Wildfire - any unwanted and unplanned fire burning in forest, shrub or grass - is one of the most destructive natural forces known to man. Although sometimes started by lightning, 90 percent of wildfires are caused by humans.
The severity of wildfires is determined by three major factors:
Weather: Dry, hot and windy weather increases the likelihood of a major wildfire. These conditions make ignition easier, allow fuels to burn rapidly and increase fire intensity. High wind speeds, in particular, can transform a small, easily controllable fire into a catastrophic event in a matter of minutes.
Topography: Slope steepness is one of the most influential topographic features on fire behavior: As slope steepness increases, so does the rate at which a fire will spread. Other important topographic features include aspect (south and southwest slopes usually have more fires) and steep, narrow drainages (chimneys).
Fuel: Wildfire fuels usually consist of living vegetation and dead plant material. Houses may also become a source of fuel.
Steps to Take to Minimize Risk of Wildfire on Your Trip
When planning an outdoor trip, develop a safety plan. Ensure that you are traveling to a safe environment and that you are prepared with the proper equipment to help keep the environment free of accidental wildfire. The plan should also address what to do in case you are threatened by a wildfire.
Include the following in your safety plan:
- Know the area. If camping, make sure to plan an escape route should you need to evacuate the area.
- Develop a checklist. By following a few simple rules and reminders, you can help keep outdoor park and woodland areas safe.
- Know if fire or travel restrictions are in effect in the area to which you are traveling. Call the local fire department, forest service or government representatives to make sure the area is restriction-free.
- Be aware of weather forecasts. If you are traveling during fire season, avoid potentially dangerous weather patterns.
What To Do If Threatened by Wildfires
At the first sign of a wildfire, leave the area immediately by established trails or roads. Contact fire officials as soon as possible. If the escape route is blocked, go to the nearest lake or stream. Stay in the water while the fire passes overhead or is stopped by the water barrier. Contact local authorities via mobile phone or radio to notify them of your location and situation.
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