Forest fires threatened Southern California earlier this week, prompting the evacuation of about 50 homes and forcing as many as 6,000 campers to flee the area. Would you know what to do if your family had to be evacuated because of a wildfire? Here is what you need to know to keep your family safe when camping in areas prone to wildfire.
Practice. Janet Groene, author of "Living Aboard Your RV" and the blogger behind SoloWomanRV, suggests that families practice fire drills for camping just as they would at home or at school. "Rehearse various scenarios such as escaping on foot versus escaping in the car or dropping the umbilicals so you can speed away in an RV, said Groene. She also suggests that campers "[t]ake a cue from sailors, who know that shoes are the most important garments to put on when fleeing and who keep a "ditch bag" filled with the most important things needed depending on the type of emergency." When checking into each new campsite, make a plan with your family about where and how to reunite if you get separated.
Keep in touch. It's tempting to go completely off-the-grid while camping, but if you and your family are camping in a wildfire-prone area, it's a good idea to check in at least once a day with the nearest information center to make sure there are no fires in your area. Groene suggests that at least one person in the camping family should know their exact location and how to operate at least one Mayday device (cellphone, campground pay phone, radio, siren, whistle.) So if you spot a wildfire headed your way, you can call 911 immediately for help.
Prevention. A large number of wildfires are caused by careless campers and hikers. If fires are allowed in your area, keep them small and have a shovel and bucket of water nearby so that you can dash it out quickly if the need arises. Avoid having campfires when it’s windy, or during the hottest parts of the day. And make sure that all fires and cook stoves are completely extinguished and cold before leaving a campsite. Groene recommends checking the fire rules daily for your area as they can change from day-to-day.
Watch out for smoke. Wildfires are not the only thing that you have to be wary of when camping in fire-prone areas. Smoke from these fires can travel a long distances and settle into prime camping spots — particularly those in meadows, valleys and river bottoms. Be cautious about your proximity to the nearest wildfire as well as the wind direction. You may be miles from the fire, but if the wind is blowing the smoke in your direction, it may be time to retreat.