Friday, March 13, 2009

Only you can prevent — and prepare for — wildfires

We all remember learning about Smokey Bear and fire safety in school, but how many of us have taken that information to heart? With wildfires threatening lives both across the globe and closer to home recently, now is an excellent time to talk about preparing for a wildfire.

It is important to be prepared even if your area is not prone to wildfires, because they can occur almost anywhere during dry weather. In fact, this year's dry conditions across the United States have firefighters worried.

Fortunately, there are protective steps you can take before a wildfire occurs. Keeping dried leaves away from your home and out of your gutters will reduce the risk of your home catching fire. Create a 30-foot to 100-foot safety zone around your home that is free of flammable items, such as brush, woodpiles and propane tanks. Find out how wildfires are reported in your community and sign up for any alert systems that are available.

If a wildfire is reported in your area, the first thing you should do is find out how far it is from your home. This will help you decide whether there's time to evacuate immediately, or if you should stay at home. If told to evacuate, try to leave as soon as possible. Remember that your safety is more important than protecting your home and belongings. Always keep an evacuation "go-bag" packed and ready so you can leave quickly.

During evacuation, car trouble can leave you stranded. If this happens, don't leave your vehicle. Instead, roll up the windows, close the vents, and try to cover up with blankets or other available items. In situations where the fire is close, it is sometimes best to stay at home. Never try to outrun a wildfire.

These are just a few tips that can help prepare you for a wildfire. More information is available on the U.S. government's fire safety Web site or from Ready America.

Photo caption: Fire crews work to stop a wildfire in Southern California from advancing in October 2007. (Photo courtesy Federal Emergency Management Agency)

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