Main Tabs

Some Common Natural Hazards
A house cracked and broken from earthquake damage

One of the most frightening and destructive phenomena of nature is a severe earthquake and its terrible aftereffects. An earthquake is the sudden, rapid shaking of the earth, caused by the breaking and shifting of subterranean rock as it releases strain that has accumulated over a long time.

For hundreds of millions of years, the forces of plate tectonics have shaped the earth, as the huge plates that form the earth’s surface slowly move over, under and past each other. Sometimes, the movement is gradual. At other times, the plates are locked together, unable to release accumulated energy. When the accumulated energy grows strong enough, the plates break free. If the earthquake occurs in a populated area, it may cause many deaths and injuries and extensive property damage.

All 50 states and 5 U.S. territories are at some risk for earthquakes.  Earthquakes can happen at any time of the year.

The 2011 East Coast earthquake illustrated the fact that it is impossible to predict when or where an earthquake will occur, so it is important that you and your family are prepared ahead of time.

A seismograph showing the seismic waves of an earthquakeBefore an Earthquake

The following are things you can do to protect yourself, your family and your property in the event of an earthquake.

  • To begin preparing, you should build an emergency kit and make a family communications plan.
  • Fasten shelves securely to walls.
  • Place large or heavy objects on lower shelves.
  • Store breakable items such as bottled foods, glass, and china in low, closed cabinets with latches.
  • Mirrors, picture frames, and other hanging items should be secured to the wall with closed hooks or earthquake putty. Do not hang heavy objects over beds, sofas, or any place you may be seated.
  • Objects such as framed photos, books, lamps, and other items that you keep on shelves and tables can become flying hazards. Secure them with hooks, adhesives, or earthquake putty to keep them in place.
  • Bookcases, filing cabinets, china cabinets, and other tall furniture should be anchored to wall studs (not drywall) or masonry. Use flexible straps that allow them to sway without falling to the floor.
  • Electronics such as computers, televisions and microwave ovens are heavy and expensive to replace. Secure them with flexible nylon straps.
  • Brace overhead light fixtures and top heavy objects.
  • Repair defective electrical wiring and leaky gas connections. These are potential fire risks. Get appropriate professional help. Do not work with gas or electrical lines yourself.
  • Install flexible pipe fittings to avoid gas or water leaks. Flexible fittings are more resistant to breakage.
  • Secure your water heater, refrigerator, furnace and gas appliances by strapping them to the wall studs and bolting to the floor. If recommended by your gas company, have an automatic gas shut-off valve installed that is triggered by strong vibrations.
  • Repair any deep cracks in ceilings or foundations. Get expert advice if there are signs of structural defects.
  • Get professional help to assess the building’s structure and then take steps to install nonstructural solutions, including foundation bolts, bracing cripple walls, reinforcing chimneys, or installing an earthquake-resistant bracing system for a mobile home. Examples of structures that may be more vulnerable in an earthquake are those not anchored to their foundations or having weak crawl space walls, unbraced pier-and-post foundations, or unreinforced masonry walls or foundations. Visit www.fema.gov/earthquake-safety-home for guidance on nonstructural ways to reduce damage and earthquake resistant structural design or retrofit.
  • Store weed killers, pesticides, and flammable products securely in closed cabinets with latches and on bottom shelves.
  • Locate safe spots in each room under a sturdy table or against an inside wall. Reinforce this information by moving to these places during each drill.
  • Hold earthquake drills with your family members: Drop, cover and hold on.
Know the Terms

Familiarize yourself with these terms to help identify an earthquake hazard:

Aftershock - An earthquake of similar or lesser intensity that follows the main earthquake.

Earthquake - A sudden slipping or movement of a portion of the earth’s crust, accompanied and followed by a series of vibrations.

Epicenter - The place on the earth’s surface directly above the point on the fault where the earthquake rupture began. Once fault slippage begins, it expands along the fault during the earthquake and can extend hundreds of miles before stopping.

Fault - The fracture across which displacement has occurred during an earthquake. The slippage may range from less than an inch to more than 10 yards in a severe earthquake.

Magnitude - The amount of energy released during an earthquake, which is computed from the amplitude of the seismic waves. A magnitude of 7.0 on the Richter Scale indicates an extremely strong earthquake. Each whole number on the scale represents an increase of about 30 times more energy released than the previous whole number represents. Therefore, an earthquake measuring 6.0 is about 30 times more powerful than one measuring 5.0.

