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Some Common Natural Hazards
View of a dead tree and fence row in a summer sunset.

Heat kills by pushing the human body beyond its limits. In extreme heat and high humidity, evaporation is slowed and the body must work extra hard to maintain a normal temperature.

Most heat disorders occur because the victim has been overexposed to heat or has over-exercised for his or her age and physical condition. Older adults, young children and those who are sick or overweight are more likely to succumb to extreme heat.

Conditions that can induce heat-related illnesses include stagnant atmospheric conditions and poor air quality. Consequently, people living in urban areas may be at greater risk from the effects of a prolonged heat wave than those living in rural areas. Also, asphalt and concrete store heat longer and gradually release heat at night, which can produce higher nighttime temperatures known as the "urban heat island effect."

A heat wave is an extended period of extreme heat, and is often accompanied by high humidity. These conditions can be dangerous and even life-threatening for humans who don't take the proper precautions.

Boy drinking bottled waterBefore Extreme Heat

To prepare for extreme heat, you should:

  • To begin preparing, you should build an emergency kit and make a family communications plan.
  • Install window air conditioners snugly; insulate if necessary.
  • Check air-conditioning ducts for proper insulation.
  • Install temporary window reflectors (for use between windows and drapes), such as aluminum foil-covered cardboard, to reflect heat back outside.

  • Weather-strip doors and sills to keep cool air in.
  • Cover windows that receive morning or afternoon sun with drapes, shades, awnings, or louvers. (Outdoor awnings or louvers can reduce the heat that enters a home by up to 80 percent.)
  • Keep storm windows up all year.
  • Listen to local weather forecasts and stay aware of upcoming temperature changes.
  • Know those in your neighborhood who are elderly, young, sick or overweight. They are more likely to become victims of excessive heat and may need help.
  • Be aware that people living in urban areas may be at greater risk from the effects of a prolonged heat wave than are people living in rural areas.
  • Get trained in first aid to learn how to treat heat-related emergencies.
Know the Terms

Familiarize yourself with these terms to help identify an extreme heat hazard:

Heat Wave - Prolonged period of excessive heat, often combined with excessive humidity.

Heat Index - A number in degrees Fahrenheit (F) that tells how hot it feels when relative humidity is added to the air temperature. Exposure to full sunshine can increase the heat index by 15 degrees.

Heat Cramps - Muscular pains and spasms due to heavy exertion. Although heat cramps are the least severe, they are often the first signal that the body is having trouble with the heat.

Heat Exhaustion - Typically occurs when people exercise heavily or work in a hot, humid place where body fluids are lost through heavy sweating. Blood flow to the skin increases, causing blood flow to decrease to the vital organs. This results in a form of mild shock. If not treated, the victim's condition will worsen. Body temperature will keep rising and the victim may suffer heat stroke.

Heat Stroke - A life-threatening condition. The victim's temperature control system, which produces sweating to cool the body, stops working. The body temperature can rise so high that brain damage and death may result if the body is not cooled quickly.

Sun Stroke - Another term for heat stroke.

Excessive Heat Watch - Conditions are favorable for an excessive heat event to meet or exceed local Excessive Heat Warning criteria in the next 24 to 72 hours.

Excessive Heat Warning - Heat Index values are forecast to meet or exceed locally defined warning criteria for at least 2 days (daytime highs=105-110° Fahrenheit).

Heat Advisory - Heat Index values are forecast to meet locally defined advisory criteria for 1 to 2 days (daytime highs=100-105° Fahrenheit).

What you should do if the weather is extremely hot:

  • Listen to NOAA Weather Radio for critical updates from the National Weather Service (NWS).
  • Never leave children or pets alone in closed vehicles.
  • Stay indoors as much as possible and limit exposure to the sun.
  • Stay on the lowest floor out of the sunshine if air conditioning is not available.
  • Postpone outdoor games and activities.
  • Consider spending the warmest part of the day in public buildings such as libraries, schools, movie theaters, shopping malls, and other community facilities. Circulating air can cool the body by increasing the perspiration rate of evaporation.
  • Eat well-balanced, light, and regular meals. Avoid using salt tablets unless directed to do so by a physician.
  • Drink plenty of water; even if you do not feel thirsty. Avoid drinks with caffeine. Persons who have epilepsy or heart, kidney, or liver disease; are on fluid-restricted diets; or have a problem with fluid retention should consult a doctor before increasing liquid intake.
  • Limit intake of alcoholic beverages.
  • Dress in loose-fitting, lightweight, and light-colored clothes that cover as much skin as possible. Avoid dark colors because they absorb the sun’s rays.
  • Protect face and head by wearing a wide-brimmed hat.
  • Avoid strenuous work during the warmest part of the day. Use a buddy system when working in extreme heat, and take frequent breaks.
  • Check on family, friends, and neighbors who do not have air conditioning and who spend much of their time alone.
  • Avoid extreme temperature changes.
  • Check on your animals frequently to ensure that they are not suffering from the heat. Go to a designated public shelter if your home loses power during periods of extreme heat. Text SHELTER + your ZIP code to 43362 (4FEMA) to find the nearest shelter in your area (example: shelter 12345).

