-by Erik Sargent
The summer months of the year mean bonfires, fireworks, and an increase in the use of various motor vehicles for people across the country as they enjoy the hot weather. However, with the increase in temperatures drying out certain areas, this can become an extremely hazardous time, and can lead to one of nature’s most destructive events – wildfires.
Each year, you can find a story somewhere in the country about a wildfire that has spread rapidly in a rural area, causing extensive damage to everything it its path. Forests, farm lands, and homes can all be burned up in an instant, putting people’s lives in areas of wildfires at serious risk.
At first thought, it might seem that wildfires are more prevalent in desert areas along the western region of the country, but they are actually a threat everywhere coast to coast. According to the Insurance Information Institute, the five states that experienced the most wildfires in 2016 were Texas, California, Georgia, North Carolina, and Alabama.
“Ironically, it’s somewhere around 70 percent of the wildfires occur east of the Mississippi River,” said Tom Welle, the manager of the Wildfire Division for the National Fire Protection Association in Denver, Colo. “They tend to be smaller, but that doesn’t mean they are less dangerous. The ones that hit he news are big, thousand acre fires in the West, and those happen regularly. In the East, we get a lot of wildfires, but because of the concentration of people, you can have a smaller wildfire that puts a lot more houses and people at risk.”
The National Fire Protection Agency is a nonprofit organization that has been around since 1896, with their primary mission being to eliminate death, injury, and property loss from fire, electrical, and other hazards. One of their main areas of focus is wildfires, and they look to provide people with the proper knowledge to avoid starting them, and remain safe when they happen.
“In the wildfire space, what we primarily do is work with residents through the state forestry organizations, teaching them how to make their homes more ignition resistance – we try to keep homes from burning down,” Welle said. “There’s a lot people can do to keep their houses from burning down in a wildfire. It’s stuff that they can do themselves.”
The problem of wildfire is an issue that continues to rise, and finding the right resources to stop them in an efficient way is a challenge for Welle and NFPA. According to Welle, 90 percent of homes that are effected by wildfires are completely destroyed, and each year, we are losing more civilians and firefighter lives to the fires.
What is causing these wildfires to start? A variety of factors come into play, but it’s generally humans who lead the way.
“Nationally, I think it’s in the 80th percentile range that are human-caused, and there are a variety of those causes,” Welle said. “A great many of them occur in the Southeast, because they tend to do a lot of burning. People burn their brush or their trash and don’t pay attention to the weather conditions, and the burn will get away from them.”
Other factors that play a big part in the start of wildfires are people lighting off fireworks, starting campfires, and arson. Often times its fires that are intentionally lit, but accidentally get away from people and become dangerous.
If you find yourself in a situation where you can see a potential wildfire developing, it’s important to act quickly and efficiently to ensure that the fire doesn’t spread out of control and become deadly. One instance of reacting quickly occurred in Albuquerque, N.M., where two movers from the international moving company TWO MEN AND A TRUCK® were able to stop a wildfire in a residential neighborhood.
Movers Sam Silsby and Elijah Salazar were completing a move on a hot evening on July 3, and noticed people at a nearby home in a commotion. The two saw a fire starting in the neighbor’s yard, and immediately called 911 before running over to help with the situation.
“The neighbor came running out of her house looking upset,” Silsby said. “She then said to us ‘there’s a fire in my backyard’. So we instantly sprang into action and thought of what to do.”
The two both had experiences in dealing with fire prior to this situation, and knew that time was critical if they were going to prevent the fire from growing.
“First, we tried using our fire extinguisher, but it wasn’t getting the job done,” Salazar said. “We then started covering it with dirt because smothering a fire will put it out. So, the plans we discussed were starting to work. We were just thinking that we need to get this fire out quickly or it could spread and cause serious damage.”
The quick thinking by the TWO MEN AND A TRUCK® employees enabled them to put out the fire before firefighters arrived on the scene, and potentially saved the lives of residents in the area. Welle applauded their decision to use dirt to smother the fire, and also mentioned how important it was that they immediately called 911.
“The smartest thing to do is call 911 or whatever the local emergency number is and be able to give them a good location of where the fire is. That is the best thing people can do,” Welle said. “If you’re not a trained fire fighter and don’t have the appropriate equipment, we don’t want to see anybody get hurt trying to do the right thing.”
To learn more about preventative measures for wildfires as well as other helpful information about all types of fire, be sure to visit the National Fire Protection Association website and use the resources they have available.