Wildfires have been in the news again of late. The Big Sur fire in California is a sober reminder that wildfires can happen anytime, even in winter. If you live or travel in areas prone to fires or could become that way due to drought conditions, you should keep items in your car to survive wildfires.
Table of contents
- Wildfires can grow and spread…fast!
- Items To Keep In Your Car To Survive Wildfires
- Why Driving Through a Fire is Hazardous
- What if you need to exit the vehicle to clear the road?
- Add The Items To Keep In Your Car To Survive Wildfires To Your Vehicle Emergency Kit
- Prepare for the Unexpected
- What should I do if I’m driving near a wildfire?
- Do you keep supplies in your car to survive wildfires?
Wildfires can grow and spread…fast!
I’m reminded of a video I watched once from the horrific wildfires in Gatlinburg, Tennessee. Friends of mine owned a home there that was destroyed by wildfire, and many other friends and acquaintances enjoyed the area during family vacations.
This video vividly shows how quickly these fires grew as this man drives through them to safety. Wildfire safety is no easy matter, as I explain in this article.
In an old Facebook discussion about the video and the fires, a reader, Carolyn, commented on having a couple of items in the car to help deal with the heat and smoke.
I began thinking along those lines and came up with this list of items, all on the small and inexpensive side you should keep handy in your vehicle.
Items To Keep In Your Car To Survive Wildfires
- Eyewash/eye drops
- Battery-powered fan with extra batteries
- Face masks with eye protection
- Swim goggles
- Hatchet or ax
- Fire-resistant work gloves
- LED flashlights
- One or more headlamps
- All-purpose emergency kit
- Inhaler and asthma medication
Why Driving Through a Fire is Hazardous
Driving through a fire like this is very, very dangerous. Smoke and fumes can quickly fill a vehicle, and rubber tires can melt on the hot asphalt.
Protect Your Lungs and Eyes
It’s important for all passengers in the vehicle to remain calm and to wear a face mask. Even a wet bandana tied around the nose and mouth is better than nothing. However, it’s even more critical that the driver be able to maintain their focus.
Just as flight attendants instruct parents to first put on their oxygen masks in case of an emergency, the driver of a vehicle must protect their own eyes and respiratory system, in particular.
A Readi-Mask is one product that does both, is one-use only, and is so compact it fits just about anywhere. Respirator masks are bulkier, range in price from quite reasonable to costly, and most will not include eye protection. However, a pair of swim goggles or tightly fitting shooting-range goggles work very well for this purpose.
If the vehicle’s air circulation system begins to allow in too much smoke or fumes, you can close it down.
Protect From Overheating
While closing the air circulation system helps to block smoke and fumes, it also stops the air circulation. No surprise there, right? To reduce overheating, use a small battery-powered fan to move air around.
In the case of this video, the driver’s dog was beginning to show signs of overheating. Between the flow of air and water to drink or squeezed with a cloth over an animal’s tongue, a pet has a better chance of surviving the scorching environment.
Protect The Vulnerable
Finally, be aware that elderly people, those with chronic health issues, and very young children and babies will have the most difficulty breathing in conditions caused by a wildfire. Therefore, take time to ensure you have well-fitting facemasks for them.
They should spend some time wearing a face mask, even if it’s a simple dust/particulate mask, to get used to the sensation. Many people feel suffocated wearing something over their nose and mouth, so it can take some time.
What if you need to exit the vehicle to clear the road?
At one point in the video, it appears the driver has to get out and move branches. Between eye protection, a respirator, heavy work gloves (this pair is also fire resistant), and a sharpened ax or hatchet, there’s a good chance this type of road clearing can be done quickly.
Fires invariably darken the sky and turn daylight into night. Therefore, a few LED flashlights are necessary and can be used to signal rescuers if necessary. At least one headlamp would allow you to use your hands and should also be included.
However, again, since the survival of the entire party depends on the driver’s health, the task of clearing a road may best be left in the hands of another able-bodied adult.
Also, remember additional dangers can come from the same direction the branches on the road came from.
Above your head.
If those branches fell, more could follow. Downed power lines are also a possibility.
Add The Items To Keep In Your Car To Survive Wildfires To Your Vehicle Emergency Kit
Many items typically carried in a vehicle emergency kit can help with wildfire survival. Those kits should already be packed somewhere safe in each vehicle you own.
I prefer to make my kit and assemble it from products I know are all high quality. Otherwise, well-equipped bags like this can be found online and in retail stores. Just be sure to check out all the items and add anything specific to your own family’s needs.
Prepare for the Unexpected
In the case of the Gatlinburg fires, a combination of multiple arson-set fires, dry conditions, and hurricane-force winds combined to create a lethal scenario that caught even emergency responders by surprise.
Wildfires are typically tracked for hours and days, giving residents ample warning to evacuate safely. (If you live in California, you can find out the fire severity zone for your address.)
However, as we’ve learned from Paradise, California, wind-driven fires and extreme fire behavior can reduce or even eliminate warning time. Another example is Israel, where fire was used as a weapon to terrorize and destroy.
What should I do if I’m driving near a wildfire?
If you find yourself driving near a wildfire, tune the radio to an emergency news broadcast. There are also handy police scanner phone apps that provide updates, and the American Red Cross Wildfire app comes with active wildfire warnings and survival tips. (Search for ‘American Red Cross’ in your app store.)
Of course, not being at the wrong place at the wrong time is the best prep. However, since there are things that happen that are beyond our control, the best thing we can do is proactively prepare.
Do you keep supplies in your car to survive wildfires?
Originally published on December 1, 2016; updated by The Survival Mom editors.
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