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The Do's and Don'ts of Wildfires

August 29, 2018

The do’s and don’ts of wildfires. Visit idhikethat.com to find out how to keep yourself safe if you ever encounter a wildfire.

It is the sad truth that wildfires are rapidly spreading all over the world, with nearly 4 million acres across the United States burned so far this year.  

Nearly one year ago, over 150 hikers found themselves unexpectedly stranded overnight from the blazing Eagle Creek Fire in the Pacific Northwest.

Would you know what to do if you spotted a wildfire?  It is really important that all hikers know how to handle a wildfire if ever caught surrounded by one.

Make sure that you learn the following do's and don'ts of wildfires.

If you are not caught in the wildfire:

  • DO:  Travel on dirt roads, rocks, and stream beds.
  • DO:  Travel upwind and downhill.  Let the wind point you in the safest direction of travel to get away. If it’s blowing toward the fire from your position, then run into the wind. But if the wind is behind the fire, blowing toward you – run on a course that puts you perpendicular to the wind, and move fast.
  • DO:  Everything possible to get around the fire.
  • DON'T:  Travel through passes and/or canyons.  Their natural wind flow patterns could draw in a fire and trap you.

If you are not able to steer clear of the wildfire:

  • DO:  Try to get behind the fire. 
  • DON'T:  Try to outrun the blaze.  Instead, look for a body of water, such as a river or lake, to hunch down in, if possible.
  • DO:  Find a low spot in a streambed, sandbar, or other open spot.
  • DON'T:  Stay in a spot with overhanging branches or foliage. 
  • DO:  Clear away as much debris before the fire arrives as possible. 

If you are caught in a wildfire:

  • DO:  Lay down on your stomach and point your feet towards the fire. 
  • DO:  Cover your body with non-synthetic clothing to shield you from the heat. 
  • DON'T:  Cover your mouth with a moist cloth.  Although it is true a moist cloth could act as a heat shield and smoke filter, it is unsafe to do if caught in a true state of entrapment.  This will create steam, and steam inhalation burns are more damaging to the lungs than dry heat. 
  • DO:  Try to avoid breathing in the smoke.  Protect your lungs by breathing air closest to the ground.
  • DON'T:  Run away from your safe zone. 
  • DO:  Once the fire passes, assess your situation and find a way out behind the path of a fire. 

In addition to knowing the do's and don't of handling a wildfire, everyone should always carry the top 10 hiking essentials.  Merribeth Midtlyng, a woman who was caught in the Eagle Creek Fire said, “Never again will I go out without a little pack on me with essentials. You never know what’s going to happen.”

Remember to apply these wildfire tips if you are ever caught in a disastrous wildfire.

Have you ever been caught in or near a wildfire?  Tell us your story in the comments.


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