The west is on fire as hundreds of thousands of acres have already been burned and continue to smolder, even as colder weather begins to set in the Pacific Northwest. Unfortunately, as we’ve learned this year, forest fires can spark at any moment. Just last month, a large group was stranded overnight on the Columbia River Gorges after the Eagle Creek fire quickly ravages the landscape. It’s rare, but unfortunately, these occurrences do arise and we want you to be prepared.
As arborists and tree care specialists, we understand better than most how quickly a small flame can turn into a large fire, so heed our advice below and be prepared the next time you go for a day hike.
Before we get into steps to take if you encounter a forest fire, we’d be remiss if we didn’t discuss forest fire prevention. First, never leave a fire unattended. We know this seems obvious, but it’s worth mentioning nonetheless. When you extinguish a fire, douse the area and sweep it until it’s cold before you leave the area or go to sleep for the night. Also, be careful how you discard cigars and cigarettes. You can never be too safe when it comes to fire.
Now, if your worst fears come true, and you encounter a wildfire, you must not panic. There are several things you can do to ensure that both you and whomever you’re with have the best chance to escape unharmed. First, if able, you should call 911 so emergency fire personnel can be dispatched to your area to help. Time is of the essence to contain what can easily turn into a massive blaze. You should know if there is a body of water nearby. One thing you can do is seek refuge there while you wait for help.
If water is not nearby, there are other remedies you can try. First, if possible, you should find a depressed, cleared area that doesn’t have much vegetation. If you have water available, pour it on a blanket or clothing you have and lay low. This should protect you as the Oregon forest fires pass through your area. You need to protect your airways because if you inhale smoke, your risk of passing out increases. This obviously prohibits you from adequately protecting yourself, and could ultimately lead to death.
Now, if you’re able to flee the scene, there are some important things to remember. First, you have to breathe and stay calm, which is easier said than done. Panicking does little to help you, so remaining calm will give you the best chance to adapt to your situation and survive what’s next. Breathe in for four seconds and breathe out for four seconds. It’s important to note, though, that if the air is already smoking, deep breaths are not recommended, because that becomes dangerous in terms of smoke inhalation.
When determining which way to flee from the Oregon forest fires, there are a couple of things to keep in mind. Always remember that the most dangerous places to be in relation to a wildfire are uphill from the flames or downwind from the fire. When you formulate an escape plan, try to stay upwind from the flames at all times. It’s best to use the wind as your escape guide. If the wind is blowing past you and toward the flames, run into the wind. If the wind is behind the fire and blowing towards you, try to run perpendicular to the fire so you’re escaping both the flames and the course they blow towards.
Not all people are affected the same by smoke inhalation. The people more likely to be heavily impacted by the smoke include children, the elderly, people with heart problems and people with respiratory issues, such as asthma or bronchitis. They may need your assistance if you’re traveling with one of the aforementioned types of people.
Now, if you’re home at the time Oregon forest fires break out, and you can see it in the distance, be sure to evacuate immediately. Make sure to lock your doors and close the propane or natural gas inlet before leaving your home. If time permits, turn on your watering system so your land, the walls and the rest of your home are wet. This helps deter the effect of fire, should it make it onto your property. If there’s any doubt whether or not you have time to do this, forget the watering. Get in the car with your family and get out of danger. You know what they say. Houses and belongings can be replaced, while people, on the other hand, can not.
If you’re trapped in a building during a fire, you need to be willing keep the doors closed and be prepared to wait it out. If you see smoke, touch the door. If it’s hot, leave the door closed. The fire is likely on the other side of the door. Opening it could be deadly. If the door and knob feel cool, you could decide to try to leave, but your best chance to survive is inside the building, especially if it’s fully surrounded by fire. You should make sure all doors, windows, and vents are closed to prevent the fire from spreading inside. Don’t lock the doors! You need to give rescuers a way to come in once the fire is contained. If the doors are locked, you could ultimately make the situation worse for yourself in the long run. If possible, move to a middle room in the building. If you’re with other people, make sure you stick together.
Ultimately, it’s most important to keep calm if you encounter a wildfire, as you and your company’s lives could depend on it. You need to control your breathing and get away from the fire. If needed, find refuge and wait for rescuers to come and extinguish the blaze. Once they do, you should be able to escape to safety. Remember, all of this could be avoided in some instances, so make sure to take every precaution when dealing with fires. When you extinguish a campfire, do it right, because you could avoid a lot of heartache in the long run. Obviously, not every wildfire is predictable and avoidable, but we need to do our part in the fire prevention process.