Night ops

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Disaster Prep Wednesday: Surviving Wildfires

If you see this, you are too close
If you are on a hike and the woods catch fire - because of a lightning strike perhaps - what do you want to do? Or if you have a nice little home off in the high country and there's a fire bearing down on you - what's the best thing to do?

Ready.gov has some advice for homeowners on Wildfires - advice that requires you to be a bit proactive. Things like clearing an area around your property, moving flammable like gasoline away from the house and arranging for water to be on hand.

My advice is that if there is time and way to safely evacuate, do it. Get out while the getting is good. You can always rebuild a house. People are harder to reconstruct.

This might be important if you are trapped:
It is recommended that you create a 30 to 100 foot safety zone around your home. Within this area, you can take steps to reduce potential exposure to flames and radiant heat. Homes built in pine forests should have a minimum safety zone of 100 feet. If your home sits on a steep slope, standard protective measures may not suffice.
I am not sure what "non-standard protective measures" might prove useful, but if you have a house on a steep slope, you might want to find out.

What if you are out backpacking? Not surprisingly, Backerpacker magazine has suggestions: 1. Don't start a wildfire by your own actions; 2. Watch for lightning and the wind patterns; 3. If conditions are threatening, hike to water. And there is this gem of advice if you are being chased by a fire:
Lie down in a large, wet open area, or preferably a marsh. Or better yet, swim out into open water. If you have a canoe, don your life vest and get underneath your overturned canoe; you'll be able to breathe cool, trapped air and protect your lungs from heat damage until the fire passes.
The Captain Sparrow method of escaping fire
Okay, I am a little dubious about the need to get into your life vest, paddle the canoe into the water and flip it so that you can breathe underneath it. It seems to me, that unless you are on a very small river or stream which is barely passable by canoe, then you would be better off paddling away from the fire with your canoe. Perhaps I miss the point.

Anyway, suppose you aren't near Lake Woebegone, but are on a trail that runs along a ridge line? If the wind is blowing up the slope at you, thus blowing the fire toward you, get to the other side of the ridge and head away from the fire - if you know where the fire is, move laterally away from the fire, then head upwind so that the fire is not chasing you. If not, move down the slope looking for water and start moving laterally when you can. You do not want to be be chased by the fire, because is much faster than you and doesn't get tired like you will.

Look for fire breaks, or meadows or mountain springs or streams. Get wet and stay wet. Here's some good advice from MyLifeOutdoors:
Be on your guard and look for fires. If you smell or see smoke during the day, or a red and orange glow on the horizon at night, a fire is nearby. Leave the area immediately hiking downhill and upwind. If the fire is close (within a half mile) you may hear cracking or see sparks in the air. When this occurs it may be too late to flee, remember you can't outrun a fire. Instead find a place to make a stand. Look for lakes, ponds, rivers or other wet areas. If none exist look for bridges, ditches, caves, rock overhangs and the largest green grass open area you can find. Sand bars, gravel washes and rocky areas can also offer protection, the bigger the better. Clear out dry brush and other potential fuels. If a bridge or other shelter is unavailable, get to the lowest spot available and lay down. Even a small indention in the ground will increase the odds of the fire passing over without harm. Remove synthetic clothing and gear which can melt to your skin. Cover your head and face with any clothing that is NOT synthetic. Wet a cloth and wrap your face to help avoid breathing in smoke and superheated air.
Finally, while all this excitement is going on, remember the words of the Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy: "Don't Panic."

Which is right, because mindless action caused by panic most certainly will kill you dead. Instead, before you go into the woods, have a plan for even crazy events like getting caught in a forest fire then follow that plan. You know, "Plan your hike and hike your plan."




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