How to Prepare Your Community for a Wildfire

May 14, 2019

Every year, more and more people are forced to flee their homes because of wildfires. These fires have been growing in both size and frequency, and today more than 4 million U.S. households are located in areas that are under extreme wildfire danger. Fortunately, there are simple steps you can take to help protect your family, home, and community. At Associa, we have over 40 years of experience assisting communities to plan for all types of disaster that could impact your community, and in this blog, we give you the tools you need to prepare for wildfires.

What is a wildfire?

A wildfire is an uncontrolled fire that occurs in forests, woodlands, grasslands, or anywhere with dry, combustible vegetation to fuel the flames. Natural forces such as lightning can cause wildfires, but far more often humans are to blame. Whether it's a casually discarded cigarette, unattended campfires, or a more insidious act of arson, nearly 85% of wildfires are human-caused. These fires can burn for days or even weeks before they are extinguished.

When is wildfire season?

Wildfires can occur any time under the right conditions. Depending on where you live, there may be times of the year when the threat level is higher. In the western region of the U.S., wildfire season typically begins in July or August, while in the eastern and southern regions wildfire season can start as early as April. Seasons can change year to year and are never set in stone. Check with your local and state authorities for current wildfire risk levels that are updated monthly or even daily.

5 Ways to Prepare Your Community for a Wildfire

If you volunteer on your community association's board, then you have a unique opportunity to help educate your neighbors and keep your community better protected. Here are five ways you can prepare your community for wildfires.

1. Form a wildfire preparedness committee.

The committee should help communicate wildfire information to residents, create a response plan for when a wildfire does happen, and develop a budget that supports the community's preparation efforts. 

2. Create a community emergency action plan.

If you haven't already done so, your community should create an emergency action plan. This plan should include all the necessary steps the community needs to take during an emergency situation. Your wildfire committee can help create the plan or provide the board with wildfire-specific details to be included in a larger emergency preparedness plan. Make sure to include the following information:

  • Emergency contact phone numbers
  • Area maps
  • Evacuation routes
  • Shut off locations for water, gas, and electric
  • Location of any emergency supplies

3. Conduct an evacuation drill.

Wildfires often require mass evacuations of neighborhoods or entire cities. To be safe, your community should know what to do when an evacuation order is given. Work with your board and the wildfire committee to conduct an evacuation drill. Review your plan to determine how many volunteers are needed, and what evacuation routes should be utilized. Below are some tips for performing a drill and questions you should ask when the drill is complete.

Evacuation Drill Tips

  • Utilize floor wardens, block captains, designated staff, and other volunteers to help perform the drill.
  • If applicable, advise occupants to exit the building using only the stairwells and to stay to the right in the stairs when exiting.
  • Direct residents with special needs and those requiring assistance to an assigned person or party responsible for communicating their status and location.
  • Designate multiple meeting areas inside and outside the building.
  • Account for occupants and notify appropriate contacts of those known missing.

Questions to Ask When Evaluating Your Evacuation Drill

  • Were residents familiar with escape routes, meeting areas, and evacuation methods?
  • Did all applicable alarms sound?
  • What problems occurred?
  • Were communications with each floor or area effectively executed?
  • Were special needs occupants aware of actions to take and how to evacuate?
  • Was there an accurate counting system for residents?

4. Review Your Insurance Policies

Every insurance policy is different. If community property is at risk from potential wildfires, then do your due diligence by checking with your insurance agent about your specific policy. Make sure you and the board have a clear understanding of what is covered and what is not. If your plan does not cover wildfire damage, then discuss if buying additional coverage makes sense for your community at your next board meeting.

5. Help Your Homeowners Prepare

During a wildfire, everyone needs to work together to help save homes and lives. Take the time to educate your homeowners on the risks of wildfires and make sure your board is doing their part. Share physical copies of your emergency action plan with residents in case you lose power during an emergency. You should also consider holding a community meeting before the next wildfire season to answer questions and share some best practices. Below are a few essential tasks every homeowner should perform when preparing for a wildfire.

  • Prepare a 72-hour emergency kit.
  • Practice basic first aid skills.
  • Remove any fire hazards or dry vegetation from around their home.
  • Learn evacuation routes.
  • Participate in community safety drills and meetings.

More Ways to Protect Your Community from Wildfires

By making wildfire preparation a priority, your board and association members will feel safer, more confident, and if disaster does strike, your community can recover more quickly. With wildfire season fast approaching for many parts of the country, the best time to prepare is now. For more ways to help your community prepare, check out our blog "Community Association Emergency Preparedness."

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