Publications

NATIONAL WEATHER SERVICE

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 extreme heat 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.

Flood waters rising in a neighborhood of houses

Floods are one of the most common hazards in the United States, however not all floods are alike. Some floods develop slowly, while others such as flash floods, can develop in just a few minutes and without visible signs of rain. Additionally, floods can be local, impacting a neighborhood or community, or very large, affecting entire river basins and multiple states.

Flash floods can occur within a few minutes or hours of excessive rainfall, a dam or levee failure, or a sudden release of water held by an ice jam. Flash floods often have a dangerous wall of roaring water carrying rocks, mud and other debris. Overland flooding, the most common type of flooding event typically occurs when waterways such as rivers or streams overflow their banks as a result of rainwater or a possible levee breach and cause flooding in surrounding areas. It can also occur when rainfall or snowmelt exceeds the capacity of underground pipes, or the capacity of streets and drains designed to carry flood water away from urban areas.

Be aware of flood hazards no matter where you live or work, but especially if you are in low-lying areas, near water, behind a levee or downstream from a dam. Even very small streams, gullies, creeks, culverts, dry streambeds or low-lying ground that appear harmless in dry weather can flood.

Flood waters pouring through a broken levee into a neghborhood of housesBefore a Flood

What would you do if your property were flooded? Are you prepared?

Even if you feel you live in a community with a low risk of flooding, remember that anywhere it rains, it can flood.  Just because you haven't experienced a flood in the past, doesn't mean you won't in the future.  Flood risk isn't just based on history; it's also based on a number of factors including rainfall , topography, flood-control measures, river-flow and tidal-surge data, and changes due to new construction and development.

Flood-hazard maps have been created to show the flood risk for your community, which helps determine the type of flood insurance coverage you will need since standard homeowners insurance doesn't cover flooding.  The lower the degree of risk, the lower the flood insurance premium.

In addition to having flood insurance, knowing following flood hazard terms will help you recognize and prepare for a flood.

To prepare for a flood, you should:

  • Build an emergency kit and make a family communications plan.
  • Avoid building in a floodplain unless you elevate and reinforce your home.
  • Elevate the furnace, water heater and electric panel in your home if you live in an area that has a high flood risk.
  • Consider installing "check valves" to prevent flood water from backing up into the drains of your home.
  • If feasible, construct barriers to stop floodwater from entering the building and seal walls in basements with waterproofing compounds.
Causes of Flooding

Tropical Storms and Hurricanes - Hurricanes pack a triple punch: high winds, soaking rain, and flying debris. They can cause storm surges to coastal areas, as well as create heavy rainfall which in turn causes flooding hundreds of miles inland. While all coastal areas are at risk, certain cities are particularly vulnerable and could have losses similar to or even greater than those caused by the 2005 hurricane, Katrina, in New Orleans and Mississippi.

When hurricanes weaken into tropical storms, they generate rainfall and flooding that can be especially damaging since the rain collects in one place. In 2001, Tropical Storm Allison produced more than 30 inches of rainfall in Houston in just a few days, flooding over 70,000 houses and destroying 2,744 homes.

Spring Thaw - During the spring, frozen land prevents melting snow or rainfall from seeping into the ground. Each cubic foot of compacted snow contains gallons of water and once the snow melts, it can result in the overflow of streams, rivers, and lakes. Add spring storms to that and the result is often serious spring flooding.

Heavy Rains - Several areas of the country are at heightened risk for flooding due to heavy rains. The Northwest is at high risk due to La Niña conditions, which include snowmelts and heavy rains. And the Northeast is at high risk due to heavy rains produced from Nor'easters. This excessive amount of rainfall can happen throughout the year, putting your property at risk.

West Coast Threats - Although floods can occur throughout the year, the West Coast rainy season usually lasts from November to April. This window increases the chance of heavy flooding and flash flood risks.

Wildfires have dramatically changed the landscape and ground conditions on the West Coast, causing fire-scorched land to develop in to mudflows under heavy rain. Experts believe it will take years for the vegetation to be fully restored, which in turn will help stabilize these areas.

