Note: If you have been instructed by officials to evacuate your home for a safer area, do so right away.

2020 saw record wildfires across the western United States. In the year since, much of the western US, especially the Pacific Northwest, has witnessed extreme drought and record-breaking temperatures. As a result of the June 2021 heatwave, British Columbia, Canada is dealing with extreme wildfires and a rising death toll. Wildfire season has come early to Oregon, which, as of July 2021, is facing the largest wildfire in the U.S. Residents in western states are coming to terms with the fact that drought, extreme heat, and wildfires are likely to be regular occurrences. Homeowners should take action now to reduce risks to their family’s health and home’s safety. Doing so could mean less time repairing or rebuilding, and more time enjoying our beautiful home that is the western United States. Take a look at the Indow Wildfire Safety Hierarchy of Needs.

Cars on highway during Oregon wildfire evacuation with red sky and high closure alert sign.
 

*The Indow Wildfire Safety Hierarchy of Needs prioritizes personal physical safety over property damage reduction. These are not necessarily chronological steps to take in the event of a wildfire, but rather a prioritized list of action items to keep you as safe and well as possible. Like Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, the most fundamental are located at the bottom moving up to less important items.

 Create Escape Plan/Route

The #1 priority is the safety of you and your family. The most important thing you can do to prepare for wildfires is to have an escape plan and route in place. An escape plan from the home is especially important for multi-children families. Walk through your home together and identify which doors or windows are to be the first choice to exit the home. Pick a meeting place by this exit so that you can all gather quickly to escape. Also consider backup exits and meeting points in case the primaries are inaccessible. 

Once you’ve gathered the family and pets, you need to leave the area. A pre-planned escape route is going to save you invaluable time. When considering escape routes from your home, driveway, neighborhood, and town, it is important to consider potential obstructions. Are you selecting a road with tree coverage right up to the edge of the road? In the event of a wildfire, these trees might fall and block your exit. This consideration is one that should be taken early since clearing trees is a complicated, time-consuming process that usually requires professional assistance. 

Once you are out safely, it is hard to tell when you will be able to return safely after a wildfire evacuation. For this reason, it is important to have Go Bags ready and near the exit, or in your vehicle. What should you bring to a wildfire evacuation? Your Go Bag might include: water, sustenance, medications, money, flashlight, gas mask, and a change of clothes that cover your skin completely. We don’t recommend a Go Bag at the ready throughout the year – we aren’t alarmists! But it is something to consider having ready during hot, dry months. Upon first reports of fires in your region, prepare your Go Bags and have them ready by the door or in your vehicle.

 

Stay Tuned to Safety Services

Sources that maintain the most up-to-date information on fire weather zones and threat level are essential. An escape plan and route are critical, but you need to know exactly when to utilize them. Always have your phones charged and radio batteries fresh. Have your phone set up to receive text message updates for weather events. In times of extreme danger, your local authorities will utilize the emergency alert system. Here are some phone apps to download, and some radio stations or websites to stay connected during times of heightened threats:

Fire Weather Zones – www.weather.gov

AirNow has great resources to use during wildfires

NOAA’s Fire weather outlook 

EAS NOAA Weather Radio

The Wireless Emergency Alert system is one of the most invaluable tools to keep you informed and safe. They are short messages from local, state, or federal authorities with important information when you might be in danger. Check out FEMA’s WEA Tips to make sure you are set up to receive alerts.

Emergency Alert text message notifying residents in an Oregon town to be set for wildfire evacuation.
 

Another item to consider in staying connected is to build a local network of neighbors and friends to share escape plans and routes. In the event of separation from pets or family members, sharing your whereabouts and plans with multiple people beforehand will help you reunite more quickly. If possible, notify these people once you have initiated your escape plan and if your route has changed. 

 

Create a fireproof perimeter around your home

This is also called a fireline. Firelines are a perimeter around an out-of-control wildfire designed to prevent the fire from spreading further. Firefighters cut down trees and shrubs and dig down into soil to eliminate any fuel for the approaching fire. Once the fire has no fuel, or trees and other flammable debris, it will die out. Create a fireline around your home. In times of safety, this may simply look like strategic landscaping around your home keeping tall trees and shrubs a good distance from the house. You might also consider species of vegetation to incorporate in your smart, safe landscaping. This study being conducted by an Oregon State University engineer looks at types of trees found in Oregon and their level of flammability and the amount of firebrands, or small pieces of burning wood or ember, they send into the air. 

In times of high risk, creating a fireline around your home means keeping your lawn mowed short, making sure to collect all clippings for safe disposal. If possible, create a wide barrier of sand or gravel around your home to stop the fire from spreading too close. The more brush and small trees are present, the wider your fireline should be.

In fire weather zones, distance between trees and your home make it safer during a wildfire.
 

Removal of shrubs and small trees from around your home might not be feasible. If this is the case, it is important to eliminate as many fire hazards as possible. Make sure your gutters, roof, shrubs, and trees are clear of dead vegetation that can easily catch fire. Move gas canisters for grilling as far away as possible. Wet your house and surrounding area as much as possible to reduce flammability. 

The top two tiers of the Indow Wildfire Safety Hierarchy of Needs should be taken into consideration only if you and your family are not in danger by staying in your home. If your area is not in an evacuation zone, but you are experiencing dangerous levels of wildfire smoke, the next two steps are critically important. 

 

Seal your home

To prevent wildfire smoke from infiltrating your space, make sure all windows and doors are shut tight. Seal all cracks in your doors with duct tape and place wet towels at the base. Install air-sealing window attachments. Do you have a central air conditioning system? Make sure it is not taking in outside air, but instead is in recirculate mode. 

Depending on the size of your home, air sealing it entirely might be a large undertaking. Consider designating a seal room within your home for your family to safely gather. A seal room ideally will not have a door leading directly to the outside and minimal windows to prevent as much smoke infiltration as possible, making its successful air sealing much faster and simpler. (It is important, however, to choose a room close enough to an exit in the event that you need to escape.) Leaky windows can negatively affect the air quality in your home. Air sealing your windows with a weather-stripping material is effective and non-intensive. Indow inserts, with their patented silicone compression tube around the edge, provide a tight seal in your window frame, eliminating outside air infiltration by up to 100%. 

 
Wood-framed window with gray sky and trees outside and an Indow insert inside to create a seal in the window frame.
 

Indow inserts are easy to remove and can be done in a matter of seconds. While Indow inserts fit tightly in the frame and are not at risk of falling out of place, minimal force from the outside will push them out of the frame allowing access to the space.

With your seal room tight, you no longer have to worry about the immediate threat of dangerous wildfire smoke. There are sometimes indoor air pollutants that you should consider in the event that you will need to utilize your seal room for an extended period of time. Read here about Indoor Air Quality (IAQ) and how to address problem areas so your seal room is protected against indoor air pollutants too. 

 

Purify your air

While your seal room is safe from further infiltration of dangerous smoke thanks to your sealed door and Indow inserts, it’s possible that some already infiltrated your home. Purifying your air will allow you to safely remain in your seal room for an extended period of time. This video explains which filters are best and demonstrates how to attach them to your box fan. Using air filters labeled as MERV-13 is your best bet because these will filter a high percentage of fine particulates that wildfire smoke brings.

Are there any items unique to your city or region that are not included here? We would love to hear how your experience protecting against wildfires differs from ours in the comments section below.

The Indow team thanks all first responders and volunteers fighting wildfires throughout the U.S. and Canada, and wishes them safety and success. Our hearts go out to all that have been negatively affected by wildfires.