike through the woods. All is right with the world except the recent drought. The brush below crunches like a cracker. Otherwise, it is a nice night. You notice a slight charcoal smell to the air. The night sky seems too bright. The wind is harsh tonight, picking up speed and beginning to blow like a leaf blower. It’s a fast moving wildfire! What do you do? In this article, The Forest Fire Protection Guide – Tips and Survival, you will learn all about saving yourself from a merciless wildfire. A short article read can mean the difference between going home to the family or turning to ash.

Pre Planning – Do Not Go to an Unsafe Place

Before heading out on your big, annual outdoor adventure, check with local rangers. Have there been wild fires in the area recently? Is it so dry that a campfire might accidentally get out of control? Is there a lot of dry brush right now that flames could catch easily? Questions like these make a world of a difference.

If you know Smokey Bear, he is all about prevention. When you save yourself the hassle of dealing with a forest fire in the first place, then you may have just saved your own life and those of others. An ounce of prevention goes a long way. Take the bit of extra time at the beginning to save yourself a lot of pain down the road.

Run, Run Away – What to Do When Taken by Surprise

Sometimes bad things happen. We cannot control what comes our way. You made all the right plans, talked to the park rangers, settled into your campsite, and took proper care of your campfire. But then you smell smoke. You see a bright light approaching. You cannot quite make it out yet.

It is a wildfire. You decide to run away. That is your best bet. When you see a wildfire, run away. However, there are some techniques to running that you need to be aware of. The woods are not a simple place. There are soaring hills, falling valleys, streams, open spaces, and everything in between. Each national park is different, so you must choose the direction of your run carefully.

When you run, head towards a stream, low area, or, as a last resort, an ashy spot; the fire usually does not come back to a place it has already been, but it is still an unsafe area.

The Best Tips for Surviving a Forest Fire

Look for a natural firebreak. This could be a paved road, clear cut winds, boulder field, or body of water. If there is no combustible material for the fire to catch onto, then it is a fairly safe area. That is the kind of place you want to run to because the fire won’t be able to catch alight there.

Run downhill because flames travel upwards. If you are on a hill in a forest fire, you want to run downhill. Flames like to go up to the sky. Dry wood and brush catch easier when the fire is below them on a hill. When you are on top of the hill, they like to head on up, catching you in the crossfire. Flames run uphill.

Avoid open areas. In open areas, you find brush, grass, and downed trees. As a consequence, flames can travel much faster. Green plants and large trees take longer to catch alight.

If caught in a wildfire, breathe in as little as possible. Forest fires heat up the air, making it speed up. You now face super heated, speedy wind. Super heated air will kill you well before the smoke or burns do. So take a deep breath and get the heck out of dodge.

Unless you are about to jump into a stream or river, stay dry. If you have on wet clothing, a forest fire will boil you alive. So before you wet your pants trying to prevent those burns, you might want to hold it in until you are a safe distance away from the flames. The same goes for a wet bandanna around your mouth. A wildfire will boil the water on your bandanna and blister your lips. Also, bandannas do not really help with smoke inhalation. You are going to have trouble breathing unless you brought a mask. The cloth is not fine enough to protect you.

Figure out the wind direction and then head upwind (into the wind). If the wind is blowing straight onto my face, that is the direction I want to be running. Fires follow the wind. Wherever it blows, the flames follow right on behind it. The wind is the powerhouse of the flames.

What Do You Do if You Cannot Outrun a Forest Fire?

Given the recent forest fire season in California, the flames can travel very fast. It is not uncommon for a forest fire to travel at 20 mph (30 kph) or even more and rampage run over a runner. If you keep running, you will eventually be overtaken. If you stay and hold your ground, you will be consumed by the flames. So what do you do? You start digging.

If you see a trench or gully, sprint to it and hop on in. Dig a hole in the side for you and hop in. Make sure to dig a hole so you are able to breath. You don’t want to cave yourself in. Once you have crawled in, cover the opening with a tarp or blanket. If a trench or gully is not an option, dig one where you are. Once done digging, crawl in with your feet facing the flames. Cover yourself with dirt, giving yourself just enough dirt so you are able to breath. You should be all safe once the flames have traveled over you.

Careless People – the Most Common Culprit

The Campfire – a Common Forest Fire Friend

90% of the time, people are the cause of wildfires. A common outlet for this carelessness is the campfire. Forgetting about the dangers of fire, many well intentioned campers can sometimes let their campfire get out of control. The short answer with your campfire is to be careful with it.

