Since the house is on fire let us warm ourselves. - Italian Proverb

A wildfire is any uncontrolled fire in combustible vegetation that occurs in the countryside or a wilderness area. Other names such as brush fire, bushfire, forest fire, grass fire, and veldfire may be used to describe the same phenomenon depending on the type of vegetation being burned. A wildfire differs from other fires by its extensive size, the speed at which it can spread out from its original source, its potential to change direction unexpectedly, and its ability to jump gaps such as roads, rivers and fire breaks. Wildfires are characterized in terms of the cause of ignition, their physical properties such as speed of propagation, the combustible material present, and the effect of weather on the fire


  • Backburn: Precautionary fire set downwind of main fire for controlled fuel clearing by "backing" it into the main fire.
  • Control line: An inclusive term for all constructed or natural barriers and treated (retardant) fire edges used to control a fire.
  • Creeping fire: Fire burning with a low flame and spreading slowly.
  • Crown fire: A fire that advances from top to top of trees or shrubs more or less independent of a surface fire.
  • Fireline: The part of a control line that is scraped or dug to mineral soil. Also called fire trail. More generally, working a fire is called being "on the fireline." May also refer to a "wet line" where water has been used to create a burn boundary in light fuels such as grass.
  • Red-flag day: Weather conditions creating a critical fire hazard, may require closing the forest to non-emergency activities in order to minimize the risk of accidental wildland fires.
  • Surface fire: Fire that burns loose debris on the surface, which include dead branches, blowdown timber, leaves, and low vegetation, as contrasted with crown fire.
  • Torching: Not to be confused with crowning, is when a single or small group of trees "torch" or go up in flames. Torching and group torching are more of a nuisance whereas crown fire is of much greater concern.

Before a Wildfire

  • To begin preparing, you should build an emergency kit and make a family communications plan.
  • Plan several escape routes away from your home - by car and by foot.
  • Design and landscape your home with wildfire safety in mind. Select materials and plants that can help contain fire rather than fuel it.
  • Identify and maintain an adequate outside water source such as a small pond, cistern, well, swimming pool, or hydrant.
  • Have a garden hose that is long enough to reach any area of the home and other structures on the property.
  • Install freeze-proof exterior water outlets on at least two sides of the home and near other structures on the property. Install additional outlets at least 50 feet from the home.
  • Thin a 15-foot space between tree crowns, and remove limbs within 15 feet of the ground.
  • Ask the power company to clear branches from powerlines.
  • Clear a 10-foot area around propane tanks and the barbecue. Place a screen over the grill - use nonflammable material with mesh no coarser than one-quarter inch.
  • Stack firewood at least 100 feet away and uphill from your home. Clear combustible material within 20 feet.

During a Wildfire

  • Survival in a Vehicle:
    • This is dangerous and should only be done in an emergency, but you can survive the firestorm if you stay in your car. It is much less dangerous than trying to run from a fire on foot.
    • Roll up windows and close air vents. Drive slowly with headlights on. Watch for other vehicles and pedestrians. Do not drive through heavy smoke.
    • If you have to stop, park away from the heaviest trees and brush. Turn headlights on and ignition off. Roll up windows and close air vents.
    • Get on the floor and cover up with a blanket or coat. Stay in the vehicle until the main fire passes.
    • Stay in the car. Do not run! Engine may stall and not restart. Air currents may rock the car. Some smoke and sparks may enter the vehicle. Temperature inside will increase. Metal gas tanks and containers rarely explode.
  • If You Are Trapped at Home:
    • Gather fire tools such as a rake, axe, handsaw or chainsaw, bucket and shovel.
    • Close outside attic, eaves and basement vents, windows, doors, pet doors, etc. Remove flammable drapes and curtains. Close all shutters, blinds or heavy non-combustible window coverings to reduce radiant heat.
    • Close all doors inside the house to prevent draft. Open the damper on your fireplace, but close the fireplace screen.
    • Shut off any natural gas, propane or fuel oil supplies at the source.
    • Connect garden hoses. Fill any pools, hot tubs, garbage cans, tubs or other large containers with water.
    • Place lawn sprinklers on the roof and near above-ground fuel tanks. Wet the roof.
    • Place a ladder against the house in clear view.
    • Back your car into the driveway; shut the doors and roll up the windows. Leave the key in the ignition and the car doors unlocked.
    • Place your Bug Out Bag in the car
    • Turn on outside lights and leave a light on in every room to make the house more visible in heavy smoke.
    • If you do find yourself trapped inside your home, stay away from outside walls. Close doors, but leave them unlocked. Keep your entire family together and remain calm.
  • If Caught in the Open:
    • The best temporary shelter is in a sparse fuel area. On a steep mountainside, the back side is safer. Avoid canyons, natural "chimneys" and saddles.
    • If a road is nearby, lie face down along the road cut or in the ditch on the uphill side. Cover yourself with anything that will shield you from the fire's heat.
    • If hiking in the back country, seek a depression with sparse fuel. Clear fuel away from the area while the fire is approaching and then lie face down in the depression and cover yourself. Stay down until after the fire passes.

After a Wildfire

  • If you remained at home, check the roof immediately after the fire danger has passed. Put out any roof fires, sparks or embers. Check the attic for hidden burning sparks.
  • For several hours after the fire, maintain a "fire watch." Re-check for smoke and sparks throughout the house.
  • If you have a safe or strong box, do not try to open it. It can hold intense heat for several hours. If the door is opened before the box has cooled, the contents could burst into flames.
  • Discard any food that has been exposed to heat, smoke or soot.