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Surviving Fires and Wildfires

At the sight of a wildfire or house fire, most people will react by panicking. This inevitably leads to disastrous results such as getting trapped in the burning building or being subjected to smoke inhalation. Panic freezes the mind and will render you helpless even when your life is being threatened. There are two weapons that will work against this natural human reaction: knowledge and practice.

Although you will still feel the rising panic, knowing what to do in a given circumstance can save your life. What should you do if you’re trapped in one part of the building? How will you make sure that your family gets out alive? Can you take your pets with you? It might seem daunting and impossible but if you keep calm, you will know what to do.


No matter the situation there are two golden rules that you must follow. One, call your emergency hotline and give details such as your address and your current situation. Two, you need to get out of the burning building or the area of the wildfire and stay out. These are the two actions that you must follow immediately after being aware of the fire.

Here’s what you’re going to do right after you call your emergency hotline:

  1. Think quick and determine a couple of ways out. It can be a window or a door and just about anything that can get you outside with minimal injuries.
  2. Remember that the first thing that can kill you other than the fire is smoke inhalation. If you plan on using a door as your first option out, look to see if there is smoke under the door. If there is, you will have to find another way out.
  3. Before opening a door, touch the door knob. Even if it’s just warm, do not open it. If you have clothing near you, use it to cover any spaces between the door and the floor.
  4. Use your second way out. If it’s a door, remember not to open one that has smoke underneath or is warm to touch. If you plan on going out the window, determine if doing so will cause you any form of injury.
  5. If you manage to find a door that could be safe enough, be aware of the smoke. Crawl under the smoke so that you can breathe relatively fresher air.
  6. Do not attempt to go back and grab anything. Wait for help to arrive. Your life is priceless compared to the things you left inside the burning building.

These steps apply to house fires and wildfires that managed to begin damaging your home. Remember that if doors are even remotely warm, do not open. If there is smoke, do not open. Finally, always have a backup exit route prepared and stick to it.

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Unfortunately, some people become aware of the fire only when it has reached a critical level or it’s already surrounding your home. This might not give you enough time to get out and the only option you have is to stay alive until help arrives. If you are trapped inside, do not panic.

No matter how dire the situation is, try to keep calm and remember to call your emergency hotline as soon as you can. Tell them your situation and explain to them that you are unable to get out of your location. They may try to give you some directions to help you out. However, for the few minutes that will take you to explain your situation or if the responders don’t get there fast enough, here’s what you’re going to have to do:

  1. Turn on the lights in the rooms that you can access to allow better visibility for your rescuers. This will help them locate you faster.
  2. Protect your current location from the smoke. Close all the doors and windows but remember to leave them unlocked. Having to break down a door to get to you will waste more time that could’ve been for getting you out. Cover all the vents.
  3. Start soaking in towels, clothes and sheets. Use some of these to cover the spaces under your door or your vents. Set aside a couple of towels. If there is already smoke in your room, turn on your bathroom exhaust fan. If you don’t have one, use the towels you set aside and breathe through it.
  4. Remove anything that can catch on fire from the windows so that you and your rescuers will have at least one possible way out. Rip down curtains and move the furniture out of the way.
  5. Fill in all the containers you see with water. Do NOT attempt to flush down chemicals or use it as containers.
  6. Keep breathing through the wet towel. Bite down on it and make sure to always breathe through your nose. Breathing through your mouth will only hasten the process of smoke inhalation.
  7. Always be aware of the smoke and the temperature of door knobs before you move anywhere in the house. Remember to stay away from walls or windows.
  8. Do whatever you can to survive until help arrives. Once you hear them coming, make as much noise as possible like banging metal. Screaming will make only increase the risk of smoke inhalation.
  9. Some deaths are caused by jumping out the window in pure desperation. Assess the situation and if you feel that you can make it, jump off and away from the ledge to avoid hitting anything on the way down. If your window is too high from the ground, keep calm and use every possible option to keep the smoke out of your location and your lungs.

Being alone during a crisis such as a house fire or wildfire is indeed scary. It would help to remember that the moment you contacted the emergency hotline, the responders have already been sent out. They are trained people who wants nothing more than your safety. Keep this thought in mind and do whatever you can to survive the waiting period.


If you find yourself trapped in an apartment complex or a high-rise building and the fire exits are blocked and you have no way of getting out of your room, here’s what you will have to do:

  1. Chances are someone in the building has already called the emergency hotline. Despite this, you will still have to make your own call. Explain your situation and do not forget to let them know about which floor you’re on.
  2. Soak sheets and towels and use them to cover the space under the door, vents and anywhere the smoke can get in.
  3. Fill all containers with water and keep close them.
  4. Use your bedsheet to hang outside the window to let the rescuers know where you are from the outside.
  5. Stay low and breathe through a wet towel.
  6. Keep away from anything that can exacerbate the fire take away anything flammable from the window.
  7. Cover yourself with a wet towel and crawl if you have to go from one part of the room to another.


