The only way to deal with wildfires is prevention. There is a lot you can do in advance to improve the chances that your house will be there when the fire has passed. There is almost nothing you can do once the fire is at your house. There is also very little you can do to protect yourself if you are in the direct path of a fire. Most fire deaths are from the smoke, but the heat and flames will also kill you. And don't forget that fire consumes oxygen. It is possible to filter out the smoke and still suffocate in a fire.

Create a defensible space if you live in an area where fire is a threat. Work on the area within 100 feet of your house in all directions. Landscape with rock, stone and grass, things that will not bring a fire to your house.

The 30 feet closest to the house should be free of vegetation and flammable materials. Keep bushes and trees out of this area. Do not put woodpiles or butane/propane tanks within 30 feet of any structure, and maintain a 10-foot perimeter around these fuel depots. Remember, these are things you keep precisely because they burn easily.

Once you have removed all the foundation plantings close to the house, thin out the trees and shrubs in the rest of the yard. You want 10 to 15 feet of space between trees and large bushes so the fire cannot jump from one to the next. And don't create a path for fire by lining walks or drives with plants. Keep everything 10 feet back from the access to the house as well as from each other.

Prune trees so all branches are at least 8 feet up from the ground. If there are shrubs or bushes under the trees, the lowest branches should be 14 feet off the ground or at least 8 feet above the top of the bushes. If trees are near power lines, have them professionally pruned on a regular basis. Don't try to do this part of the work yourself because it is extremely dangerous.

Keep your grounds clean. Rake up the leaves and pine needles at least once a year, especially before fire season. If there is a high risk of fire, do an extra clean-up. Keep trees clear of dead and dying branches. Keep roof surfaces clear of debris. Keep the gutters clean.

Work to make the house itself as fireproof as possible. Many states and local governments are beginning to require fire resistant building materials in high-risk areas. Even if they are not required by law, protect your home. Fire safe roofing is the most important, but what is on the sides of the house also makes a difference. Clear everything out from under your deck. Enclose the undersides of elevated decks, eaves and balconies with fire resistant materials or screen mesh. Limit the size and number of windows that face large areas of vegetation. Install double or triple pane windows if you can. If you don't have good windows, add fire resistant storm windows.

Make it easy for firefighters to help you. Keep your hydrant brightly painted and visible from all directions. Make sure that emergency crews have easy access to your house and the emergency water source. Post your house address in large visible numbers at the beginning of your driveway and on the house itself. Make sure that long driveways and dead-end streets have turn-arounds large enough for emergency vehicles.

do not hide
the fire hydrant!

When there is danger of fire, and there is not a shortage of water, keep the yard and the house wet. Water the lawn and shrubs. Wet down the roof. If you have a supply of water such as a swimming pool or an ornamental pond or fountain, get a small pump and use this water. If water is in short supply or the pressure is low, then don't use the city water lines to wet down your property. It is more important to keep the water pressure up for fighting the fire at the front than to wet down property that may not be threatened.

There are some things you can do when a fire is approaching. Have a ladder that is long enough to reach the roof and prop it against the house to give access to the roof for you or firefighters. Attach and unwind outside hoses and fill buckets with water. Remove all combustible materials from the 30-foot perimeter around the house. Think about the lawn furniture, tables, potted plants, etc. Turn off the gas at the meter. Turn off all propane tanks.

Inside, turn on a light in each room for visibility in smoke. Close all windows and doors but make sure they are unlocked. Take down or at least open flammable curtains and drapes. Close all blinds and non-flammable window coverings. Move upholstered furniture away from windows and glass doors. Turn off the air conditioning/air circulating system. Detach electric garage door openers and close the doors by hand.

Know at least two escape routes from your house. Back your car in so it faces the escape route and load it first, before you start preparations on the house. Leave the keys in the car. Secure your pets and small children. Listen to the radio at all times. If the fire is getting close or the evacuation order is given, get in the car and leave now. Don't try to do a few last things before you go.

Plan at least two
different escape routes

Once the fire is passed, do not try to get back to your house until the area is opened by the fire officials. Use caution because flare-ups do occur. Check the grounds for smoldering stumps or vegetation and use your buckets of water. Check the attic and the rest of the house for sparks or embers. Continue to check on problem areas for several days. Do not turn the gas back on. This must be done by a plumber or the utility company.