With the blistering summer heat coming down on us this month, and on the heels of the recent Arizona wildfire, there’s no better time for us to discuss how prepared we are should wildfires strike our jurisdiction.
Every year, millions of acres of land are scorched by either man-made fires or lightning across America. Tens of thousands of fires have caused these acres of land to burn. In fact, in 2011 alone, over 74,126 wildfires have been recorded.
A wildfire is not a glowing green, mystical substance concocted by alchemists like on Game of Thrones. But wildfires do exhibit some similarities to the alchemists’ substance in the way it behaves—characterized by volatile flames that engulf things along its path and leaving nothing but ashes in its wake.
The National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences defines wildfire as an “unplanned, unwanted wildland fire including unauthorized human-caused fires, escaped wildland fire use events, escaped prescribed fire projects, and all other wildland fires where the objective is to put the fire out.” NIEHS concludes its definition by saying that “if not controlled, wildfires will destroy whatever is in their path.”
Is it possible to stop wildfires from obliterating everything in its way? Yes, with specialized training and emergency response programs in place. Through the joint effort of local government arms and federal agencies, safety and response measures have been established for the general public, safety personnel and firefighters to mitigate the devastating effects of wildfires. Among these measures were the Occupational Health and Safety Administration’s recommendations in times of wildfire incidences.
Here is a summary of OSHA’s online emergency response tool kit for workers during wildfire response operations:
– Set up an emergency evacuation plan that aims to minimize confusion and injuries as per 29 CFR 1910.38. This plan should include establishing the chain of command among workers, assignments, evacuation procedures, and equipment use.
– Create a 30-foot safety zone around your home or place of business that can minimize the damages brought by wildfires and shield people from fire and debris. This can be done by trimming vegetation around the location, keeping trees 10-feet lower than overhead lines, and removing branches and shrubs within 15 feet near chimneys and walls; and finally, removing combustible materials in the area.
– Create a secondary 70-foot safety zone around the primary safety zone.
– Know what to do in case of a wildfire, from to collecting the contents of your disaster kit to seeking temporary shelters and donning protective clothing.
– Redesign plans and procedures to keep them current and applicable at all times.
For more information on recognizing wildfires, prevention and response operations, visit the links listed below:
CDC Emergency Preparedness and Response Worker Safety During Fire Cleanup Fact Sheet – http://emergency.cdc.gov/disasters/wildfires/cleanupworkers.asp
Disaster Information Management Research Center’s page on Fires and Wildfires
National Network of Libraries of Medicine’s Emergency Preparedness & Response Online Toolkit
Arizona Department of Health Services Wildfire Emergency Response Plan
NIEHS Wildfire Response Training Tool: Protecting Yourself While Responding to Wildfires