Wildfires

Habitat Ready: Disaster preparedness for homeowners

A wildfire is a fire that rages out of control and occurs in the wilderness, such as a forest or countryside. As more people are building their homes in woodland settings, wildfires have become increasingly dangerous.

These fires are often triggered by lightning and spread quickly, igniting everything in their path. In order to protect your family, home and property, it is important to prepare before a wildfire strikes.

Before a wildfire

  • Review your family preparedness plan.
  • Establish a family communications plan.
  • Assemble a disaster supply kit.
  • Have a family evacuation plan in place.
  • Design and landscape your home with fire-resistant materials and plants.
  • Use one-eighth-inch mesh screens beneath porches and decks. Use screen openings to the floors, roof and attic.
  • Know where the fire extinguisher is located and how to use it.
  • Install a dual-sensor smoke alarm on each floor of your home.
  • Have a ladder on hand, along with items that can be used as fire tools (rake, ax, shovel, etc.).
  • Create a 30- to 100-foot safety zone, or two times the size of the tallest near tree, around your home by removing all flammable materials.
  • Have a garden hose that is long enough to reach any part of your home.

Additional considerations for COVID-19

  • Unless you live in a mandatory evacuation zone, it is recommended that you make a plan to shelter-in-place in your home, if it is safe to do so.
  • If you live in a mandatory evacuation zone, make a plan with friends or family to shelter with them where you will be safer and more comfortable.
  • Only evacuate to shelters if you are unable to shelter at home or with family or friends. Note that your regular shelter may not be open this year. Check with local authorities for the latest information about public shelters.
  • If you need to go to a disaster shelter, follow CDC recommendations for staying safe and healthy in a public disaster shelter during the COVID-19 pandemic.

During a wildfire

  • Be prepared to evacuate, and do so immediately if necessary.
  • Wear protective clothing (sleeves, pants and gloves) when outside, and limit exposure to smoke.
  • Shut off any natural gas, propane or fuel oil supplies at the source.
  • Use a garden hose to fill pools, garbage cans or other large bins with water, and put sprinklers on the roof to soak the structure as much as possible.
  • Move flammable furniture into the center of the home, and close all doors, windows and blinds.
  • Turn on outside lights and some inside lights to make your home more visible in heavy smoke.
  • If you become trapped at home:
    • Stay inside, away from outside walls.
    • Close doors but leave them unlocked.
  • If you become trapped in a vehicle:
    • Stay in the vehicle, roll up windows and close all air vents.
    • Drive slowly with headlights on, but do not drive through heavy smoke.
    • If you must stop, park away from trees and bushes, turn lights on and ignition off, get on the floor and cover yourself with a coat or blanket.
  • If you become trapped outside, seek a depression or ditch and cover yourself with anything that will shield you from the heat.

After a wildfire

  • Do not return home until officials declare it is safe.
  • Wear protective clothing, and use caution when entering burned areas. Hazards, such as hot spots, may still exist.
  • Inspect your home:
    • If you detect heat or smoke, leave immediately.
    • Immediately inspect the roof and extinguish any sparks or embers.
    • Continue checking for sparks and smoke for several hours afterward.
    • Notify your insurance company if your home is damaged.
  • Wet debris down to minimize dangerous dust particles.
  • Remove any burned or damaged trees that may be unstable.
  • Discard any food exposed to heat or smoke, and do not use water that may be contaminated.
  • Be aware of hazards that occur after a wildfire, such as floods and landslides.
  • Avoid making phone calls except in serious emergencies.

Additional considerations for COVID-19

  • You should continue to use preventive actions like washing your hands and wearing a face covering during clean up or when returning home.
  • It may take longer than usual to restore power and water if they are out. Take steps to prevent carbon monoxide poisoning if you use a generator.
  • If you are injured or ill, contact your medical provider for treatment recommendations. Keep wounds clean to prevent infection. Remember, accessing medical care may be more difficult than usual during the pandemic.
  • Dealing with disasters can cause stress and strong emotions, particularly during the COVID-19 pandemic. It is natural to feel anxiety, grief, and worry. Coping with these feelings and getting help when you need it will help you, your family and your community recover.
  • People with preexisting mental health conditions should continue with their treatment and be aware of new or worsening symptoms. Additional information can be found at the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration page.
  • When you check on neighbors and friends, be sure to follow social distancing recommendations (staying at least 6 feet, about two arms’ length, from others) and other CDC recommendations to protect yourself and others.
  • If you need to go to a disaster shelter, follow CDC recommendations for staying safe and healthy in a public disaster shelter during the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • If you are sick and need medical attention, contact your healthcare provider for further care instructions and shelter-in-place, if possible. If you are experiencing a medical emergency, call 9-1-1 and let the operator know if you have, or think you might have, COVID-19. If possible, put on a cloth face covering before help arrives. If staying at a shelter or public facility, alert shelter staff immediately so they can call a local hospital or clinic.

Additional resources

Emergency/preparedness information

Current wildfire information

Other information

Family evacuation plan

Because you might not have much time to evacuate when a disaster strikes, it is important to have a plan in place to get your family out of danger quickly and efficiently.

Read more

You can help a family rebuild after a disaster

Families who partner with us rebuild their homes alongside volunteers, pay an affordable mortgage and are grateful for your help.