How To Survive A Forest Fire

Forest fire season is quickly becoming a year round event as average global temperatures steadily increase. Every year, wildfires break records for size and amount of destruction that they cause, and there’s no sign of this trend abating. Therefore, it’s important to know how to survive a forest fire.

Understanding Forest Fires

Like all fires, forest fires require oxygen, fuel, and a spark. They can occur anywhere that there are forests and may happen at any time of the year. As opposed to controlled burns, these are unplanned and unpredictable natural disasters that are typically caused by human carelessness. Dry weather, drought, and dead vegetation fuel intense wildfires, but the resins of living plants can sustain them for days. There are three types of forest fires:

  • Ground Fires occur underground and are fueled by roots and other buried organic matter
  • Surface Fires happen above ground and burn pine needles, leaves, and other dry matter
  • Crown Fires burn the tops of trees and can travel very quickly in windy conditions

Escaping Forest Fires

If you get an emergency warning or see large plums of smoke of near you, evacuate immediately. Forest fires can move rapidly, so move quickly and only grab your bug out bag on the way out. If you are close to the fire, travel downhill since they move uphill with great speed. Plus, lower slopes tend to have more moisture than higher ones.

The best way to survive a forest fire is to make sure that you’re prepared for them beforehand. This may mean planning an escape route and making sure that you understand your municipality’s evacuation procedures. Also make sure that you take proper fire mitigation steps to protect your home and property. If you find yourself having to escape a forest fire, it’s important to not panic.

Staying Alive In A Forest Fire

If you are unable to escape a forest fire, the first priority is to stay calm since panicking increases breath rate and can cause suffocation as the flames consume all the oxygen in your vicinity. Also, remember to remove all synthetic clothing since it can melt to your skin. Try to find an open and/ or depressed area that lacks dry matter, but avoid narrow valleys and slopes. Boulder fields can be good places to take refuge and jumping into a lake or river may be a good idea.

If you remain on land, clear all dry matter within an area of 10-20 feet before lying face down with your face buried. Do not wet any of your clothes since the fire will heat moisture until it scalds your skin. Cover yourself with a dry wool or cotton blanket if available, or use DRY dirt or sand to make a barrier between your body and the heat. You may have to hold your breath for several minutes; more people die from a gasp of superheated air than smoke inhalation, so be ready for this.

As a last resort, you can run through the fire if it’s flames are under 4-feet tall. There will likely be an already burnt area on the other side, but make sure to cover your skin and remove all synthetic clothing before doing this. If you are in the path of flames and have enough time, you can start another fire downwind to consume fuel and give yourself an already burnt area to take refuge in .


Being prepared is the best way to survive natural disasters. If you live in a wooded area, having a plan to evacuate is something that should be taken seriously since forest fires move rapidly and are unpredictable. If you find yourself in the midst of a wildfire, remember to stay calm and act quickly since panic always puts you at nature’s mercy.

3 Comments on “How To Survive A Forest Fire

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