Fire in California
University of California
Fire in California

What to do When Trapped

Being entrapped or burned over is very real threat for people living, working, or visiting rural areas. If you find yourself about to be trapped by approaching flames, use these wilderness survival lessons to protect yourself. If you have more time available, follow the home defense guidelines.

(1) REMAIN CALM

An approaching wildfire will be extremely loud, create extreme heat and smoke, and will likely evoke fear and panic. However, the active flame will pass. Generally, grassland burns for 10 minutes, brushland for 20 minutes and timberland for over an hour.

(2) PREPARE SAFE ZONES

Near Home

If there is a structure nearby, assess its ability to shelter you from the fire front.

  • Clear the surrounding area of flammable materials.
  • Shut all windows and doors to prevent smoke and flame from entering the house
  • Move furniture away from windows to prevent embers from igniting furniture
  • Place a ladder next to home to create an alternate escape route
  • Fill the bathtub and buckets with water.
  • Place wet blankets or towels around window and door edges inside the house to stop smoke and embers from entering.
  • Hose down the structure and 30 feet of surrounding vegetation, turn on your irrigation system if available, and prepare for the fire.

Out in Open

Select an area that will not burn – the bigger the better – or failing that, an area with the least amount of combustible material (e.g., depression in the ground).

Examples include irrigated pastures or golf courses, parking lots, large ponds and any other area that will not support combustion. This will offer the best microclimate to lessen the effects of fire on you.

(3) PROTECT YOURSELF

Near Home

Dress in protective clothing (long sleeve cotton shirt, heavy pants, vibram soled boots) and cover your face with a cotton handkerchief to protect yourself from smoke inhalation.

  • Stay inside while the fire front passes around the house
  • Look out for burning embers landing inside the home and extinguish any spot fires.
  • Do not shelter in a part of your home that does not allow you to see the progress of the fire.
  • If your home catches fire and you are unable to extinguish what has now become a structure fire – go outside onto burnt ground where the fire front has passed. Do not return to the house for any reason.

Out in Open

Use every means possible to protect yourself from radiant and convective heat emitted by the flames (e.g., boulders, rock outcrops, large downed logs, trees, snags, etc.).

(4) HAZARDS AFTER FIRE

After the fire front has passed, be wary of potential hazards.

  • Continue to wear personal protective clothing.
  • INSPECT the perimeter of the home and extinguish any spot fires. Common locations include: Inside and on the roof; under the floor boards; under crawl spaces; on decks and patios; window ledges and door sills; roof lines and gutters; outdoor furniture; doormats; garden beds and mulch; wood piles; outbuildings.
  • Be wary of trees, brush and rocks which may be weakened or loosened by fire. If rocks have rolled down a slope, expect more to follow.
  • If your utility services are off, check for burned service equipment and facilities. DO NOT attempt to repair or turn on these services. Call your local propane or utility company for assistance.
  • STAY CLEAR of electrical wires on the ground and CONSIDER THEM ENERGIZED

(5) PREPARE EARLY

While these strategies will help keep you safe when under imminent threat of danger, the best way to increase your chances for survival is to Prepare Ahead of Time

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