How to Drive Through a Forest Fire

Forest fire season is upon us. Lately, the news has been filled with stories about the infernos raging in the West, in states such as California and Oregon. If you ever find yourself in the unfortunate situation of having to flee a fire in your vehicle, you’ll want to remember some important car safety tips. Read on to learn how to stay as safe as possible when driving through a forest fire. 

Don’t wait to evacuate when a forest fire is nearby

Firefighters block the road as a forest fire reaches a highway in California
Firefighters block the road as a forest fire reaches a highway in California | Ty O’Neil/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

One of the most important things to keep in mind when dealing with wildfires is that they’re unpredictable. When evacuation orders come out, people often think they have more time than they actually do to decide whether to leave their homes. But as the Washington Post reminds us, nothing could be further from the truth. 

When you get an evacuation order, it’s important to heed it right away. What people who hesitate to leave don’t understand is that forest fires can leap across roads quickly, creating blockages in short amounts of time. When you combine that with traffic jams created by others who waited until the last minute to evacuate, you have a recipe for disaster. The more time you leave yourself to escape the area, the better off both you and your neighbors will be. 

Keep calm and keep driving

If you find yourself caught up in a forest fire, it’s important to keep moving, Inside Edition reports. Your main goal should be to get yourself to an area outside of the fire danger zone as quickly as possible. Of course, to do this, you’ll need to make sure your gas tank is full. Many people who die in their vehicles during wildfires do so because they ran out of gas. So especially during fire season, it’s important to keep your tank filled. 

The Washington Post reports that as you drive through a wildfire, it’s also important to resist the urge to get out of your vehicle. Instead, close all air vents and set the air conditioning to recirculate to prevent smoke from irritating your eyes. Keep your headlights and hazards on as you drive to increase visibility. And ensure you have a backup route in case your original route is blocked. 

If the fire reaches your vehicle, try to park in an area cleared of debris, brush, or other fuel for the fire. Parking lots, rocky areas, or even the roadway itself make good choices. If you can put a blockade such as a wall between you and the fire, so much the better. 

If your car becomes engulfed in flames, leave the engine running, and stay as low in the vehicle as possible. Staying below the level of the windows will help protect you from radiant heat. Keep in mind that even if flames do reach your vehicle, it is unlikely to explode, and you are still safer inside your car than outside it. Your goal at this point is to wait for the fire front to pass. 

Be prepared for a forest fire with certain supplies

In addition to having a full tank of gas, be sure to bring your ID, medication, and plenty of drinking water with you when you evacuate. A fire extinguisher is also important should the worst occur. 

Another item you don’t want to be without as you evacuate is a wool or fireproof blanket. You can use this type of blanket to protect yourself if you get caught up in a fire. Contrary to popular belief, it’s best to keep your blanket dry instead of wet. That’s because the heat from a fire can create scalding steam if the blanket is wet. 

Of course, it’s hoped you won’t have to use any of these supplies. The sooner you can evacuate when orders come out, the less likely you’ll find yourself trapped and needing to use such items. 

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