Seismic Waves - Vibrations that travel outward from the earthquake fault at speeds of several miles per second. Although fault slippage directly under a structure can cause considerable damage, the vibrations of seismic waves cause most of the destruction during earthquakes.

During an Earthquake

Drop, cover and Hold On. Minimize your movements to a few steps to a nearby safe place and if you are indoors, stay there until the shaking has stopped and you are sure exiting is safe.

If Indoors

  • DROP to your hands and knees.
    COVER your head and neck with your arms. This position protects you from falling and provides some protection for vital organs. Because moving can put you in danger from the debris in your path, only move if you need to get away from the danger of falling objects. If you can move safely, crawl for additional cover under a sturdy desk or table. If there is low furniture, or an interior wall or corner nearby and the path is clear, these may also provide some additional cover. Stay away from glass, windows, outside doors and walls, and anything that could fall, such as lighting fixtures or furniture.
    HOLD ON to any sturdy shelter until the shaking stops.
  • Stay away from glass, windows, outside doors and walls, and anything that could fall, such as lighting fixtures or furniture.
  • If you are in bed: STAY there and COVER your head and neck with a pillow. At night, hazards and debris are difficult to see and avoid; attempts to move in the dark result in more injuries than remaining in bed.
  • DO NOT get in a doorway as this does not provide protection from falling or flying objects and you likely will not be able to remain standing.
  • Stay inside until the shaking stops and it is safe to go outside. Do not exit a building during the shaking. Research has shown that most injuries occur when people inside buildings attempt to move to a different location inside the building or try to leave.
  • DO NOT use the elevators.
  • Be aware that the electricity may go out or the sprinkler systems or fire alarms may turn on.

If Outdoors

  • If you can, move away from buildings, streetlights, and utility wires.
  • Once in the open, Drop, Cover, and Hold On. STAY THERE until the shaking stops. This might not be possible in a city, so you may need to duck inside a building to avoid falling debris.

If in a Moving Vehicle

  • Stop as quickly as safety permits and stay in the vehicle. Avoid stopping near or under buildings, trees, overpasses, and utility wires.
  • Proceed cautiously once the earthquake has stopped. Avoid roads, bridges, or ramps that might have been damaged by the earthquake.

After an Earthquake

If Trapped Under Debris

  • Do not light a match.
  • Do not move about or kick up dust.
  • Cover your mouth with a handkerchief or clothing.
  • Tap on a pipe or wall so rescuers can locate you. Use a whistle if one is available. Shout only as a last resort. Shouting can cause you to inhale dangerous amounts of dust.

When the Shaking Stops

  • When the shaking stops, look around to make sure it is safe to move and there is a safe way out through the debris. Then exit the building.
  • Expect aftershocks. These secondary shockwaves are usually less violent than the main quake but can be strong enough to do additional damage to weakened structures and can occur in the first hours, days, weeks, or even months after the quake. Drop, Cover, and Hold On whenever you feel shaking.
  • Check for injuries and provide assistance if you have training. Assist with rescues if you can do this safely.
  • Look for and extinguish small fires. Fire is the most common hazard after an earthquake. Never use a lighter or matches near damaged areas.
  • Listen to a battery-operated radio or television for the latest emergency information.
  • If you are near the coast, learn the tsunami risk for your area. If you are in an area that may experience tsunamis, when the shaking stops, walk inland or to higher ground immediately. Monitor official reports for more information on the area’s tsunami evacuation plans.
  • Use the telephone only for emergency calls.
  • Go to a designated public shelter if your home had been damaged and is no longer safe. Text SHELTER + your ZIP code to 43362 (4FEMA) to find the nearest shelter in your area (example: shelter 12345).
  • Stay away from damaged areas. Stay away unless your assistance has been specifically requested by police, fire, or relief organizations. Return home only when authorities say it is safe.
  • Be careful when driving after an earthquake and anticipate traffic light outages.
  • After it is determined that its’ safe to return, your safety should be your primary priority as you begin clean up and recovery.
  • Open cabinets cautiously. Beware of objects that can fall off shelves.
  • Find out how to keep food safe during and after and emergency by visiting: http://www.foodsafety.gov/keep/emergency/index.html
  • Put on long pants, a long-sleeved shirt, sturdy shoes and work gloves to protect against injury from broken objects.
  • Clean up spilled medicines, bleaches, gasoline or other flammable liquids immediately. Leave the area if you smell gas or fumes from other chemicals.
  • Inspect the entire length of chimneys for damage. Unnoticed damage could lead to a fire.
  • Inspect utilities.
    • Check for gas leaks. If you smell gas or hear blowing or hissing noise, open a window and quickly leave the building. Turn off the gas at the outside main valve if you can and call the gas company from a neighbor's home. If you turn off the gas for any reason, it must be turned back on by a professional.
    • Look for electrical system damage. If you see sparks or broken or frayed wires, or if you smell hot insulation, turn off the electricity at the main fuse box or circuit breaker. If you have to step in water to get to the fuse box or circuit breaker, call an electrician first for advice.
    • Check for sewage and water lines damage. If you suspect sewage lines are damaged, avoid using the toilets and call a plumber. If water pipes are damaged, contact the water company and avoid using water from the tap. You can obtain safe water by melting ice cubes.

