Due to climate change, wildfires are increasing in intensity and size, resulting in damaging economic, environmental, and community health impacts. May is Wildfire Awareness Month, and we’re shedding light on the damaging impact of wildfires, how to prevent them, and how to protect yourself this upcoming wildfire season.
Between 2016 and 2020, the federal government spent an average of $2.5 billion per year on fire suppression in federal lands alone. This does not account for area rehabilitation costs, indirect costs like loss of business or property values, or the loss of human lives.
After a wildfire, the dry, hot landscape transforms the native ecosystem and prevents plants and trees from regrowing. Some invasive plant species have adapted to these environments and grow even stronger after wildfires. Soot and ash from wildfires fall into nearby lakes and streams, polluting water sources for humans and wildlife.
The consequences of exposure don’t end there; wildfire smoke can cause respiratory problems and is linked to increased risk of the flu and even preterm births. People with lower incomes face a greater health risk because their work may require them to be outdoors, or they may not be able to afford AC/heat systems with air filters.
Did you know that most wildfires are caused by people? Follow these tips to stay safe and prevent wildfires in your area:
Keep Fires Safe
Remove debris from your campfire, bonfire, or yard waste fire site. Never leave it unattended, and make sure it is completely doused in water when you're finished. Don't burn fires on a windy day. Never burn anything highly combustible, like something soaked in oil or gasoline.
Handle Fireworks with Care
When setting off fireworks, have a bucket of water or hose handy. Consider wetting the ground around your site before lighting your fireworks and dousing used fireworks with water to make sure they’re extinguished.
Use Cars, Equipment, and other Machines Safely
Avoid parking a hot car or other machine on dry grass, and keep motor oil or gasoline from spilling onto the grass. If you use equipment in wooded areas, they must have spark arrestors to prevent the emission of sparks that could ignite a fire.
Wildfires are dangerous and unpredictable. It is important to prepare your home, family, and community before a wildfire threatens your area. This Wildfire Awareness Month, use these tips from Ready.gov to get ready for wildfires:
Make an Emergency Plan
If a wildfire is in your area, there isn't a lot of time to get to safety. Know your local evacuation routes and make sure everyone in your household knows what to do. Don’t forget to include your pets and account for family members who may be in various locations, like school or work.
Strengthen Your Home Against Wildfires
Keep flammable debris, like dead leaves, at least 30 feet from your house. If you’re building or renovating your home, use fire-resistant materials. Designate a room that can be closed off from outside air during smoky weather conditions.
Stay Updated with Local Alerts
Download the FEMA app or sign up to receive community-level alerts to get the latest information regarding air quality and other emergencies in your area.
Create a Wildfire Emergency Kit
Gather supplies like medications, a first aid kit, water, and portable chargers in case of evacuation. N95 masks are helpful to have on hand to protect yourself from inhaling smoke. Keep the kit in your car for an even quicker getaway during a wildfire.
Working to Keep You Safe
Keeping the nation’s energy infrastructure and workforce prepared for and resilient to wildfires is critical as the threat increases. The Department of Energy’s Office of Cybersecurity, Energy Security, and Emergency Response (CESER) coordinates preparedness response and communications efforts for the energy sector during emergencies like wildfires. Coordinating restoration plans, providing on-the-ground technical assistance, and assessing damage after a wildfire are a few of the ways that CESER maintains reliable and secure energy systems across the U.S. Learn more about our efforts to keep you safe at our Emergency Response Hub.