In a previous article, I wrote about how to start a campfire. Proper campfire management goes a long way in making a world of a difference in wildfire prevention. No matter your experience level, a refresher is always a worthwhile investment. A little knowledge goes a long way.

Do not build a campfire at a place with dry conditions. That is a recipe for a forest fire. Talk to your local ranger and ask if there is a burn ban. If not, use the designated campfire spot. When there is no spot, start your campfire far away from places where there is easy access to brush, dry grass, and similar vegetation. Keep it small. This is camping, not burning man and always keep an eye on it. Once you are all done, pour water over it and make sure your ash is cool to the touch, stirring it all up with a stick.

Cigarettes – Be Careful Where You Toss Them

On a recent trip to Oregon, my Dad and I saw two wild fires consuming the brush along I-5 in Northern California on the way there. He dialed 9-11 for some firefighters. Fortunately, the fires did not get out of control. On the way back from Oregon, my Dad and I had no problems except for some traffic. A few days later back at home, we saw news reports about a wild fire cutting off all of I-5. If he and I had left later, we would have been burnt toast.

What do you think the culprit was? More than likely, it was a cigarette. It is the most common piece of trash on the highway and in the ocean. Do not toss your cigarette out the window. If you do, you may just end up being the cause of the next I-5 fire. Instead, extinguish it in your car and put it in the dustbin. Then you can just toss it out with the rest of the trash. Take the extra time to be more conscientious.

Final Thoughts

Wildfires take people by storm, consuming forests and brush in the blink of an eye. One day, everything is calm; the next what was once there is engulfed in flames. Nine out of ten times, the wild fire was caused by human carelessness. Using the knowledge in this article, you are all set to help prevent a forest fire. Good luck and have a fun, safe adventure outdoors!

If you have any thoughts, questions, or think I missed anything, please comment below and remember to share this article. Thank you so much and I hope you make it a great day!

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10 Comments on “The Forest Fire Protection Guide – Tips and Survival”

    1. I am glad to hear you enjoyed the article Justin. Scenarios like this are more common than you would think on a camping trip.

      Thank you for sharing and I hope you make it a great day!

  1. Wow! You should spread this article far and wide! I had no idea about some of these things. And if visiting friends in dry areas, it is good to know about this. I live on the east coast where we get lot’s of rain, humidity, and local flooding. I have never seen a tree on fire here. Such timely info can save lives. I will remember the digging and wet info for sure.

    1. It is good to you plan share this article Thomas. I have been to the East Coast, but I have not spent enough time there. It is uncommon to see forest fires there. I am glad to know you remember to dig and stay dry.

      Thank you for sharing and I hope you make it a great day!

  2. Hey Alex, that first picture caught my attention right away. I live on the Nevada side of the Sierras, so I am very familiar with the devastation that wildfires leave. Once I started reading I couldn’t stop. It was easy to understand and very informative.

    A lot of stuff I did not realize even though I hike around a lot, particularly the part about keeping clothes dry. I unknowingly would think that wet would be a good thing. Good job on explaining why not. That alone may actually save my life one day.

    I spend most of time outdoors, so now I have to read your other articles. Good job on grabbing my attention, I love your topics. Those pictures tell a story in themselves. Thanks for the info.

    1. The featured top image certainly grabs your intention. It scared me! I have been to the Nevada side of the Sierras. It is very dry. I am glad to hear you fell into a trance while reading the article. I appreciate the compliment.

      Yeah, I did not know about the keeping my clothes dry part my self either. I may save my own life one day because of it.

      It is a good thing you plan to read my other articles. The pictures are quite rich.

      Thank you for sharing and I hope you make it a great day!

  3. Great Tips. So many things I wouldn’t have thought off had I been caught in one.
    “Figure out the wind direction and then head upwind (into the wind), you would think otherwise!

    1. I am glad to hear you enjoyed the tips. I did not know about heading upwind either. It is interesting what you learn in research.

      Thank you for sharing and I hope you make it a great day!

  4. Hi Alex,

    Thanks for your informative article. Here in Australia, bushfires are common; people lose their homes and livelihoods on a regular basis. You are so right that many fires are caused by humans being careless! Thanks for sharing this and hopefully you’ve prevented at least one fire by encouraging people to be more careful.

    1. Hello Marketa, I am glad to hear you enjoyed the article. Australia does get a lot of fires. Most of the time it is just plain human carelessness. I hope this article has stopped at least one fire.

      Thank you for sharing and I hope you make it a great day!

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