Seven W's of Hiking Safety: Wildfires

Number 7 of the Seven W's of Hiking Safety are Wildfires.

One of the greatest dangers to the forest itself is also an extreme danger for hikers.

Be Prepared

Be sure to research and be aware of the fire danger level for the day of your hike. Obey all fire restriction rules; you don't want to be the cause of a forest fire.

One major cause of wildfires unrelated to humans are lightning strikes. Embers left behind from a lightning strike can burst into flame even days after a storm. If a recent thunderstorm has occurred in the mountains, know that the fire danger may be elevated.

Don't Panic

If you see smoke or a fire while hiking, get out of the wilderness and away from the fire as quickly as possible--then notify the authorities (such as the fire department, the ranger station, or the police department) immediately.

If the fire is very close to you, look for areas free from brush, trees and other fuels for the fire. Travel away from the fire along routes that don't easily burn like dirt roads, trails, gravel, asphalt and rock.

Avoid canyons and saddles that can act as natural chimneys. If at all possible, do not travel uphill to escape a fire--heat rises and so will the flames. Shield yourself from the heat of an approaching fire with a jacket, backpack or hat.

If the fire is going to overtake you, find a clearing and remove as much brush and grass from around you as you can--the bigger the area, the bigger your bubble of protection. If given no other choice, lie face down on a dirt, non-flammable surface, preferably in a depression or hole. Point your feet in the direction of the fire and cover yourself with dirt, a jacket, or anything else that can shield you from the fire.

If you are near a water source, seek shelter in the water but only if it is not closely overhung with foliage. Wait for the fire to pass, and then continue to seek a way out.

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Riverside Hiking Examiner Cathy Flores is a freelance author currently writing a hiking guide for the San Bernardino Mountains.

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