Wildfires are unpredictable, evoke fear and chaos, and can cause severe damage to people, animals, property and land. Most people think of wildfires only occurring in California, but they are common in a handful of states in the western and southern U.S.
After a wildfire has been contained and the authorities have announced that residents are safe to head home, people can feel anxious about the unknown damage that was caused and their continued safety.
When returning home, you’ll want to consider these wildfire safety tips to ensure the continued safety and security of your family and apartment.
1. Wait until local authorities have officially cleared the area
If the wildfire has been contained or entirely put out, it can be tempting to immediately rush home and start assessing the damage. However, wildfire damage lingers and can cause additional problems like flooding or secondary fires.
So, to ensure wildfire safety, do not return home until safety officials have given the âall clear.”
2. Use caution when entering your home after a fire
Obvious signs of wildfires, like flames, may be gone when you return home, but that doesn’t mean the danger is gone, too. When you enter your home, use extreme caution. Watch for charred or burned doorways and entryways and make sure that the building’s infrastructure is still secure.
3. Wear appropriate clothing
When you return after a wildfire, you’ll want to dress appropriately to avoid burns and bodily damage. Wear long pants, boots with thick rubber soles, gloves and dust masks.
4. Look for loose power lines or broken gas lines
Wildfires can cause damage to gas and power lines, and if you see a loose power line, gas line or meter, and circuit breaker, do not try and fix it on your own and do not go near it.
If they’re broken or damaged, call the utility company. They’re the best resource to safely fix damaged utilities.
5. Smell for gas
After you’ve looked for loose gas lines, you’ll also want to smell for gas when you return home. If you smell gas, turn off the supply tank and valve and immediately contact your local utility provider. Do not enter your place if you smell gas.
6. Check for pockets of heat inside and outside
Assess the grounds around your apartment building and inside your apartment for pockets of heat. The ground may still be hot, even after the flames have dissipated. These hot pockets can burn the paws of animals, harm people and even spark new fires.
As you walk around your property and assess the damage, also look for loose embers or active sparks. Check outside the building and inside in closets, roofs, and attics.
7. Eat and drink safely when returning home
Wildfires can knock out power for several days, so when you return home, get rid of any perishable food from the freezer and fridge so you don’t get sick. You’ll also want to watch for notices of when it’s safe to drink the water because water can be contaminated during a wildfire.
8. Document property damage and conduct a thorough inventory for insurance
Once you’ve safely checked the perimeter and apartment building, you’ll want to take photos of everything that was damaged during the fire. Keep a record and list of all items that were destroyed or damaged.
Don’t throw anything away until you’ve talked to your insurance company. Different companies will have different policies and you’ll want to make sure you follow their guidelines to ensure maximum return. It’s smart to have images, videos and lists before a fire, too, so you can prove to insurance companies what was damaged before and after a fire.
9. Clean your apartment
Lastly, you’ll want to start washing all items and cleaning the apartment after you’ve worked with your insurance company. After a wildfire, there will be mounds of debris and ash.
Wet the debris to cool it and get rid of any remaining sparks, and follow the designated procedure as outlined by your community to get rid of the ash. Rinse ash and debris off toys and household items, vacuum the floors with an approved filter and wipe down your floors, baseboards and counters.
In 2019 alone, there have been more than 16,000 wildfires, and each year, more than 100,000 wildfires burn through U.S. lands. To stay safe and be prepared for future disasters, here are five wildfire safety tips.
- Listen for warnings and leave when told: Because wildfires spread rapidly, it’s important to stay on constant alert if a wildfire has started in your neighborhood. When fire authorities or local officials tell residents to evacuate, it’s crucial to heed their warnings, leave immediately and head to a safe zone.
- Stay tuned for emergency alerts and updates: Depending on the wildfire, some can be contained quickly while others are out of control for days at a time. If your area is under threat, tune in to the NOAA radio and local news for live updates.
- Create an emergency action plan: It’s not the time to make an emergency plan when disaster strikes. Instead, sit down with your family ahead of time and discuss a communication action plan for future wildfires or other natural disasters. Because phone lines will likely be busy, consider using text or social media to communicate with your family. Discuss where you’ll meet, how you’ll get there and how you’ll notify others that you’re safe.
- Conduct an apartment safety check: While wildfires are unpredictable, renters can check their apartment and work with their property manager to ensure the apartment complex and buildings are safe and up-to-date. Make sure you’re routinely checking fire alarms and extinguishers as a safeguard.
- Have an emergency kit: If a wildfire occurs in your community, you’ll want to have an emergency kit on hand. These kits should include water, food, dust masks and first-aid essentials. Apartment dwellers should also consider purchasing a fire escape ladder in case of an evacuation.
When returning home after a wildfire, follow these safety procedures to keep yourself and your loved ones safe and mitigate damages as easily as possible.
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