In addition to the heavy rains and wildfires, the West Coast has thousands of miles of levees, which were constructed to help protect homes and land in case of a flood. However, levees are not fail-proof and can, weaken, or overtop when waters rise, often causing catastrophic results.

A dam releasing waterLevees & Dams - Levees are designed to protect hold back a certain level of water. However, levees can and do fail; and when they fail, they can fail catastrophically. Weakening of levees over time, or as a result of weather events exceeding the levee’s level of support, can cause the levee to be overtopped or breached, thus increasing the chance for flooding. Homeowners and renters insurance policies usually do not cover flood loss, therefore FEMA strongly encourages those who live and work behind levees to consider flood insurance as a dependable financial security from a flood event

Flash Floods - Flash floods are the #1 weather-related killer in the U.S. since they can roll boulders, tear out trees, and destroy buildings and bridges. A flash flood is a rapid flooding of low-lying areas in less than six hours, which is caused by intense rainfall from a thunderstorm or several thunderstorms. Flash floods can also occur from the collapse of a man-made structure or ice dam.

New Development - Construction and development can change the natural drainage and create brand new flood risks. That's because new buildings, parking lots, and roads mean less land to absorb excess precipitation from heavy rains, hurricanes, and tropical storms.

Flood Hazard Terms

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

Flood Watch - Flooding is possible. Tune in to NOAA Weather Radio, commercial radio or television for information.

Flash Flood Watch - Flash flooding is possible. Be prepared to move to higher ground; listen to NOAA Weather Radio, commercial radio or television for information.

Flood Warning - Flooding is occurring or will occur soon; if advised to evacuate, do so immediately.

Flash Flood Warning - A flash flood is occurring; seek higher ground immediately.

Driving: Flood Facts

The following are important points to remember when driving in flood conditions:

  • Six inches of water will reach the bottom of most passenger cars causing loss of control and possible stalling.
  • A foot of water will float many vehicles
  • Two feet of rushing water can carry away most vehicles including sport utility vehicles (SUV’s) and pick-ups.
  • Do not attempt to drive through a flooded road. The depth of water is not always obvious. The road bed may be washed out under the water, and you could be stranded or trapped.
  • Do not drive around a barricade. Barricades are there for your protection. Turn around and go the other way.
  • Do not try to take short cuts. They may be blocked. Stick to designated evacuation routes.
  • Be especially cautious driving at night when it is harder to recognize flood dangers.

 

A home with sandbags around it with rising flood waters.During a Flood

If a flood is likely in your area, you should:

  • Listen to the radio or television for information.
  • Be aware that flash flooding can occur. If there is any possibility of a flash flood, move immediately to higher ground. Do not wait for instructions to move.
  • Be aware of stream, drainage channels, canyons and other areas known to flood suddenly. Flash floods can occur in these areas with or without typical warnings such as rain clouds or heavy rain.

If you must prepare to evacuate, you should do the following:

  • Secure your home. If you have time, bring in outdoor furniture. Move essential items to an upper floor.
  • Turn off utilities at the main switches or valves if instructed to do so. Disconnect electrical appliances. Do not touch electrical equipment if you are wet or standing in water.

If you have to leave your home, remember these evacuation tips:

  • Do not walk through moving water. Six inches of moving water can make you fall. If you have to walk in water, walk where the water is not moving. Use a stick to check the firmness of the ground in front of you.
  • Do not drive into flooded areas. If floodwaters rise around your car, abandon the car and move to higher ground, when water is not moivng or not more than a few inches deep. You and the vehicle can be swept away quickly.  If your vehicle is trapped in rapidly moving water, stay in the vehicle. If the water is rising inside the vehicle, seek refuge on the roof.
  • Do not camp or park your vehicle along streams, rivers or creeks, particularly during threatening conditions.

After the Flood

Your home has been flooded. Although floodwaters may be down in some areas, many dangers still exist. Here are some things to remember in the days ahead:

  • Use local alerts and warning systems to get information and expert informed advice as soon as available.
  • Avoid moving water.
  • Stay away from damaged areas unless your assistance has been specifically requested by police, fire, or relief organization.
  • Emergency workers will be assisting people in flooded areas. You can help them by staying off the roads and out of the way.
  • Play it safe. Additional flooding or flash floods can occur. Listen for local warnings and information. If your car stalls in rapidly rising waters, get out immediately and climb to higher ground.
  • Return home only when authorities indicate it is safe.
  • Roads may still be closed because they have been damaged or are covered by water. Barricades have been placed for your protection. If you come upon a barricade or a flooded road, go another way.
  • If you must walk or drive in areas that have been flooded.
    • Stay on firm ground. Moving water only 6 inches deep can sweep you off your feet. Standing water may be electrically charged from underground or downed power lines.
    • Flooding may have caused familiar places to change. Floodwaters often erode roads and walkways. Flood debris may hide animals and broken bottles, and it's also slippery. Avoid walking or driving through it.
  • Be aware of areas where floodwaters have receded. Roads may have weakened and could collapse under the weight of a car.
  • Stay out of any building if it is surrounded by floodwaters.
  • Use extreme caution when entering buildings; there may be hidden damage, particularly in foundations.

