Experiencing a natural disaster such as a violent flood, storm, or earthquake is frightening, and the damage to your personal environment (i.e., home, community, and business) can be both distressing and long term. Government resources will be on the way as soon as possible, but the efforts of individuals and neighborhoods immediately following the disaster can save lives. Being prepared and knowing how to respond appropriately in an emergency situation is key to your survival.


The United States has one of the highest fire-related death rates in the industrialized world. Every year nearly 4,400 Americans lose their lives in fires and another 25,100 are injured. Property loss due to fires is estimated at $8.6 billion annually.

The reality is that most of these incidents are preventable and knowing how to protect yourself and your home in the event of a fire is crucial. Here are some tips on how to increase your chances of surviving a fire.

  • Have working smoke detectors. There has been an increase over the last ten years in the number of fires that occur in homes with nonfunctioning smoke detectors.
  • Install a fire alarm system that is monitored by an outside agency. These systems not only serve a useful function, they also add a feeling of security to your home.
  • Create an evacuation plan for your home, and practice it as a family.
  • Have working fire extinguishers in your home at all times. Test and recharge your fire extinguishers according to the manufacturer's instructions.
  • Install residential sprinklers. Sprinklers can prevent a fire from spreading from one room to another and limit the size of any damaged areas.
  • Avoid using or keeping flammable or combustible liquids in your home.
  • If you have a two-story home, make sure each bedroom has an emergency fire ladder in case the only escape route is through a window.
  • In your workplace, make sure that you are familiar with the building's evacuation plan and procedures. Always follow the signs to the nearest exit or stairwell. Never use elevators.

If you discover a fire, the most important thing to do is to get out of the building. Once outside, notify the fire department immediately. Call 911 and be prepared to provide the address, the nearest cross street, and a callback telephone number.

Do not fight the fire unless it is to save a life. If the situation allows, close doors to help contain the fire.


More and more people choose to live in mountain settings and wooded areas outside large cities where they can enjoy the natural environment away from the busy crowds and traffic. In these areas, wildfires can be started by lightning; careless acts of humans (discarded cigarettes, campfires, arson, etc.); and combustible debris and often go unnoticed for some time until they spread.

Knowing how to protect your home from a wildfire is key. First, you must find out if your home is indeed at risk. Contact your local fire marshal or fire department—if you are at risk, there are measures that you can take to protect your home, your property, and the lives of your family more effectively.

  • Meet with your family and decide what to do and where to go in the event a wildfire strikes your neighborhood. Have a meeting place in case you are separated. Make sure all of your family members know how to call 911 and reach the authorities.
  • Make sure fire vehicles can access your home.
  • Clear the area around your home of shrubs, woodpiles, and combustible debris. Make sure all trees are at least thirty feet away from your home unless you are in a pine forest, in which case you should maintain a minimum of one hundred feet between your home and the tree line.
  • Report any hazardous or suspicious activities that could cause a wildfire to the appropriate authorities.
  • Regularly inspect your chimney, gutters, and the roof of your home. Keep these clear of debris at all times, especially in hot and dry weather.
  • Keep household materials and tools that could be used in the event a fire strikes (e.g., shovels, a chain saw, rakes, axes, and buckets) handy.
  • Make sure there is a water supply nearby, and always have a garden hose ready that is long enough to reach any area on the outside of your home.

These are just a few precautions you can take to protect yourself and your property from wildfires. Speak with your local fire marshal to obtain more detailed information on the specific wildfire dangers in your area, and remember—if you are ordered to evacuate, do so immediately. This can mean the difference between life and death.


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