The images pouring out of California this week have been shocking. If you’re in the area there are several key ways you can lower your risk. If you’re not, there are important ways that you can help others.
For those in California, here are some tips on how to lower risk:
First of all, be smart. Make sure you have an evacuation plan mapped out before you go – both online and offline. Prepare basic emergency supplies, which should include water. It should also include clothing to cover your skin from hot ash and durable footwear. If an authority tells you to evacuate, you must do so calmly and immediately. Remember, they have your best interests at heart too. If an authority hasn’t been in contact but you feel that you are in real imminent danger, trust your instincts and evacuate.
Secondly, be prepared. Wildfires spread voraciously by nature, and this is faster when there is more fuel readily available. Before you evacuate, make sure to remove combustibles like firewood and gas from your property. Close all windows and doors to prevent drafts which can help stoke a fire. Shut off any gas or oil supplies, and if there is enough time fill large bodies (such as bath tubs) with water. Doing these can help to stop the spread of the fire and reduce property damages for others, too.
Finally, be aware. If for some reason you are unfortunately caught in a wildfire you should be aware of how best to lower the risk you’re exposed to. Be aware that you should not attempt to outrun the blaze: instead, find a closer body of water such as a lake or river. If possible kneel or crouch in the water, making sure to cover your mouth and nose with wet material to avoid breathing smoke and ash. If there is no nearby water, try to find a dip in the ground with little vegetation. Stay as close as you can to the ground, and breath through wet material. If possible, cover your body with wet material also.
If you’re not in the area affected by wildfires there are still some things to do that can help. If you’re not immediately affected:
Firstly, support your community. Make sure to keep communication channels clear in case vital information needs to get through the networks – the more people using a mobile network, the more chance it has of becoming congested, and in the worse case scenario collapsing entirely. Offer your home or other facilities to those who have evacuated, and keep an eye on the progress of the fire – be aware that even if you aren’t immediately at risk, this can change extremely quickly.
Secondly, help constructively. If you want to share information online to help others, you must double check that this information comes from a trusted source (such as a government or authority managing the fire). Go back and look at the data, and when you share is make sure to link to the original source. Be aware that a lot of information shared can actually be out-dated, and passing it on can actually increase someones risk – especially in a fire that moves so quickly. Before sharing something, double check the time of publication, and if it doesn’t have one source more reliable information yourself.
Finally, be aware that online information can be different from offline. Even online information on different social media sites can different. Filter bubbles, networks, and online algorithms change what you see and when. This means that you need to think critically, and evaluate how reliable these can be. If you’re not sure that something is correct, its better to not share it and leave that to the authorities.
Stay smart and lower your risks.