Because wildfires are unpredictable, there might be a good chance that you are trapped inside a vehicle especially if you live in a forest area. Here’s what you should do if you find yourself in that situation:

  1. Assess the situation. Check your fuel levels, how far you are from the nearest shelter, if you can find a source of water and the direction and distance of the wildfire. Tune in to the radio and take note of all the facts. Do not forget to dial the emergency hotline.
  2. Although there are situations wherein it would be safe for you to stay in the vehicle (the fire is a considerable distance away and rescue is already on the way), you might have to get out. Take any form of cloth you have with you and breathe through it.
  3. Find an area that is not covered by vegetation like rocky roads or cement. If you can locate the nearest water source, go to that place and stay put. Update your location through the emergency hotline.
  4. Cover yourself with the cloth you have. If you don’t have any with you other than your clothes, use your shirt to breathe through and then cover yourself with dirt to reduce the chances of you burning.
  5. Stay low and breathe in through your nose to protect your body and lungs from the fatal effects of heat and smoke.


One of the things that can help save your family in case of a fire is to make and practice a fire drill that every family member is aware of. Here’s a general step-by-step process of making and practicing a fire drill:

  1. Gather everyone together to discuss what you should do in the event of a fire. Pinpoint if someone has special needs and if the children are capable of doing it alone.
  2. Designate a person to account for the ones who you think might not be able to get out on their own. Usually, the responsible persons are those who reside next door to make sure that they can get to the others quickly.
  3. Draft a floor plan in which all exits and entrances (windows and doors) are specified.
  4. The instructions should emphasize that to get out of the burning house, you will have to crawl and breathe through a cloth. Make everyone aware of how to do the door knob test and the smoke test. Make sure that everyone has at least two escape routes that they can use.
  5. Select a place outside that at least 100 feet (or 30 meters) away from the house. This will serve as a rendezvous point where you and your family members will meet.
  6. Specify a time to practice the drill. It should be at least twice a year.
  7. During the drill, there is no need to acquire smoke machines. You can either make the smoke alarms go off or have someone shout “fire, fire!”
  8. Time the fire drill as it is ideal that it only lasts for two to three minutes. The quicker, the better.

After devising and practicing the fire drill you have created, make sure to update it in case there are parts when one of your family members have a hard time getting out. Keep it updated according to the needs of each person in the house and do not neglect practice.


If a fire breaks out or if a wildfire threatens your home, what should you do to ensure that you get your family out in time? While some families may have been prepared in the event of a fire, other may not have gotten to it yet. Thus, here’s a bit of knowledge that can guide you in the face of flames.

  1. Immediately call your emergency hotline before you do anything. Let them know who is in the house, if there’s someone who has special needs, how many are you and what’s the situation of the fire.
  2. Turn on all the lights you can reach to help you and the rescuers see through the smoke.
  3. In retrieving kids and elderly, use the door knob test before you open the door. If you have to go through a staircase, feel the walls. If it’s warm to touch, do not attempt to climb it. Plan your routes accordingly.
  4. When you reach your family members, get them to calm down so each person can have the presence of mind to help those who need it. Remind the children to stick close to you and to help the elderly as much as they can.
  5. Prevent anyone from going back or grabbing anything. The goal is to get out before you can’t. You will have a maximum of three minutes. Use your time wisely.
  6. Pinpoint two escape routes that you and your family members can use.
  7. Instruct everyone to breathe through their clothes or if you can get wet towels, hand one to each person.
  8. Crawl on the ground on the way out and be aware of the smoke.
  9. For every door that you open, close it to keep the smoke out and buy you time.
  10. Once outside, stay outside. The reality is you may not have had the chance to get everyone out of the house. Let the first responders know who was left behind and where they are, it will make the rescue faster.

Knowing that somebody was left behind in the burning house causes unimaginable pain. This is why the best way for a family to survive a fire is to make a fire escape plan the moment you move into a house. This way, anyone who gets left behind will still know what to do and where to go.


At the smell of smoke and at the sight of fire, your pets will probably panic. Before you know it, they may be out of sight already and you have no way of knowing where they are. Here’s what you can do to assure your safety as well as your pet in such a situation.

  1. After you’ve called the emergency hotline, pinpoint your two exits.
  2. Soak towels and sheets to use for cover and for you to breathe through.
  3. The first instinct that animals have in the face of danger is to return to the place where they feel safest. Find their hideouts and look in the opposite direction of the fire.
  4. Once you find your pet, secure it. Put a collar and a leash on a dog and put your cats in a pet carrier.
  5. Remember to do the doorknob test and the smoke test. Crawl your way toward your exits and breathe through your wet cloth.
  6. In situations wherein you did not have enough time to locate your pet, open the door you came out of especially if your pet is very familiar with the door.
  7. Stay outside and call your pet’s name. With luck, they may come running out of the door you left open. If not, let the first responders know about the hiding spots you’re aware of.

The best way to survive a house fire and wildfires is to be prepared for it. Don’t let yourself and your family and pet get to the point when it’s already happening. Having an escape plan and letting everyone know about it will give you less reasons to panic. Always call the emergency hotline before you do anything else and remember: one you get out, stay out.

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