FEMA Publications

If you require more information about any of these topics, the following resources may be helpful.

Related Websites

Find additional information on how to plan and prepare for an earthquake and learn about available resources by visiting the following websites:

Listen to Local Officials

Learn about the emergency plans that have been established in your area by your state and local government. In any emergency, always listen to the instructions given by local emergency management officials.

View of tsunami waves hitting a shoreline.

Tsunamis (pronounced soo-ná-mees), also known as seismic sea waves (mistakenly called “tidal waves”), are a series of enormous waves created by an underwater disturbance such as an earthquake, landslide, volcanic eruption, or meteorite. A tsunami can move hundreds of miles per hour in the open ocean and smash into land with waves as high as 100 feet or more.

From the area where the tsunami originates, waves travel outward in all directions. Once the wave approaches the shore, it builds in height. The topography of the coastline and the ocean floor will influence the size of the wave. There may be more than one wave and the succeeding one may be larger than the one before. That is why a small tsunami at one beach can be a giant wave a few miles away.

All tsunamis are potentially dangerous, even though they may not damage every coastline they strike. A tsunami can strike anywhere along most of the U.S. coastline. The most destructive tsunamis have occurred along the coasts of California, Oregon, Washington, Alaska and Hawaii.

Earthquake-induced movement of the ocean floor most often generates tsunamis. If a major earthquake or landslide occurs close to shore, the first wave in a series could reach the beach in a few minutes, even before a warning is issued. Areas are at greater risk if they are less than 25 feet above sea level and within a mile of the shoreline. Drowning is the most common cause of death associated with a tsunami. Tsunami waves and the receding water are very destructive to structures in the run-up zone. Other hazards include flooding, contamination of drinking water, and fires from gas lines or ruptured tanks.

Wreckage after a tsunamiBefore a Tsunami

The following are things you can do to protect yourself, your family and your property from the effects of a tsunami:

  • To begin preparing, you should build an emergency kit and make a family communications plan.
    • Talk to everyone in your household about what to do if a tsunami occurs. Create and practice an evacuation plan for your family. Familiarity may save your life. Be able to follow your escape route at night and during inclement weather. You should be able to reach your safe location on foot within 15 minutes. Practicing your plan makes the appropriate response more of a reaction, requiring less thinking during an actual emergency.
    • If the school evacuation plan requires you to pick your children up from school or from another location. Be aware telephone lines during a tsunami watch or warning may be overloaded and routes to and from schools may be jammed.
    • Knowing your community's warning systems and disaster plans, including evacuation routes.
  • Know the height of your street above sea level and the distance of your street from the coast or other high-risk waters. Evacuation orders may be based on these numbers.
  • If you are a tourist, familiarize yourself with local tsunami evacuation protocols. You may be able to safely evacuate to the third floor and higher in reinforced concrete hotel structures.
  • If an earthquake occurs and you are in a coastal area, turn on your radio to learn if there is a tsunami warning.
Know the Terms

Familiarize yourself with these terms to help identify a tsunami hazard:

Warning

A tsunami warning is issued when a tsunami with the potential to generate widespread inundation is imminent or expected. Warnings alert the public that dangerous coastal flooding accompanied by powerful cur­rents is possible and may continue for several hours after initial arrival. Warnings alert emergency management officials to take action for the entire tsunami hazard zone. Appropriate actions to be taken by local officials may include the evacuation of low-lying coastal areas, and the repositioning of ships to deep waters when there is time to safely do so. Warnings may be updated, adjusted geographically, downgraded, or canceled. To provide the earliest possible alert, initial warnings are normally based only on seismic information.

