Wallow Fire in 2011 burned 538,000 acres and was the largest in Arizona history. Photo Credit: Rick D’Elia 2011.

The Wallow Fire in 2011 burned 538,000 acres and was the largest in Arizona history.

10 Wildfire Safety Tips to Keep Children Safe

Historic wildfires across the West Coast are putting children at great risk. Wildfires have become a frightening new normal, in part due to the worsening climate crisis, and can destroy or disrupt infrastructure critical to children’s well-being, including schools, homes, health facilities and transportation.

A wildfire is an uncontrolled fire often occurring in open areas like forests, fields or parks. Wildfires can begin unnoticed, but they spread quickly – igniting plants, trees and homes.

According to the National Interagency Fire Center (NIFC), 2021 has already seen 83 large wildland fires which have have burned over 1.3 million acres nationally. Oregon's Bootleg wildfire alone has burned more than 400,000 acres and put thousands of peope under evacuation orders.  

This year, amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, it's even more important to be prepared should an emergency strike. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has issued guidance for people living in areas affected by wildfires during the pandemic. Save the Children also offers these wildfire safety tips to show parents what to do in the event of an emergency. 

How to Prepare for a Wildfire:

1. Talk about wildfires.
Spend time with your family discussing why wildfires occur. Explain how to prevent wildfires and what to do if one occurs. Use simple age-appropriate words.

2. Know your wildfire risk.
Learn your area's risk of wildfires, particularly if you live near forests, in rural areas, or in a dry climate. Contact your local fire department, state forestry office, or other emergency response agencies for information on fire laws and wildfire risk.

The CDC also notes that wildfire smoke can irritate your lungs, cause inflammation and affect your immune system. This can make you more prone to lung infections, including SARS-CoV-2, the virus that cause COVID-19.

3. Learn about caregivers’ disaster plans.
If your child’s school or childcare center is in an area at risk for wildfires, learn their wildfire emergency plan and evacuation plan. You may be required to pick up children from another location. Review these plans with your children.

4. Practice evacuation drills.
Practice so that children can evacuate quickly and safely if a wildfire occurs. Plan and practice two ways out of your neighborhood, in case one route is blocked.

Plan for where you may be able to go while still following the CDC's social distancing recommendations. Keep in mind any family members who may be at high risk for COVID-19 and how to keep gatherings to a minimum.

What to Do During a Wildfire:

5. Stay informed.
If a wildfire is approaching, listen regularly to local radio or TV stations for updated emergency information. Follow the instructions of local officials as they will know safest evacuation route.

6. Have supplies ready.
If you must evacuate, wear protective clothing such as sturdy shoes, long pants (denim, cotton or wool is best) and long-sleeved shirts and gloves. Your wildfire emergency to-go bag should also include items that can help protect the spread of COVID-19, including hand sanittizer and face masks. 

Lock your home and take a wildfire emergency kit with you.

7. Avoid smoke and fumes.
Keep children, babies and infants away from areas where there is smoke or fumes, and stay indoors if possible. Smoke produced by the wildfire may cause breathing problems or contain poisonous toxins.

What to Do After a Wildfire:

8. Use caution when returning to a burned area.
Get permission from fire officials before returning to a burned area. Look out for hazards such as fallen wires and ash pits and be alert as fire re-ignition may be possible.

9. Clean up safely.
Follow public health guidance on safe cleanup of fire ash and safe use of masks. Keep children away from burned sites until cleanup is complete.

10. Limit media exposure.
Protect children from seeing too many sights and images of the wildfire, including those on the internet, TV or newspapers.

Additional Wildfire Safety Resources:

American Red Cross (ARC): Wildfire Preparedness
Department of Homeland Security: Wildfires
Department of Homeland Security. Ready Kids: Wildfires

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