Can You Outdrive a Forest Fire?

Fire can be warm and pretty, but it can also burn down a house or a forest. Forest fires can be deadly, so it’s important to know how to escape one if you live in an area where wildfires are common. Can you outdrive a forest fire? We take a look at whether you can, plus some of the best car safety tips to try to do that.

Can you drive through a forest fire?

Cars escaping the Bond Fire near Silverado Canyon in Orange County
Cars escaping a fire near Silverado Canyon in Orange County | Leonard Ortiz/MediaNews Group/Orange County Register via Getty Images

The answer is that you’d maybe be able to drive through a forest fire, but it’s probably not a smart idea. Forest fires can be very unpredictable and are dangerous for even expert firefighters. It’s easy to get confused due to the smoke and heat and your rising panic, says HowStuffWorks. In addition to decreased visibility, inhaling smoke can make you disoriented. Changes in the wind can also cause the fire to change directions quickly, and fires can grow in size very quickly.

Driving away depends on the road being clear of debris, including trees, signs, or buildings that may have burned and collapsed. The drive could also be slowed by traffic if other people are also evacuating. Additionally, there needs to be enough oxygen in the air for the gas engine to function properly without stalling. Heat can also cause problems for your car and can even melt auto parts or tires.

Quora suggests that driving through a fire is a last resort to escape. It’s best to evacuate much earlier when possible. People often overestimate the amount of time they have to leave their homes when a forest fire is headed their way, so it’s best to leave as soon as there is an evacuation order.

Get a sense of the fire

If there’s time, see if you can assess the fire’s size and direction. If you can tell which way the fire is moving and can see the sides of the fire, you should head toward the nearest side instead of driving in front of the fire.

It’s best if the side area has already been burned, but if not, try to find spaces that are mainly rocks or dirt and not materials that burn easily. Additionally, fire tends to move uphill faster than downhill due to the wind, so try to head downhill if you have the option.

How to drive through a forest fire

You can do a few things to make it more likely to survive driving through a forest fire. Make sure to bring bottled drinking water and any medication with you when you leave. In the car, keep a fire extinguisher and a dry wool or fireproof blanket to cover yourself, recommends Inside Edition.

The first goal is to keep going. Try to get away from the fire area as fast as possible. This means keeping your gas tank full during fire season since running out of gas has led to people being trapped and dying in their cars during a fire.

Keep driving, and don’t get out of your car. To keep smoke out of the cabin while the engine is running, close the air vents and put the air conditioner on recirculate. Additionally, turn on your headlights and hazard lights to make your car as visible to others as possible. Also, know your driving route plus a backup route, so you don’t waste any time or get lost.

If you do have to stop at any time, try to find a location that doesn’t have brush or other materials that can burn. That means a parking lot, a rocky area, or a road are the safest spots to stop. Having a wall separating you from the fire is also a plus. If the fire surrounds your car while parked, keep the engine on, and keep low in the car to avoid the heat that’s coming through the windows. The car isn’t likely to explode and will provide some protection from the fire outside until it passes.

So, if one is headed your way, can you outdrive a wildfire? That depends on how hot and smoky the conditions are and whether the road is still clear. It’s also important to follow a few tips to increase your chances of reaching safety.

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