Advisory

A tsunami advisory is issued when a tsunami with the potential to generate strong currents or waves dangerous to those in or very near the water is imminent or expected. The threat may continue for sev­eral hours after initial arrival, but significant inundation is not expected for areas under an advisory. Appropriate actions to be taken by local officials may include closing beaches, evacuating harbors and marinas, and the repositioning of ships to deep waters when there is time to safely do so. Advisories are normally updated to continue the advisory, expand/contract affected areas, upgrade to a warning, or cancel the advisory.

Watch

A tsunami watch is issued to alert emergency management officials and the public of an event which may later impact the watch area. The watch area may be upgraded to a warning or advisory - or canceled - based on updated information and analysis. Therefore, emergency management officials and the public should prepare to take action. Watches are normally issued based on seismic information without confirmation that a destructive tsunami is underway.

Information Statement

A tsunami information statement is issued to inform emergency manage­ment officials and the public that an earthquake has occurred, or that a tsunami warning, watch or advisory has been issued for another section of the ocean. In most cases, information statements are issued to indicate there is no threat of a destructive tsunami and to prevent unnecessary evacuations as the earthquake may have been felt in coastal areas. An information statement may, in appropriate situations, caution about the possibility of destructive local tsunamis. Information statements may be re-issued with additional information, though normally these messages are not updated. However, a watch, advisory or warning may be issued for the area, if necessary, after analysis and/or updated information becomes available.

During a Tsunami

  • Follow the evacuation order issued by authorities and evacuate immediately. Take your animals with you.
  • Move inland to higher ground immediately. Pick areas 100 feet (30 meters) above sea level or go as far as 2 miles (3 kilometers) inland, away from the coastline. If you cannot get this high or far, go as high or far as you can. Every foot inland or upward may make a difference.
  • Stay away from the beach. Never go down to the beach to watch a tsunami come in. If you can see the wave you are too close to escape it. CAUTION - If there is noticeable recession in water away from the shoreline this is nature's tsunami warning and it should be heeded. You should move away immediately.
  • Save yourself - not your possessions.
  • Remember to help your neighbors who may require special assistance - infants, elderly people, and individuals with access or functional needs.

After a Tsunami

  • Return home only after local officials tell you it is safe. A tsunami is a series of waves that may continue for hours. Do not assume that after one wave the danger is over. The next wave may be larger than the first one.
  • Go to a designated public shelter if you have been told to evacuate or you feel it is unsafe to remain in your home. Text SHELTER + your ZIP code to 43362 (4FEMA) to find the nearest shelter in your area (example: shelter 12345).
  • Avoid disaster areas. Your presence might interfere with emergency response operations and put you at further risk from the residual effects of floods.
  • Stay away from debris in the water; it may pose a safety hazard to people or pets.
  • Check yourself for injuries and get first aid as needed before helping injured or trapped persons.
  • If someone needs to be rescued, call professionals with the right equipment to help. Many people have been killed or injured trying to rescue others.
  • Help people who require special assistance—infants, elderly people, those without transportation, people with access and functional needs and large families who may need additional help in an emergency situation.
  • Continue using a NOAA Weather Radio or tuning to a Coast Guard station or a local radio or television station for the latest updates.
  • Stay out of any building that has water around it. Tsunami water can cause floors to crack or walls to collapse.
  • Use caution when re-entering buildings or homes. Tsunami-driven floodwater may have damaged buildings where you least expect it. Carefully watch every step you take.
  • To avoid injury, wear protective clothing and be cautious when cleaning up.

Related Websites

Find additional information on how to plan and prepare for a tsunami and learn about available resources by visiting the following websites:

Listen to Local Officials

Learn about the emergency plans that have been established in your area by your state and local government. In any emergency, always listen to the instructions given by local emergency management officials.

Helicopter spreading water over a forest fire.

