Over the last 10 years, there have been an average of 61,289 wildfires that have burned 7.4 million acres of land every year. While the larger fires primarily occur in western states, smaller wildfires can start anywhere there is a fuel source. Always be on the lookout during fire season if you live in a wildfire-prone area.
What You Should Do If You Are Caught/See a Wildfire While Driving
Since wildfires are so unpredictable, you should avoid them at all costs. If you happen to see a wildfire while driving or if you are unfortunately caught in one, there are a few important steps to follow so you can escape safely.
1. Turn Around
If you are out for a drive and see smoke in the distance — and maybe even the flames from the fire — turn around. Driving toward the fire is only asking for trouble since its path can change at any moment. The only reason you should even think about driving toward a wildfire is if you have family members in danger that you need to help evacuate. Never enter adverse driving conditions willingly.
2. Keep Moving
If you do end up getting caught in a wildfire, the most important thing you can do is to keep moving. Your goal is to get outside the fire's danger zone as quickly as possible. Since wildfires can spread at up to a speed of 15 mph in normal conditions — and even faster in high winds or downhill areas — they can catch you faster than you think.
Always keep your gas tank full during fire season, so you don't end up running out during an escape.
Keep your windows up to minimize the amount of smoke entering the car.
Put your AC on the recirculate setting and close any vents.
Turn on your headlights and hazards to make your car more visible.
Wrap your exposed skin in dry fabric to keep some of the radiant heat off of you.
3. Take Shelter
Sometimes it is impossible to drive out of the path of the fire due to it leap-frogging ahead and blocking roads. If this is the case, your only option is to shelter in your vehicle. You may think making a run for it is smarter than staying in place, but it's hard to outrun a fire, especially with the heat it puts off. Don't fall for the myth that your car is going to explode like in a movie. The outside may burn, but an explosion is not likely.
Here's how to take shelter in your car during a fire:
Park in an area that is as free from debris as possible, like a clearing, parking lot, or just on the road itself. If you can find any sort of wall to put between you and the fire, use it to your advantage.
Leave the engine running and lie down on the floor as low as you can get. Make sure to be below the windows so you can avoid as much radiant heat as possible.
Cover yourself in a blanket, preferably wool, if you have one in your emergency kit, to protect you from the heat.
Stay calm and wait for the fire to pass.
4. Evacuate Early
The real key to avoiding wildfires is to evacuate when told to. Never wait until the last minute thinking you can easily escape. Traffic jams are likely, and the path of the fire is completely unpredictable, so don't take any risks.
Avoid Driving Near Wildfires at All Costs
The best way to avoid getting caught in a wildfire is not driving near one in the first place. While fires aren't always avoidable, follow these steps if you get caught in one to increase your odds of surviving. Another way to prepare yourself for driving in any condition is by signing up for driver's ed atDriversEd.com. Our certified instructors will teach you the techniques to drive safely in all types of conditions.