If you find yourself out on a hiking trip and suddenly surrounded by flames there are steps you can take to increase your odds for survival.
Shortly after this article was written the Eagle Creek Fire was started. Earlier we talked about how you can help with the efforts going on to contain and bring relief to those affected. If you happen to be in the unfortunate situation where you’re stuck in the middle of a wildfire, then the following tips could very well save your life.
The best possible course of action when a wildfire occurs is to get out as quickly as you can. If you see a wildfire starting do not wait for an evacuation order to leave the area. By the time one is issued, downed trees and power lines could already block the roads and visibility could be slim. You’ll increase your odds of getting out safely by leaving as soon as you know something is wrong.
Avoid Dust and Smoke
Smoke inhalation is more likely to kill you before the flames ever reach you. It’s important to limit exposure to the smoke and dust by shutting windows if you’re stuck indoors or by using the re-circulate mode in your car’s air conditioning. Do not walk into an area covered with smoke—go around whenever possible. Cover your face with a wet cloth if you have to pass through it.
You shouldn’t stay where you are unless the fire has already surrounded you. Flames move quickly and can descend upon you within minutes from when you first spot them, so move out of the area if you can. Head downward in the opposite direction of the flames and away from the direction the wind is blowing. Fires move faster uphill than down due to updrafts. You want to head downhill in order to escape a fire, otherwise you risk being swallowed up by the smoke and flames. This is especially true on a windy day.
Seek Out Cover
If the flames are moving too quickly to escape, you’ll need to find some form of shelter out of its path. Rivers, lakes and other bodies of water are your safest options. Be sure to immerse yourself in the water rather than simply hang out next to it. If there’s no water nearby, find a ditch or gulley with little vegetation to lower yourself into.
If evacuation is not an option and you find yourself without shelter, your only option might be to cover yourself. If you’re wearing a wool jacket it use it to cover your head, but shed any nylon as it has a low melting point and could fuse to your body. Wet clothing is a good defense and soil can be used as a last resort, but make sure you leave room to breathe as the flames will suck up oxygen.
Steer Clear of Canyons
Avoid canyons and chutes at all costs. These act as chimneys and will only serve to funnel the smoke and heat toward you even faster. In some instances the heat can reach up to 1200 degrees and is one of the leading sources of death when it comes to wildfires.
Dodge Dry Leaves
Dry vegetation like dead leaves, bushes, and trees provide fuel for the fire, so take a route that avoids them whenever possible. Leafy greens burn slower than dead ones, but you’ll still want to take the path with the least vegetation whenever possible.
Close The Windows
If you’re stuck in a house or car it’s important to close the windows tight for two reasons—you’ll avoid smoke inhalation and prevent drafts. Be sure the vents and doors are closed too. Remove any combustibles from your home or car before the heat and flames arrive, when possible.
Have an Escape Plan
When hiking in the summer you should already have an escape plan in place before heading into the woods. It’s the same if you live there. Your entire group should know what procedure to follow to avoid confusion if flames arise. Detail your escape routes and familiarize yourself with the area, including vegetation, bodies of water, and roads you might use to leave.