Wildfire Preparedness During a Pandemic

Wildfires can be nearly as impossible to prevent, and as difficult to control, as hurricanes, tornadoes, and floods. The fall wildfire season typically begins mid-October and continues through December. Fires can happen any time of year, but there is a higher risk during this period because of low-humidity and other fire-conducive conditions. With millions of homes near woodlands, the American Red Cross offers tips on what to do if a wildfire threatens so you can better protect yourself and your loved ones.

Wildfire Safety Steps

A wildfire can spread very quickly, giving you little time to evacuate to safety. Be prepared to evacuate at a moment’s notice. Obey evacuation orders from officials.

  • Back your car into the garage or park it outside in the direction of your evacuation route.
  • Confine pets to one room so you can find them if you need to evacuate quickly.
  • Limit exposure to smoke and dust – keep indoor air clean by closing windows and doors to prevent outside smoke from getting in.
  • Do not use anything that burns and adds to indoor pollution such as candles, fire places and gas stoves.

If you are trapped outdoors, crouch in a pond, river or pool.

  • Do not put wet clothing or bandanas over your mouth or nose. Moist air causes more damage to airways than dry air at the same temperature.
  • If there is no body of water, look for shelter in a cleared area or among a bed of rocks. Lie flat, face down, and cover your body with soil. Breathe the air close to the ground to avoid scorching your lungs or inhaling smoke.

Do not return home until officials say it is safe to do so.

  • Inspect the roof immediately and extinguish any sparks or embers. Wildfires may have left embers that could reignite.
  • For several hours afterward, recheck for smoke and sparks throughout the home, including the attic. Keep checking your home for embers that could cause fires.

How do I make a disaster plan during a pandemic?

Plan what you will do before, during, and after each disaster. 

Be sure that you can find out quickly about a hazard. Have access to weather alerts and community notifications. Be sure that you can receive official notifications even during a power outage. Always follow the directions of your state and local authorities.

  • Register to receive free emergency alerts that your community may offer. Consider purchasing a battery-powered radio or downloading the free Red Cross Emergency App
  • Know the types of notifications to expect and what to do when you receive them. For example, a “watch” means you should be ready to act; a “warning” means you should take action immediately.
  • Learn the natural warning signs of a hazard — you may not always receive an official alert. 
  • Because of COVID-19, stay current on advice and restrictions from your state and local public health authorities as it may affect your actions and available resources and facilities.

Stay or Go? Some disasters require you to stay in place to stay safe. Other disasters require you to go somewhere else to stay safe. If you need to go somewhere else, think through these questions:

  • Where will I go? 
  • How will I get there?
  • Where will I stay?
  • How can I help protect myself from COVID-19?
  • What will I bring with me?

For example, in a wildfire, you may need to leave your home quickly and travel to a safe place outside the affected area. If authorities advise you to evacuate, be prepared to leave immediately with your evacuation kit (“go bag” of emergency supplies).

  • Plan now if you will need help leaving or if you need to share transportation.
  • Ask friends or relatives outside your area if you would be able to stay with them. Check and see if they have symptoms of COVID-19 or have people in their home at higher risk for serious illness. If they have symptoms or people at higher risk in their home, make other arrangements. Check with hotels, motels, and campgrounds to see if they are open. Find out if your local emergency management agency has adapted its sheltering plans. 
  • If you have to evacuate, have a plan for where you’ll go (relatives, friends) and know what sheltering resources are available in your community through emergency apps or messaging from local emergency management officials.  

For more information on emergency preparedness visit PrepareSoCal.org, a campaign designed to address the needs of individuals and families to prepare for disasters, small and large, by providing tips, tools, and training, and to promote community resiliency with a focus on Southern California’s most vulnerable communities in partnership with Southern California Edison.

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