You’ve been told by Smokey the Bear himself that only you can prevent forest fires. Well, that’s mostly true. While some wildfires are caused by environmental factors like lightning, almost nine out of ten wildfires are caused by humans.
Preventable wildfires are a danger to human lives and property, and they use up many resources to fight. They damage nearby homes and put communities at risk. We must do everything we can to help prevent forest fires and protect natural resources.
Here at Flying Embers, we take fire safety seriously. It’s one of the reasons we created our nonprofit arm, the Embers Foundation. It’s also why we put together this list of six tips on how to prevent wildfires because everyone can have a hand in keeping our beautiful planet safe.
Statistics About Wildfires
Before we dive into prevention methods, let’s peek at some key statistics about wildfires. The Forest Service is constantly studying wildfires across the United States and learning more about this phenomenon and how to prevent it.
Around 70,000 wildfires are reported every year in the United States, and on average, these fires burn over 7,400,000 acres a year. In California alone, over 2,300,000 acres have burned by September 2021.
While you might be thinking that this is only a problem if you live out west, that's not the case. Every state is at risk of forest fires, which means we all have a responsibility to help prevent them.
Peak wildfire season in the U.S is August, but with climate change, the season is getting earlier and more sporadic, moving towards July. However, the famous Camp Fire of 2018 occurred in November and was one of the worst to ever hit the state in California history.
Basically, the wildfire season is longer than ever, and fires are getting more frequent. It’s time for something to change.
While forest fires are a natural part of the ecology of some states, there is no doubt that climate change is contributing to the frequency and severity.
Now that you’re a wildfire expert (or something like that, let’s get into the rules of wildfire prevention so that you can do your part.
1. Leave the Pyrotechnics to the Pros
Many of us remember the story of a gender reveal party causing the El Dorado forest fire that scorched over 22,000 acres in California. An investigation into the blaze showed that a smoke-generating pyrotechnic device was to blame for the blaze.
El Dorado wasn’t the only fire caused by pyrotechnics. Fireworks are to blame for over 19,000 fires across the U.S a year and send over 9,000 people to the hospital.
Every state, county, and city has different regulations for fireworks, so doing some research on local ordinances could save you from a fine or penalty and, more importantly, could save you from starting a wildfire.
2. Burn Safe
Producing a controlled burn at home to get rid of downed trees and branches along with trash and other agricultural waste or compost is fairly common. Make sure you get a permit to burn before lighting a fire on your property to ensure conditions are safe and the fire department is aware of your activities.
If you get approval, keep a water source close nearby, preferably a garden hose. Never burn if it is windy outside, as the wind can be unpredictable and carry sparks. When your fire is finished, mop up the ashes with water and stir.
Wildfires have been known to start from fire debris piles that were not properly extinguished and can occur days or even weeks after they were burned.
3. Watch Where You Burn and Work
If you are planning to burn or operate equipment, be aware of your surroundings. Equipment like saws and tractors can produce sparks, so make sure you don’t operate near dry vegetation. Clear the area around your workspace and make sure your open space is extra large if it is windy or dry.
4. Vehicle Safety
If you are planning a trek into the great outdoors in your vehicle or with a trailer, make sure you practice vehicle safety. Carry a bucket, shovel, and a fire extinguisher in your vehicle to put out any fires. If you have an off-highway vehicle, it must have spark arrestors to limit the chance of a fire starting.
You should also check your trailer’s tires, axles, and bearings if you are towing one anywhere, but specifically if you are going off-road. Worn tires, ungreased bearings, or loose safety chains can be fire starters.
Pay attention to where you’re parking as well, because the heat coming from exhaust systems and mufflers can also start a blaze. This is especially true if you’re parking in outdoor areas with lots of dried weeds, fallen tree limbs, or debris.
Most of us enjoy a camping trip into the great outdoors every once in a while, but campfire safety might not be the first thing on your mind. An improperly doused fire or one placed in the wrong area is one of the leading causes of wildfires. Always be aware of your area’s wildfire alert system to make sure conditions are safe.
Don’t make a fire more than three feet wide; anything bigger can quickly get out of control. Always surround a campfire with rocks or stones and burn it at least 10 feet from any potential combustibles. Only burn firewood and keep a shovel or water supply in arms reach should the fire get out of hand, much like you would with a controlled burn.
Again, always completely extinguish a campfire and then cover it with dirt before you pack up your tent or trailer and move on. To make sure it is completely extinguished, douse it with at least one bucket of water, stir it, add another bucket of water, and stir again. The fire should be cold to the touch before you cover it with dirt and hit the road.
Most campsites will have a designated fire pit, but if you are really becoming one with nature and backpacking with no set campsite, choose a flat, open location away from any flammable materials for your evening’s fire. Watch out for logs, leaves, pine needles, or dry brush.
Scrape away debris down to the mineral soil if you can’t find an area devoid of them. Then cut the wood you plan to use into short lengths and pile it within your cleared area. Light the fire and stay with it at all times. When you’re done, follow the proper steps to make sure it is extinguished completely.
6. Quit Smoking
As if you didn’t need another reason to quit, cigarette butts are another major contributor to human-caused wildfires and fires in general. If you do smoke, make sure you always dispose of cigarettes in a safe spot where they can’t start an unwanted fire—not grassy areas or spaces with flammable vegetation.
Try placing cigarette butts in a cup of water or on an ashtray. If you use an ashtray, make sure they are contained and well managed. An overflowing ashtray can cause a cigarette to blow towards a potential source of ignition.
And, of course, never throw cigarettes out of your car window.
The Embers Foundation
We are all about fire safety at Flying Embers. It’s why we started the Embers Foundation.
When we first started to craft our bold, imaginative flavors, the 2017 Thomas Fires threatened to destroy everything we had built. Humbled by this, we created our foundation to donate 1% of all company revenue to address first responder and community needs nationwide, through wildfire prevention and education, real-time natural disaster response, and recovery programs.