Fortunately, it is uncommon for hikers to experience a wildfire while out on a trail. However, with an increase of people adventuring in back country, and the affects of climate change and drought, it is important for hikers to be knowledgeable about a wildfire scenario.
One of the greatest threats to the environment is a wildfire, but they are also extremely dangerous for individuals as well. Here are some easy to follow tips to avoid wildfires and keep yourself safe if you were to come across one.
Before hiking a particular trail, the smartest precaution to take is to check an online map indicating active forest fires across the country. You can also visit a local ranger station who can warn you about certain high-risk trails. If an official chooses to close a trail in response to a fire, do not ignore the warning even if the fire does not seem close by. Wildfires can change directions and speed at anytime without sufficient warning.
Be Well Equipped
It is important to note what type of clothing you are wearing. Cotton material is fine, but fabrics made of polyester, for example, will melt and stick to your skin. If you are hiking in a more high-risk area it is a good idea to bring along a cotton bandana or n95 mask in case you encounter fire smoke. Taking along a topographic map and a compass as well are great navigation tools to avoid and escape wildfires. Noting the direction of escape routes and large bodies of water is important.
Do Not Panic
If you are out on the trail and see smoke or fire, it important not to panic but to refer to a map to find the best escape route plan. However, not panicking does not mean you wait around and assume the fire will go away in the opposite direction. Get away from it as quickly as possible. Once you are safely away you can notify authorities immediately.
Avoiding Fire and Smoke Inhalation
If fire or smoke is close to you, look for areas away from trees, bushes, and other vegetation that are fire fuels. Find surfaces like dirt roads, trail gravel, asphalt, or rock. If you have to enter a smoke-filled area, cover your mouth with a bandana, mask, or piece of clothing, and lie on the ground or stay as low as possible. Air quality is usually better at lower elevations.
It is best to travel upwind and downhill when trying to avoid a fire. Avoid high areas like hills, mountains, canyons, ravines, and drainage areas because they act as chimneys for the fire. Try to find low areas, a streambed is the most ideal if possible.
Knowing the Characteristics of Fire
White or gray coloured smoke means the fire is burning light, but it usually means the fire will move fast. Brown smoke usually means burning brush, and dark brown or black means the flames have set fire to oily vegetation or a material that burns at a much slower pace.
If you see the smoke of a fire spiraling upwards it is an indication that there is low wind and the direction the fire will go is more unknown. If the smoke arcs in a particular direction, that is a good indication that the fire will travel in that direction.
Protecting Yourself if Escape is Impossible
If you are unable to flee a wildfire, try to find a ditch, gully, streambed, or water source with as little vegetation possible. If you have time to remove vegetation like brush or grass from the particular area you should do so. The more vegetation you remove the more protection you will have.
It is recommended that you lie on your stomach with your feet facing the direction of the fire and dig a hole for your face in addition to covering your mouth. Covering yourself in dirt is another recommendation for protecting yourself against the flames.
We always want to ensure hikers have the best and safest experiences on the trails. Wildfires not only cause destruction, but severe burns can be fatal for hikers. Inhalation of smoke also poses a great risk. Health effects like headaches, eye irritation and shortness of breath can occur. In more severe cases impaired lung function, bronchitis, asthma, and heart failure can also occur.
STA wants to make certain hikers are educated about nasty environmental hazards so dangerous wildfires can be avoided by adventurous hikers.