Wrapping up Wildfire Awareness Week
On Day 5 of our Wildfire Awareness Week campaign—a joint effort by FireSafe Montana, Keep Montana Green, the Governor’s Office of Community Service, the Department of Natural Resources and Conservation, and Montana Red Cross—the focus is on what to expect after a wildfire and on how to recover.
“While the hazards of a raging wildfire are well known, people can also get hurt when they return to their fire-ravaged properties,” says Montana Red Cross chief executive officer, Rod Kopp. “Knowing about these potential hazards beforehand will help keep you and your family safe.”
The period following a wildfire can be just as dangerous as the actual fire. Don’t return to your home until fire officials say it is safe. Use caution and exercise good judgment when entering a burned area. Hazards may still exist, including hot spots, which can flare up without warning. If you feel it is unsafe to stay in your home, you can text SHELTER + your ZIP code to 43362 (4FEMA) to find the nearest shelter in your area. Follow these additional guidelines as you recover:
- Avoid damaged or fallen power poles or wires – Immediately report electrical damage to authorities. Electric wires can deliver shocks or ignite new fires. If possible, remain on the scene to warn others of the hazard until repair crews arrive.
- Be careful around burned trees and power poles – Theymay have become unstable because of fire damage or loss of support from surrounding trees.
- Watch for ash pits and mark them for safety – Ash pits are holes full of hot ashes, created where intense fire has burned trees or stumps deep into the ground. People or animals can be seriously burned by falling into ash pits. Erect a barrier with nonflammable materials such as wire mesh fencing or otherwise clearly mark such areas.
- Inspect roofs immediately and extinguish any sparks or embers – Windsmay have deposited burning embers that could reignite.
- If there is no power, check to make sure the main breaker is on – Firesmay cause breakers to trip. If the breakers are on and power is still not present, contact your utility company.
- For several hours afterward, recheck for smoke and sparks outside and inside the home, including the attic – Thewinds of wildfires can blow burning embers anywhere. Keep checking your home for embers that could cause new fires.
- Take precautions while cleaning your property –
- Follow public health guidance on safe cleanup of fire ash and safe use of masks.
- Wet down debris to minimize health impacts from breathing dust particles.
- Wear leather gloves and heavy shoes to protect hands and feet from sharp objects while removing debris.
- Wear rubber gloves when working with outhouse remnants, plumbing fixtures and sewer piping as they can contain high levels of bacteria.
- If you have a propane tank system, turn off valves and leave them closed until a propane supplier inspects the system – Heatcan damage tanks, brass and copper fittings, and lines, leaving them unsafe. If fire heated the tank, the pressure relief valve probably opened and released the contents.
- If you have a fuel oil tank system, contact your supplier for an inspection of the system before use – Thetank may have shifted or fallen from its stand and fuel lines may have kinked or weakened. The fire may have loosened or damaged fittings and filters.
- Check your trees for stability – Any tree that has been weakened by fire may be a hazard. Winds topple weakened trees and the loss of trees can change wind patterns in your area.
- Make sure you do not use water that may have been contaminated – Avoid washing dishes, brushing teeth, preparing food, washing hands, and making ice or baby formula with tap water until you know the water is safe.
In addition to the physical aftermath, the emotional impact of wildfires can be significant. When we experience a disaster or another stressful life event, we can have a variety of reactions, all of which can be common responses to difficult situations. These reactions can include:
- Feeling physically and mentally drained
- Having difficulty making decisions or staying focused on topics
- Becoming easily frustrated on a more frequent basis
- Arguing more with family and friends
- Feeling tired, sad, numb, lonely or worried
- Experiencing changes in appetite or sleep patterns
Most of these reactions are temporary and will go away over time. To find out more about what to expect after a traumatic event and how to recover, please visit this website. You can also request mental health assistance by calling Montana Red Cross at 1-800-272-6668. Trained mental health providers are available to help you cope with the aftermath of a disaster.