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Wildfire Risk Facts

Wildfires are powerful and destructive natural disasters that can impact both rural and urban areas. It’s essential to have accurate information about wildfires to protect yourself, your family, and your community. This page is dedicated to clearing up common misconceptions and providing you with straightforward facts about wildfires. By the end, you’ll have a better understanding of what wildfires are, how they start, and what you can do to stay safe.

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Wildfire Risk Facts

Wildfires only occur in forested areas.

While wildfires do occur in forested areas, they can also happen in grasslands, shrublands, and other types of vegetation.

Grassland fires can spread quickly and be just as destructive as forest fires. Wildland fires often start in small or light vegetation such as grass or small shrubs as they dry quickly in the spring/summer when temperatures increase and ignite easily. Wildfires in this type of vegetation can spread quickly, increase in intensity as they grow and ignite larger vegetation types such as mature brush and pine trees. Lack of precipitation, low humidity levels, and prolonged periods of dry weather can increase wildland flammability and the likelihood that larger vegetation types will ignite and spread.

Wildfires only happen in hot and dry climates.

While hot and dry conditions can contribute to fire risk, wildfires aren’t limited to one type of climate.

They can happen in places with hot and dry weather, like deserts, where things like plants and other fuels are often very dry and can easily catch fire and spread. But they can also happen in different climates when certain conditions come together.

For example, in areas with more moderate weather, wildfires can still occur if things like droughts (when there’s not enough rain for a long time), strong winds, or lots of flammable plants are present. Sometimes, even places that usually get a good amount of rain can have wildfires when there are periods without rain or when it gets unusually hot for a long time.

In some unique cases, even regions with typically wet climates can experience wildfires. This can happen during dry spells or when temperatures are much higher than usual. For example, peatlands, which are often found in cooler and wetter regions and are made up of a lot of decaying plant material, can sometimes have underground fires that produce a lot of smoke.

Wildfires are always destructive and harmful to the environment.

While wildfires can cause significant damage and pose risks to ecosystems, communities, and wildlife, they can also have ecological benefits and play natural roles in certain ecosystems.

They help clear out dead vegetation, release nutrients, and promote new growth. Some plant and animal species have adapted to depend on wildfires for their lifecycle. Here are a couple other positive impacts wildfire has on the environment:

Helping Nature: In some places, wildfires are actually good for the environment. Some plants, like certain types of pine trees, need fires to help them grow. Wildfires also clean up old plants, make room for new ones, and create different homes for animals and plants.

Recycling Nutrients: When a wildfire happens, it releases nutrients from dead plants back into the ground. This helps the soil become fertile again, lets new plants grow and animals find new homes. It’s one of nature’s way of recycling.

It’s important to know that not all wildfires are good. If they happen too often or are too big, they can cause problems like soil erosion (when the dirt gets washed away), and they lower air quality. So, while wildfires are a natural part of some places, they can be both good and bad, depending on the situation.

My home will only catch on fire from flames burning right up to the structure.

Research shows that embers — bits of airborne burning vegetation — are a primary cause of homes catching on fire.

Sometimes embers can fly a long distance, even up to a mile or more, ahead of the main fire. They can land on things like firewood piles, mulch, leaves, or furniture with foam cushions, and start new fires. These embers can also find their way into your home through vents, open windows, or doors, and even get into a car through open windows, setting it on fire.

When there are strong winds during a wildfire, they can pick up branches, burning vegetation, and other things and throw them at homes. This can break windows, damage the building, and create ways for flames and embers to get inside. Even if a home isn’t right next to the flames but something nearby catches fire, it can still send out intense heat and flames that can reach the home and cause it to catch fire too. Embers can also enter your home through vents, open windows or doors and ignite. They can just as easily get inside a car through an open window and set the vehicle on fire.

High winds associated with wildfires can cause branches, burning debris, and other materials to be thrown against homes, potentially causing them to catch fire. This flying debris can break windows, compromise the integrity of the structure, and create pathways for flames and embers to enter. Even if a home itself is not directly exposed to flames or embers, nearby structures or vegetation can emit intense heat and flames, which can then spread to the home.

The fire department will be able to protect my home, even during a large wildfire.

Large wildfires can outpace firefighting resources from multiple fire departments.

An important factor in determining if firefighters can successfully protect your home during a wildfire is how well your home is prepared for one. Firefighters consider these facts as well:

Firefighting Resources: The effectiveness of the fire department’s response depends on what they have available to fight the fire. This includes the number of firefighters, their equipment, the water they can use, and help from other groups. When there’s a big fire, these resources can get spread thin. So, the fire department might need to focus on places where the fire is most dangerous, where they can fight it safely, or where they can make the biggest difference.