More and more people are making their homes in woodland settings - in or near forests, rural areas, or remote mountain sites. There, homeowners enjoy the beauty of the environment but face the very real danger of wildfire.

Every year across our Nation, some homes survive - while many others do not - after a major wildfire. Those that survive almost always do so because their owners had prepared for the eventuality of fire, which is an inescapable force of nature in fire-prone wildland areas. Said in another way - if it's predictable, it's preventable!

Wildfires often begin unnoticed. These fires are usually triggered by lightning or accidents. They spread quickly, igniting brush, trees, and homes. Reduce your risk by preparing now - before wildfire strikes. Meet with your family to decide what to do and where to go if wildfires threaten your area. Follow the steps listed below to protect your family, home, and property

A smoke-jumper fighting a forest fire.Before a Wildfire

The following are things you can do to protect yourself, your family and your property in the event of a fire.

  • To begin preparing, you should build an emergency kit and make a family communications plan.
  • Design and landscape your home with wildfire safety in mind. Select materials and plants that can help contain fire rather than fuel it.
  • Use fire-resistant or noncombustible materials on the roof and exterior structure of the dwelling, or treat wood or combustible material used in roofs, siding, decking or trim with fire-retardant chemicals evaluated by a nationally recognized laboratory, such as Underwriters Laboratories (UL).
  • Plant fire-resistant shrubs and trees. For example, hardwood trees are less flammable than pine, evergreen, eucalyptus or fir trees.
  • Regularly clean roof and gutters.
  • Inspect chimneys at least twice a year. Clean them at least once a year. Keep the dampers in good working order. Equip chimneys and stovepipes with a spark arrester that meets the requirements of National Fire Protection Association Standard 211. (Contact your local fire department for exact specifications.)
  • Use 1/8-inch mesh screen beneath porches, decks, floor areas, and the home itself. Also, screen openings to floors, roof and attic.
  • Install a dual-sensor smoke alarm on each level of your home, especially near bedrooms; test monthly and change the batteries at least once each year.
  • Teach each family member how to use a fire extinguisher (ABC type) and show them where it's kept.
  • Keep handy household items that can be used as fire tools: a rake, axe, handsaw or chain saw, bucket and shovel.
  • Keep a ladder that will reach the roof.
  • Consider installing protective shutters or heavy fire-resistant drapes.
  • Clear items that will burn from around the house, including wood piles, lawn furniture, barbecue grills, tarp coverings, etc. Move them outside of your defensible space.

Plan Your Water Needs

  • Identify and maintain an adequate outside water source such as a small pond, cistern, well, swimming pool, or hydrant.
  • Have a garden hose that is long enough to reach any area of the home and other structures on the property.
  • Install freeze-proof exterior water outlets on at least two sides of the home and near other structures on the property. Install additional outlets at least 50 feet from the home.
  • Consider obtaining a portable gasoline powered pump in case electrical power is cut off.

Your best resource for proper planning is www.firewise.org which has outstanding information used daily by residents, property owners, fire departments, community planners, builders, public policy officials, water authorities, architects and others to assure safety from fire - it really works. Firewise workshops are offered for free all across the nation in communities large and small and free Firewise materials can be obtained easily by anyone interested.

Preparing Your Home for a Wildfire

It is recommended that you create a 30 to 100 foot safety zone around your home. Within this area, you can take steps to reduce potential exposure to flames and radiant heat. Homes built in pine forests should have a minimum safety zone of 100 feet. If your home sits on a steep slope, standard protective measures may not suffice. Contact your local fire department or forestry office for additional information.

  • Rake leaves, dead limbs and twigs. Clear all flammable vegetation.
  • Remove leaves and rubbish from under structures.
  • Thin a 15-foot space between tree crowns, and remove limbs within 15 feet of the ground.
  • Remove dead branches that extend over the roof.
  • Prune tree branches and shrubs within 15 feet of a stovepipe or chimney outlet.
  • Ask the power company to clear branches from powerlines.
  • Remove vines from the walls of the home.
  • Mow grass regularly.
  • Clear a 10-foot area around propane tanks and the barbecue. Place a screen over the grill - use nonflammable material with mesh no coarser than one-quarter inch.
  • Regularly dispose of newspapers and rubbish at an approved site. Follow local burning regulations.
  • Place stove, fireplace and grill ashes in a metal bucket, soak in water for 2 days; then bury the cold ashes in mineral soil.
  • Store gasoline, oily rags and other flammable materials in approved safety cans. Place cans in a safe location away from the base of buildings.
  • Stack firewood at least 100 feet away and uphill from your home. Clear combustible material within 20 feet. Use only wood-burning devices evaluated by a nationally recognized laboratory, such as Underwriters Laboratories (UL).
  • Review your homeowner's insurance policy and also prepare/update a list of your home's contents.
Practice Wildfire Safety

People start most wildfires - find out how you can promote and practice wildfire safety.

