A wildfire is an uncontrolled fire usually occurring in open areas like forests, fields or large parks. They can begin unnoticed, but can spread quickly – igniting plants, trees and homes. Although they can be started by natural causes, four out of five wildfires are started by people’s negligence. While wildfires can certainly be scary, these steps can protect children both physically and emotionally. Even though we are at the beginning of our fire season here in the Bighorn Basin, this is a good time to catch up and start preparing for what could be a more active August and September.
“Save the Children” offers these tips to show parents what to do if there is a wildfire.
1. Talk about wildfires. Spend time with your family discussing why wildfires occur. Explain how to prevent them and what to do if one occurs. Use simple age-appropriate words.
2. Know your risk. Learn your area’s risk of wildfires, particularly if you live near forests, in rural areas, or in a dry climate. Contact your local fire department, fire warden, state forestry office, or other emergency response agencies for information on fire laws and wildfire risk. We have a list here for counties in the Bighorn Basin.
3. Learn about caregivers’ disaster plans. If your child’s school or childcare center is in an area at risk for wildfires, learn their emergency plan and evacuation plan. You may be required to pick up children from another location. Review these plans with your children.
4. Practice evacuation drills. Practice so that children can evacuate quickly and safely if a wildfire occurs. Plan and practice two ways out of your neighborhood, in case one route is blocked.
During a Wildfire
5. Stay informed. If a wildfire is approaching, listen regularly to local radio or TV stations for updated emergency information. Follow the instructions of local officials as they will know safest evacuation route.
6. Have supplies ready. If you must evacuate, wear protective clothing such as sturdy shoes, long pants (denim, cotton or wool is best) and long-sleeved shirts and gloves. Lock your home and take a disaster supplies kit with you.
7. Avoid smoke and fumes. Keep children, babies and infants away from areas where there is smoke or fumes, and stay indoors if possible. Smoke produced by the wildfire may cause breathing problems or contain toxins or hazardous substances.
After a Wildfire
8. Use caution when returning to a burned area. Get permission from fire officials before returning to a burned area. Look out for hazards such as fallen wires and ash pits and be alert as fire re-ignition may be possible.
9. Clean up safely. Follow public health guidance on safe cleanup of fire ash and safe use of masks. Keep children away from burned sites until cleanup is complete.
10. Limit media exposure. Protect children from seeing too many sights and images of the wildfire, including those on the internet, TV or newspapers.