In a single week in October 2017, wildfires raging through northern California burned through more than 200,000 acres, consumed 8,900 structures, and took 44 lives. It was one of the most destructive fire seasons on record — and one of the costliest, causing $9.4 billion in damages — but it was also part of a larger trend. In recent years, fire seasons have been starting earlier, burning longer, and reaching areas previously thought safe from their blazes.
The best survival strategy for dealing with these wildfires is to pay attention to whether they’re close to your area and to evacuate as early as possible if authorities tell you to. But sometimes things move too quickly to get out in time. If you’re a backpacker caught in a sudden wildfire sparked by lightning or simply out on foot somewhere and trapped behind a wall of flame, use the tips above to get away safely.
1: Keep your clothes dry. In high heat, wet clothing will scald.
2: Put your shirt over your mouth to keep from inhaling large particulate.
3: Hightail it downhill if possible, and stay low to the ground. Fire moves uphill faster because of updrafts, and smoke rises.
4: Consider wind direction: if it’s blowing toward the fire from where you are, run into the wind. If it’s blowing from behind the fire toward you, run perpendicular to the wind.
5: Avoid canyons and chutes, which can funnel deadly heat towards you as you descend.
6: Move to an area that has already burned and is less likely to spark again if you’re caught out in the open.