  • Contact your local fire department, health department, or forestry office for information on fire laws.
  • Make sure that fire vehicles can get to your home. Clearly mark all driveway entrances and display your name and address.
  • Report hazardous conditions that could cause a wildfire.
  • Teach children about fire safety. Keep matches out of their reach.
  • Post fire emergency telephone numbers.
  • Ensure adequate accessibility by large fire vehicles to your property.
  • Plan several escape routes away from your home - by car and by foot.
  • Talk to your neighbors about wildfire safety. Plan how the neighborhood could work together after a wildfire. Make a list of your neighbors' skills such as medical or technical. Consider how you could help neighbors who have special needs such as elderly or disabled persons. Make plans to take care of children who may be on their own if parents can't get home.

Follow Local Burning Laws

  • Before burning debris in a wooded area, make sure you notify local authorities and obtain a burning permit.
  • Use an approved incinerator with a safety lid or covering with holes no larger than ¾ inch.
  • Create at least a 10-foot clearing around the incinerator before burning debris.
  • Have a fire extinguisher or garden hose on hand when burning debris.

After a Wildfire

The following are guidelines for different circumstances in the period following a fire:

  • Go to a designated public shelter if you have been told to evacuate or you feel it is unsafe to remain in your home. Text SHELTER + your ZIP code to 43362 (4FEMA) to find the nearest shelter in your area (example: shelter 12345).
  • If you are with burn victims, or are a burn victim yourself, call 9-1-1 or seek help immediately; cool and cover burns to reduce chance of further injury or infection.
  • If you remained at home, check the roof immediately after the fire danger has passed. Put out any roof fires, sparks or embers. Check the attic for hidden burning sparks.
  • For several hours after the fire, maintain a "fire watch." Re-check for smoke and sparks throughout the house.
  • If you have evacuated, do not enter your home until fire officials say it is safe.
  • If a building inspector has placed a color-coded sign on the home, do not enter it until you get more information, advice and instructions about what the sign means and whether it is safe to enter your home.
  • If you must leave your home because a building inspector says the building is unsafe, ask someone you trust to watch the property during your absence.
  • Use caution when entering burned areas as hazards may still exist, including hot spots, which can flare up without warning.
  • If you detect heat or smoke when entering a damaged building, evacuate immediately.
  • If you have a safe or strong box, do not try to open it. It can hold intense heat for several hours. If the door is opened before the box has cooled, the contents could burst into flames.
  • Avoid damaged or fallen power lines, poles and downed wires.
  • Watch for ash pits and mark them for safety—warn family and neighbors to keep clear of the pits also.
  • Watch animals closely and keep them under your direct control. Hidden embers and hot spots could burn your pets’ paws or hooves.
  • Follow public health guidance on safe cleanup of fire ash and safe use of masks.
  • Wet debris down to minimize breathing dust particles.
  • Wear leather gloves and heavy soled shoes to protect hands and feet.
  • Cleaning products, paint, batteries and damaged fuel containers need to be disposed of properly to avoid risk.
  • Discard any food that has been exposed to heat, smoke or soot.
  • Do NOT use water that you think may be contaminated to wash dishes, brush teeth, prepare food, wash hands, make ice or make baby formula.
  • Remain calm. Pace yourself. You may find yourself in the position of taking charge of other people. Listen carefully to what people are telling you, and deal patiently with urgent situations first.
Hazards After Wildfires: Flood and Landslides

You may be at an even greater risk of flooding due to recent wildfires that have burned across the region. Large-scale wildfires dramatically alter the terrain and ground conditions. Normally, vegetation absorbs rainfall, reducing runoff. However, wildfires leave the ground charred, barren, and unable to absorb water, creating conditions ripe for flash flooding and mudflow. Flood risk remains significantly higher until vegetation is restored—up to 5 years after a wildfire.

