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An Expert Explains How to Plan and Prepare for a Dangerous Wildfire Season

Photo: Courtesy of Malachi Brooks

Experts predict 2021’s wildfire season could be extremely dangerous due to severe drought in the western half of the United States and following back-to-back years of record-breaking wildfire seasons. The American Red Cross is urging everyone in wildfire prone areas to get ready now.

Wildfires fires can happen anywhere in the country, all year round, but most fires happen between June and August. In 2020, western states experienced numerous major wildfires which claimed the lives of as many as 37 people, consumed more than 10 million acres, and caused more than $19 billion in damages.

Severe drought conditions are especially bad in California and the Southwest. Nearly all of California, Oregon, Nevada, Arizona, New Mexico, Utah, and North Dakota are experiencing severe conditions. Colorado, Idaho, Washington, Montana, South Dakota, and southwestern Texas are also affected. The National Interagency Fire Center reports as of June 4, there were already more than 25,000 wildfires, scorching more than 712,000 acres.

Prepare now

Have access to alerts and notifications so you can monitor conditions and receive instructions from local officials, even during a power outage. Keep track of fires near you so you can be ready to evacuate quickly. You may have only minutes to get out. Register to receive any free emergency alerts from your community and understand your community’s plan to notify individuals with disabilities.

Essential tips

There are a few simple things you can do to prepare for wildfire season. The first is to purchase a battery-powered radio to receive information from local authorities during a power outage. You should also clear your home from as many potential hazards as possible by regularly cleaning roofs and gutters, and making sure driveway entrances and your house number are clearly marked so fire vehicles can get to your home.

You should also create a fire-resistant zone free of leaves, debris or flammable materials for at least 30 feet out from your home. Then, designate a room that can be closed off from outside air. Close all doors and windows. Set up a portable air cleaner to keep indoor pollution levels low when smoky conditions exist.

Around the house, post emergency phone numbers by every phone and make sure everyone has those numbers in their cell phones. Download the free Red Cross app “emergency” to help keep you and your loved ones safe with real-time alerts, open Red Cross shelter locations and safety advice on wildfires and other emergencies. 

Finally, make sure to locate your pets and their supplies and take them with you.

Sheltering with the Red Cross

The Red Cross will continue to make sure people have a safe place to stay, food to eat, and resources to help them recover after a disaster. Ensuring people have a safe place to stay during a disaster is a critical part of the Red Cross mission, but how to support sheltering efforts may be different in each community, depending on local emergency plans and the scale of the disaster. In most cases this year, we will open group shelters. However, in some communities, hotels may still be more appropriate if the risk of COVID-19 is particularly high.

The Red Cross will also keep in place many of the safety precautions implemented in 2020. These include masks, health screenings, enhanced cleaning procedures and encouraging social distancing.

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