With more people spending time exploring the outdoors, it’s important to keep safety a top priority. Though natural disasters like forest fires are often hard to predict, it’s best to have a plan in place for what you would do if you got trapped in one.
Imagine that you and your friends are on hike in Yosemite National Park in California and you suddenly smell smoke in the air and see flames rushing in your direction through the brush—what should you do?
We have the answers! Read on to learn what to do when you find yourself face to face with a forest fire.
Assess risk beforehand
The best way to avoid getting caught in a forest fire is to evaluate the risks in the area beforehand. Check with park rangers to see if there are any dangerous conditions you should know about. However, if you forget to take this precaution or if the park rangers misinform you, you’ll need to be prepared to act quickly in order to survive.
If confronted with a forest fire, do not to panic. Staying calm helps prevent hyperventilation, which causes you to suck in lots of super-heated air that will kill you faster than a few burns will.
Besides running, your first instinct may be to wet your clothes to keep cooler and to be less prone to burns. Don’t do it! Wetting your clothes will actually hurt you more than help you because water conducts heat well and will boil your skin faster than dry clothes will. Unless you’re taking cover in a lake or stream, keep your clothes dry.
Filter your air intake
To keep from breathing in airborne ash, you can cover your mouth with cloth, but that won’t filter out the deadly smoke that the fire is emitting. The only way to truly protect yourself well from smoke inhalation is to use a facemask labeled N95 or N100, which you could keep in your backpack if you’re in an area that’s prone to wildfire. However, since most will not have one on-hand, the best thing you can do is to hold your breath as much as possible while escaping.
Run or dig your way to safety
Since wildfires are generally driven by wind, it is important to move into the wind when attempting to escape a fire. Check which way the wind is blowing by watching the movement of the smoke highest in the sky. Traveling downhill is also a smart move because hot air from the fire usually moves upward, making areas with higher elevation more prone to catching fire.
It’s also helpful to search for an area without lots of dry, combustible material, like a body of water, a clear-cut area without trees, or a rocky area. Avoid areas with dry brush that catches fire easily.
If the fire is moving too quickly for you to get to a clear or rocky area, it may be best to run through the leading edge of the fire to an area that has already burned.
Once you’ve successfully reached an area that seems safe, don’t stop. Even if there is a canyon between you and the fire, embers can potentially jump it and spread to where you are, so don’t waste any time and get out of the forest as quickly as possible.
As a last ditch effort when there is nowhere to run, you can locate a trench or deep gully and dig a hole in the side of it before covering the opening with a tarp or blanket once you’re inside. After that, all that’s left to do is to wait for the fire to pass over you.
With these tips in mind, we hope that you can get out safely! For more prepping tips and resources, check out Prepper's Base.