Flooding after fire is often more severe, as debris and ash left from the fire can form mudflows. As rainwater moves across charred and denuded ground, it can also pick up soil and sediment and carry it in a stream of floodwaters. These mudflows can cause significant damage.

During a Wildfire

If advised to evacuate, do so immediately. Take your disaster supply kit, lock your home and choose a route away from the fire hazard. Watch for changes in the speed and direction of the fire and smoke. Tell someone when you left and where you are going.

If you see a wildfire and haven't received evacuation orders yet, call 9-1-1. Don't assume that someone else has already called. Describe the location of the fire, speak slowly and clearly, and answer any questions asked by the dispatcher.

If you are not ordered to evacuate, and have time to prepare your home, FEMA recommends you take the following actions:

  • Arrange temporary housing at a friend or relative’s home outside the threatened area in case you need to evacuate.
  • Wear protective clothing when outside – sturdy shoes, cotton or woolen clothes, long pants, a long-sleeved shirt, gloves and a handkerchief to protect your face.
  • Gather fire tools such as a rake, axe, handsaw or chainsaw, bucket and shovel.
  • Close outside attic, eaves and basement vents, windows, doors, pet doors, etc. Remove flammable drapes and curtains. Close all shutters, blinds or heavy non-combustible window coverings to reduce radiant heat.
  • Close all doors inside the house to prevent draft. Open the damper on your fireplace, but close the fireplace screen.
  • Shut off any natural gas, propane or fuel oil supplies at the source.
  • Connect garden hoses to outdoor water faucet and fill any pools, hot tubs, garbage cans, tubs or other large containers with water.
  • Place lawn sprinklers on the roof and near above-ground fuel tanks. Leave sprinklers on and dowsing these structures as long as possible. Be mindful of water use restrictions for areas affected by wildfires.
  • If you have gas-powered pumps for water, make sure they are fueled and ready.
  • Place a ladder against the house in clear view.
  • Disconnect any automatic garage door openers so that doors can still be opened by hand if the power goes out. Close all garage doors.
  • Place valuable papers, mementos and anything "you can't live without" inside the car in the garage, ready for quick departure. Any pets still with you should also be put in the car.
  • Place valuables that will not be damaged by water in a pool or pond.
  • Move flammable furniture into the center of the residence away from the windows and sliding-glass doors.
  • Turn on outside lights and leave a light on in every room to make the house more visible in heavy smoke.
Surviving a Wildfire

Survival in a Vehicle

  • This is dangerous and should only be done in an emergency, but you can survive the firestorm if you stay in your car. It is much less dangerous than trying to run from a fire on foot.
  • Roll up windows and close air vents. Drive slowly with headlights on. Watch for other vehicles and pedestrians. Do not drive through heavy smoke.
  • If you have to stop, park away from the heaviest trees and brush. Turn headlights on and ignition off. Roll up windows and close air vents.
  • Get on the floor and cover up with a blanket or coat.
  • Stay in the vehicle until the main fire passes.
  • Stay in the car. Do not run! Engine may stall and not restart. Air currents may rock the car. Some smoke and sparks may enter the vehicle. Temperature inside will increase. Metal gas tanks and containers rarely explode.

If You Are Trapped at Home

  • If you do find yourself trapped by wildfire inside your home, stay inside and away from outside walls. Close doors, but leave them unlocked. Keep your entire family together and remain calm.

If Caught in the Open

  • The best temporary shelter is in a sparse fuel area. On a steep mountainside, the back side is safer. Avoid canyons, natural "chimneys" and saddles.
  • If a road is nearby, lie face down along the road cut or in the ditch on the uphill side. Cover yourself with anything that will shield you from the fire's heat.
  • If hiking in the back country, seek a depression with sparse fuel. Clear fuel away from the area while the fire is approaching and then lie face down in the depression and cover yourself. Stay down until after the fire passes!

 

FEMA Publications

If you require more information about any of these topics, the following resources may be helpful.

Related Websites

Find additional information on how to plan and prepare for a fire and learn about available resources by visiting the following websites:

Listen to Local Officials

Learn about the emergency plans that have been established in your area by your state and local government. In any emergency, always listen to the instructions given by local emergency management officials.

Last updated: 08/31/2012 - 09:14 AM