Getting There and the Lay of the Land: How difficult is it to reach the home? What is the lay of the land? The answer to these questions can affect the fire department’s ability to protect homes. If the area is hard to get to because of steep hills, few roads, or it’s far away, fighting the fire becomes tougher and takes longer.

Home Readiness: How well a home is prepared makes a big difference in how it can survive a wildfire. If a house is built with materials that resist fire, has a clear area around it to slow the fire down, and is well-maintained, it’s more likely to be safe.

Building a firebreak around your property will guarantee protection from wildfires.

Firebreaks can help slow the spread of a fire and provide a buffer zone, but they do not guarantee protection.

Firebreaks are designed to slow down or redirect the spread of a wildfire by removing flammable vegetation and creating a barrier. However, the effectiveness of a firebreak depends on several factors, including the intensity of the fire, wind conditions, and your distance to the wildfire.

In extreme wildfire conditions, such as those with high winds or intense heat, a firebreak alone may not be sufficient to prevent a fire from spreading. Embers and burning debris can be carried over firebreaks, and the radiant heat from a nearby wildfire can still pose a threat to structures.

To maximize protection, it’s essential to combine the creation of a firebreak with other wildfire mitigation efforts, such as implementing fire-resistant building materials, maintaining a defensible space around your home, and following evacuation plans and safety guidelines provided by local authorities.

If a wildfire is approaching, I can protect my home.

Wildfires can be unpredictable.

They can change direction and intensity very quickly, making it impossible to know exactly how they will behave. Even if you think your home is ready to withstand a wildfire, during large and fast-moving fires, it can be risky to stay behind. Firefighters are trained to handle changing fire conditions, but it’s dangerous for untrained people to stay in those situations. Consider these additional reasons why its important to follow local authorities’ guidelines and evacuate:

Limited Help Available: When a wildfire happens, the focus is on stopping the fire and keeping people safe. Resources like firefighters and equipment are dedicated to this. They may not be able to help individuals who decide to stay behind because their main goal is to save lives, not individual properties.

Safety Risks: Wildfires create many dangers, including extreme heat, thick smoke, and flying embers. Even professional firefighters can find it tough to work in these conditions. Staying behind increases the chances of getting hurt or trapped in a dangerous situation.

Blocked Escape Routes: Wildfires can block roads and paths that you’d use to escape with burned trees and debris. If you stay behind, you might not have a safe way out if things get worse.

During a wildfire, the most important thing is your safety. Listen to local authorities, take evacuation warnings seriously, and go to safe areas or designated evacuation spots. Having an emergency plan and staying updated through official channels is crucial during a wildfire.

I can outrun a wildfire.

Wildfires can move extremely quickly, faster than humans can run.

The intense heat, smoke, and unpredictable fire behavior can make it extremely challenging and hazardous to attempt to outrun a wildfire on foot. Here are a few reasons why:

Rapid Fire Spread: Wildfires can move very fast, especially when it’s windy. They can easily go much faster than a person can run, so trying to run away from them doesn’t work.

Obstacles and Tough Terrain: Sometimes, the way to safety isn’t clear or easy to walk through. There might be lots of plants, steep hills, rocks, debris or other things blocking the way. These can slow you down and make it hard to escape.

Thick Smoke and Poor Visibility: Wildfires make a lot of thick smoke that makes it hard to see. This can make it tough to spot dangers or find your way through the area. It’s disorienting and increases the chances of getting lost or hurt.

Spot Fires and Flying Embers: Wildfires can shoot out embers carried by the wind, starting new fires in front of the main one. These fires can cut off escape routes and make it even more dangerous to try to run away.

During a wildfire, knowing fact from fiction can be a matter of life and safety. We’ve debunked common misconceptions about wildfires to empower you with the right information. However, the most critical takeaway is this: When wildfire strikes, always follow evacuation orders from authorities. Your safety and the safety of your loved ones depend on it.

Attempting to outrun a wildfire on foot is extremely hazardous, and even well-prepared homes may not guarantee complete protection. This reinforces the importance of heeding official guidance, finding safe shelter and staying informed through official channels during a wildfire event. Remember, wildfires are unpredictable and can pose immense risks. Prioritizing safety, following evacuation instructions, and seeking designated safe areas are your best strategies for protecting yourself and your community.

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