Staying Healthy

A flood can cause physical hazards and emotional stress. You need to look after yourself and your family as you focus on cleanup and repair.

  • Avoid floodwaters; water may be contaminated by oil, gasoline or raw sewage.
  • Service damaged septic tanks, cesspools, pits and leaching systems as soon as possible. Damaged sewer systems are serious health hazards.
  • Listen for news reports to learn whether the community’s water supply is safe to drink
  • Clean and disinfect everything that got wet. Mud left from floodwaters can contain sewage and chemicals.
  • Rest often and eat well.
  • Keep a manageable schedule. Make a list and do jobs one at a time.
  • Discuss your concerns with others and seek help. Contact Red Cross for information on emotional support available in your area.

Cleaning Up and Repairing Your Home

  • Turn off the electricity at the main breaker or fuse box, even if the power is off in your community. That way, you can decide when your home is dry enough to turn it back on.
  • Get a copy of the book Repairing Your Flooded Home (737KB PDF) which is available free from the American Red Cross or your state or local emergency manager. It will tell you:
    • How to enter your home safely.
    • How to protect your home and belongings from further damage.
    • How to record damage to support insurance claims and requests for assistance.
    • How to check for gas or water leaks and how to have service restored.
    • How to clean up appliances, furniture, floors and other belongs.
  • The Red Cross can provide you with a cleanup kit: mop, broom, bucket, and cleaning supplies.
  • Contact your insurance agent to discuss claims.
  • Listen to your radio for information on assistance that may be provided by the state or federal government or other organizations.
  • If you hire cleanup or repair contractors, check references and be sure they are qualified to do the job. Be wary of people who drive through neighborhoods offering help in cleaning up or repairing your home.

National Flood Insurance Program - FloodSmart.gov - The official site of NFIPFlood Insurance

What you should know:

  • Flood losses are not typically covered under renter and homeowner’s insurance policies.
  • FEMA manages the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP), which makes federally-backed flood insurance available in communities that agree to adopt and enforce floodplain management ordinances to reduce future flood damage.
  • Flood insurance is available in most communities through insurance agents.
  • There is a 30-day waiting period before flood insurance goes into effect, so don’t delay.
  • Flood insurance is available whether the building is in or out of an identified flood-prone area.

What you can do:

  • Find out if your home or business is at risk for flood and educate yourself on the impact a flood could have on you and your family. FEMA's Flood Insurance Study compiled statistical data on river flows, storm tides, hydrologic/hydraulic analyses, and rainfall and topographic surveys to create flood hazard maps that outline your community's different flood risk areas.
  • Talk to your insurance provider about your policy and determine if you need additional coverage.
  • Contact the NFIP. They can help provide a means for property owners to financially protect themselves if additional coverage is required. The NFIP offers flood insurance to homeowners, renters, and business owners if their community participates in the NFIP. To find out more about the NFIP visit www.FloodSmart.gov.

Flood Safety Awareness Week
is March 16 to 22, find out more at the
National Weather Service

While spring brings the promise of warm weather and longer days, it also brings a variety of conditions that can include heavy rains, severe weather, and rapid snowmelt that can increase your flood risk.

Don't be caught off guard, get the facts and know the risks. Take action to protect yourself, your family, your business, and your finances—before a weather event occurs and it's too late.

Use the tools here to learn the steps you can take before, during and after a flood to prepare yourself and your family.

Interactive Flood Risk Resources

For more information about floods, risk of financial loss due to flooding, and flood insurance check out

Recommended Training

To promote Flood Safety Awareness, FEMA's Emergency Management Institute (EMI) has developed a series of training programs to encourage flood safety. This guide provides readers with an easy way to identify and access self-paced courses designed for people who have emergency management responsibilities and the general public.

Printer Friendly Information You Can Use & Share

FEMA has developed these resources to educate and inform communities about the importance of flood safety awareness.

Outreach Toolkit Materials

As a leader in public information response to emergency situations, the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) has developed this valuable tool designed to assist your efforts to educate and inform communities about the importance of flood insurance coverage.

Flood waters surrounding a row of business storefronts.FEMA Publications

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

Other Publications

National Weather Service

Related Websites

Find additional information on how to plan and prepare for floods 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: 08/30/2012 - 05:05 PM