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BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers.
BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We buy all products with our own funds, and we never accept free products from manufacturers.

Guide to wildfire preparedness

Last Updated August 2018

While wildfires don't start in the home, they can quickly spread and cause a severe threat to your property and life. Some geographical areas, especially those with large swaths of forested land, are at higher risk for wildfires. When conditions are very dry, such as during drought periods, wildfires are more likely to occur.

If you live in a wildfire-prone area, familiarize yourself with the ways you might inadvertently start a fire. For example, using fireworks in a wildfire zone is a risky activity. Don’t ever set unauthorized fires in high-risk areas, and keep your property clear of debris that could potentially ignite.

In creating this guide, the BestReviews team hopes to spread awareness on how wildfires might start and how you can help prevent them. We also hope to help citizens be better prepared for a wildfire situation. Below, you’ll find information on how to prevent, prepare for, and deal with this type of disaster. Additional information is included in our frequently asked question section. Stay safe!

The majority of wildfires that occur in the U.S. are caused by humans. The rest are often started as a result of lightning strikes.

Wildfire preparedness

When a wildfire evacuation order has been called, there is little time to stop and think. Preparing ahead of time is highly important for this reason.

Preparing to move

During designated wildfire seasons, make sure your vehicle is always ready to go at a moment’s notice. Be aware of all possible routes to take when evacuating. Have a planned place to go should an evacuation occur. If you don’t have any family or friends to stay with, know where the nearest shelters might be, and have emergency numbers on hand or programmed into your cell phone.

Evacuating people and pets

If family members are not together at the time of an evacuation, you’ll need a pre-established meeting place out of harm’s way. If children are at school or daycare when an evacuation is called, someone will have to collect them. Pets also need some attention in the event of a wildfire. Is there someone outside of your area who can care for them during an evacuation?

Packing essential supplies

Keep a three-day supply of water, non-perishable food, and clothing packed in a bag in case you need to leave in a hurry. Important documents, paper money, chargers and batteries, blankets, and basic medical supplies – including any medications needed by family members – should also be packed in your emergency bag.

Quick air filtration

Homeowners in areas at high risk for wildfires may want to consider having a high-quality HEPA filter on hand. When a fire begins to spread, smoke can cause issues for those with breathing troubles. The compact Honeywell air filter efficiently rids the surrounding air of bacteria, viruses, and other sediments.

What to do during a wildfire

When a wildfire strikes, homeowners in the path of the fire have little control over the situation. There’s no way to use a fire extinguisher to put out a forest fire. What’s more, these types of fires can quickly spread. Here is what you should do in the event of a wildfire.

Before an evacuation order is called

  • Take photographs of your possessions for insurance purposes.

  • Cover your face when outside.

  • Run a HEPA air purifier to prevent breathing issues.

  • Inside the home, move flammable items away from doors and windows, and take down flammable window treatments.

  • Keep the lights on for better visibility in case you need to evacuate abruptly. The lights will also help emergency crews when they arrive to fight the blaze.

During an evacuation

  • Evacuate right away if asked to do so. Stay tuned to the news via TV or radio to ensure you get timely updates on the situation.

  • Take your supply kit with you, or have one ready in your vehicle.

  • Close and lock your doors and windows.

  • If it’s safe to do so, lean a ladder against your home before you leave to help firefighters gain access as needed/

  • Take your pets with you. Bring a leash or crate for them.

  • Let someone know that you’ve evacuated the area and are safe.

EXPERT TIP

Consider purchasing a fire-proof safe to protect your valuables and important documents.


Wildfire aftermath

Don’t return to your home unless you’ve been advised that it’s safe. Even if the wildfire has died down, there is a re-ignition risk. When you do go home, be vigilant in the aftermath. If you smell smoke, leave and call emergency services. Also be aware that hot spots could flare up unexpectedly. Use water to extinguish lingering hot spots. Don’t forget to check your roof! Your home may also have structural damage, so exercise great caution as you move about.  

If your home has been damaged in a wildfire, you will need to hire a restoration professional to repair and clean up the area. Call your insurance provider as soon as possible to start the claims process. They may be able to refer you to a restoration service.

DID YOU KNOW?

Smoke can affect even those far away from the burning flames of a wildfire. Pay attention to air quality updates, especially if you or someone around you has a respiratory issue like asthma.

Tips for wildfire prevention

Wildfires may occur spontaneously due to environmental conditions, but human activity is the cause of most forest fires. You can minimize your chances of starting a wildfire by following these tips.

  • Store firewood away from your home or other buildings.

  • Cut overhanging branches close to your home.

  • Don’t let your grass get overgrown.

  • Don’t leave piles of branches and twigs lying around.

  • Clear dead leaves from your property.

  • Don’t store flammable chemicals near your home.

  • Install a long garden hose that could be used in case of a fire.

  • Don’t store your barbecue grill or propane tank right next to your home.

  • Avoid starting open fires, and don’t burn two fires simultaneously.

  • Avoid setting off fireworks or burning torches in high-risk areas.

Ready-to-use emergency car kit

When an evacuation order is called, you want to be certain that your car is ready to go. This 90-piece car kit includes jumper cables and a tire repair kit should you hit a snag on the road. A first-aid kit is also included, along with everything else you need for peace of mind on the road.

Special information for campers

When camping, always be aware of restrictions on campfires. You should only start a campfire in a designated area, and you should ask an official if you’re uncertain of the regulations. Keep these tips in mind as well.

  • Avoid starting campfires in conditions that are dry and windy.

  • Set up your tent at least 15 feet away from any designated fire pit.

  • Note any nearby water sources, or have water on hand in case you need to quickly extinguish your campfire.

  • Keep a close eye on children around a campfire.

  • Before you leave the campsite or go to sleep, extinguish the fire completely. All burning embers should be completely put out.


Campfires should be small and contained. Bonfires are a bad idea in the middle of a forest.

Call 911 if you spot a wildfire and haven’t yet heard an evacuation alert or order. Don’t assume that authorities already know about the fire.

FAQ

Q. Do I need separate insurance to be covered for wildfire damage?
A.
Fortunately, most home insurance policies include wildfire damage coverage. However, there’s always a chance that coverage differs depending on the specific insurance provider. Check with your provider to verify whether you’re covered for wildfire damage. In some areas where wildfires commonly occur, it may be more difficult – or nearly impossible – to purchase adequate insurance.

Q. Is there a difference between an evacuation alert and an evacuation order?
A.
Yes. An evacuation alert is a warning intended to let residents know of a potential threat. Leaving during an evacuation alert is voluntary. An evacuation order implies high risk and is not a suggestion. Evacuation is mandatory in this scenario, and police and other officials are authorized to enforce an evacuation order.

Q. Is fire the only danger posed by a wildfire?
A.
No. Wildfire smoke is laden with chemicals and can spread even farther than flames, contaminating the air for people far away from the initial fire. Forest fires also cause rapid erosion. If it rains during or after a wildfire, mudslides and flooding can occur. Wildfires can also contaminate water sources in the affected area.

The team that worked on this review
  • Eliza
    Eliza
    Production Manager
  • Jacob
    Jacob
    Editorial Manager
  • Katie
    Katie
    Editorial Director
  • Melissa
    Melissa
    Senior Editor