8 dangerous mistakes to avoid when your home is threatened by a fire

If it seems like the number and size of wildfires has been increasing every summer, that’s true: wildfires have been steadily increasing in recent years. And while you may read plenty of stories about fires in places like California, they’re happening all over the country and around the world in all regions that are experiencing hotter summers.

Here in the Northwest, I’ve never had to evacuate for a fire, but there have been plenty of wildfires that have been close enough to make me nervous (enough so that I’ve made a lot of personal preparations), and I’ve had too many good friends lose their homes or property due to damage. I’ve learned that a lot of people, myself included, don’t always have a good idea of ​​how to respond to rapidly spreading fire threats.

So I’m going to talk about a different kind of security threat: the worst mistakes you can make if your home is in danger of fire. If you see fire warning messages going off in your area, here’s what you should do: No do.

1. Go outside and see where the smoke is.

It seems like a natural thing to do: you hear a local fire alarm and you go out to see if you can find out how close the fire is. The problem? It doesn’t do any good and wastes precious time.

With houses, trees and landscapes in the way, we humans are poor judges of how close or far away a fire might be. And wandering around outside trying to guess means you’re not preparing emergency supplies, gathering family or listening to the news to find out if you have an evacuation notice or if it’s being updated.

Read more:The best smoke detector of 2024

Two firefighters in protective gear communicate outdoors. Two firefighters in protective gear communicate outdoors.

Prioritize your own safety and emergency supplies when facing a possible evacuation.

Virojt Changyencham via Getty

2. Run to the neighbors’ houses.

This mistake is sometimes referred to as “hero syndrome” or something similar. Yes, you may care about your neighbors, and no, you have no guarantee that they are aware of the news about the fire, but now is not the time to play rescuer. You will only waste valuable time and possibly get in the way of evacuation or firefighting efforts. Plus, there is a good chance that your neighbors already know or are about to find out from their own sources.

Instead, use our amazing mobile technology to text your local friends and family while you focus on your home and loved ones. Prioritize your own safety.

3. Close doors or windows

Amid the panic and worry of preparing for a possible evacuation, many homeowners lock their doors and windows before leaving. After all, you don’t want burglars or desperate people breaking in, right? Big mistake.

During fire preparedness and evacuation, you and your family may need unexpected access to different parts of your home, as may emergency personnel. When things can change so quickly, it’s important to preserve access to your home. Keep doors and windows closed, but not locked. This also applies to the garage door, and make sure you can manually open the garage after you leave, because the power may be out when you return.

Watch Duty app samples against a misty red forest background. Watch Duty app samples against a misty red forest background.

Don’t be distracted by endless images on TV or the Internet. Focus on valuable, professional information, such as Watch Duty and official alerts.

Duty of vigilance

4. Ignore radio and website warning updates

Sometimes it’s easy to stay glued to television and social media because of their visuals. But these sources often have the worst Information about fire evacuations and what to do, especially if you are watching followers and journalists rather than official sources of information.

It may not be as flashy, but the best information comes from traditional radio alerts, official city and country websites, and high-quality specialist apps like the excellent Watch Duty. Pay attention to these sources first.

5. Focus on your belongings instead of emergency supplies

Wildfire panic is terrible for our mental priorities. People may feel the need to rush to grab all of their most valuable or prized possessions as they prepare for an evacuation. And while grandma’s old rings or your parents’ baby photo album may seem important in the moment, they’re not what you should be focusing on right now.

Instead, work to organize the family and gather emergency supplies. That can include sturdy food that can last (preferably) 72 hours, water supplies, and any important medications people will need over the next few days. Next comes pets and pet food. Then you should focus on protective clothing, a medical kit, and an emergency kit that includes tools, blankets, and other important items.

Once you’ve gathered all your household items, store everything safely in your vehicle. Then, if you still have time, you can start looking for Grandma’s jewelry.

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Photograph of the Marshall Fire devouring buildings. Photograph of the Marshall Fire devouring buildings.

Wildfires can spread quickly, and sometimes our instincts about how to respond are wrong.

6. Turn on all sprinklers

Homeowners faced with a fire are quick to get the bright idea of ​​turning on the sprinklers before they head out. It seems like it would help fight an approaching fire, right? It doesn’t.

First, home sprinklers have limited effect against a rapidly spreading fire where there is plenty of firewood available in the neighborhood. If the situation worsens, they will not help save your home. Second, leaving sprinklers on reduces local water pressure and availability, which really takes a toll on firefighters. In fact need at this time

That’s why fire preparedness information on local government websites often includes requests to avoid using sprinklers, especially in drought-prone areas. But you may also find requests for more helpful tips, such as leaving trash cans filled with water for firefighters to use.

People on a ridge above a housing complex watching a nearby wildfire. People on a ridge above a housing complex watching a nearby wildfire.

It’s easy to panic when a fire approaches, but avoid these common mistakes to keep your family safe.

f00sion via Getty

7. Forget about preparing the garden at the last minute

It may seem strange to do yard work (aside from sprinklers) when a fire is approaching, but it can actually help save your home. If you have a few extra minutes, there are steps you can take in the yard that can prove incredibly helpful, including:

  • Move furniture, trash or other items out of the house (place them in the garage if possible)
  • Move the grill and associated fuel away from the house.
  • Closure of the gas network
  • Connect all garden hoses to faucets if necessary.

8. Return home before obtaining permission.

Even after evacuating, people have an instinctive desire to see how their home is left and whether the worst has happened. So when the news starts reporting that a fire has been contained or stopped, many homeowners start planning to return home. Bad idea.

Areas will not be clear until the evacuation order is lifted and you receive official instructions on when and how to return. Until then, roads may not even be open, and trying to return will only hinder the work of emergency services or possibly put you (and your vehicle) in serious danger. Keep in mind that fires also cause many access issues, so even if the return process is complete, it may take time, patience, and additional supplies.

For more home safety tips, visit our guides on how to protect your home during a heatwave, staying cool in the kitchen, and securing your home with a security system. Don’t be fooled by these common home safety myths.