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Wildfire Hiking Safety – What to do if Caught Outdoors in a Wildfire

With all the fires burning and trails closing I started thinking about what I would do if caught hiking in a wildfire. I did a little research, consulted the US Forest Service, and a local fire marshal to find out what is the appropriate course of action when caught outdoors in a wildfire.

Be Aware of Active Fires and Fire Danger:
Before you set out to go hiking, camping, or backpacking check local conditions for fire danger and active fires in the area. Don’t intentionally put yourself in harms way by trying to see or photograph wildfire. Plan multiple routes with a variety of exits. Inform friends and relatives where you will be hiking and be sure to fill out any available trailhead registers (Firefighters use trailhead registers to search for hikers potentially caught in wildfires) Then stick to your planed route. Don’t enter an area that has been closed to camping or hiking due to fire danger. Be prepared with alternate recreation plans and don’t hesitate to use them if you sense danger. If there is a burn ban in effect than only use a controlled source of flame like a stove. In extreme cases, all sources of flame may be banned.


Make a Plan:
Be on your guard and look for fires. If you smell or see smoke during the day, or a red and orange glow on the horizon at night, a fire is nearby. Leave the area immediately hiking downhill and upwind. If the fire is close (within a half mile) you may hear cracking or see sparks in the air. When this occurs it may be too late to flee, remember you can’t outrun a fire. Instead find a place to make a stand. Look for lakes, ponds, rivers or other wet areas. If none exist look for bridges, ditches, caves, rock overhangs and the largest green grass open area you can find. Sand bars, gravel washes and rocky areas can also offer protection, the bigger the better. Clear out dry brush and other potential fuels. If a bridge or other shelter is unavailable, get to the lowest spot available and lay down. Even a small indention in the ground will increase the odds of the fire passing over without harm. Remove synthetic clothing and gear which can melt to your skin. Cover your head and face with any clothing that is NOT synthetic. Wet a cloth and wrap your face to help avoid breathing in smoke and superheated air.

Stay Calm:
As the fire approaches stay calm. Depending on a number of factors it could take several minutes for the fire to pass. After the fire passes, remember the danger is not over. Burned trees will fall without warning. The Ground and debris will still be hot and can potentially burn you. Notify the authorities as soon as you can and let them know you are off the trail and safe.

Report fires:
Report fires immediately, even if you think someone else already has, and even if you are the cause of the fire.Your quick action can save lives and property.

MyLifeOutdoors and it’s authors assume no liability for the use or misuse of this information, which is intended to provide fire safety and emergency guidelines. 

Related Resources:
Firewise: Guidelines for homeowners in fire prone areas.
Anchorage Fire Department: Guidelines for Evacuation and Sheltering in place.
National Interagency Fire Center

Related Posts:
Last Chance Fire Burns in the Guadalupe Mountains
Madera Canyon Trail Closed Due to Fire Danger
Fort Davis Fire Photos – A Special Week in Review
Davis Mountians State Park Closed Until May 1st.
Davis Mountains Wildfire Update – April 12, 2011
Fire Destroys Parts of Davis Mountains State Park in Texas
Areas of Big Bend National Park Closed Due to Fire Danger 

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  • Ertyu

    April 13, 2012


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