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Jared Kennedy | 07.31.2014

Across the Western United States, high temperatures, dry weather, and thunderstorms create the perfect conditions for wildfires. Over the past 30 years, the number of wildfires that occur each year hasn't varied by much, but the number of acres consumed by these fires has increased steadily. Summer recreation often takes people into areas with high fire danger. While most fires are started by natural causes, following fire safety protocols in high risk areas remains critical to ensuring they aren't ignited by human activity. Inform yourself with the following resources and prevention information to make sure to avoid visiting an area where fires are burning or are likely to start.

Resources

The federal agencies that oversee our wild lands provide some wonderful resources for information on current conditions and active wildfires. These online tools are helpful if you're preparing for an adventure in the summer. Screenshots of each are provided in the slideshow above, but click on any of these links to familiarize yourself with the information they contain. If you are planning on doing any backcountry travel, or even planning a visit to a state park, national park or national forest, check these out before you go.

Active Fire Mapping Program

This website, maintained by the Forest Service, provides a simple map with all large, currently active fire incidents. A link to each provides a basic level of additional information. It includes a special section, Latest Detected Fire Activity, which includes a map with areas under fire watch warnings due to weather forecasts and current conditions.

InciWeb

This site aggregates detailed updates on all active wildfires being fought. It includes containment information, updates on progress, closures due to the fire, and information on how upcoming conditions will effect the firefighting efforts. If a particular fire is impacting an area you're planning to visit, this is the site to help determine if you should take the trip or change your plans.

GEOMAC Viewer

This viewer provides a terrain map with the extent of all current wildfires. It's a great resource to determine specific visual information on active fires.

Restrictions

It's best to check with the local ranger station for current specific restrictions and regulations. You can use the sites below as an overview. 

Wildfire Prevention

Know the wildfire risk in an area before you go. If you are unable to determine fire danger in an area from one of the resources above, call the local ranger station to get their input before you head out.

If fire restrictions are in place, don't test your luck. Every summer a number of fires are started by people who ignore the fire restrictions. Once a small fire starts, if the weather and ground conditions are just right, the fire can grow out of control almost instantly. Even a spark from a campfire or a smoldering cigarette butt can be enough to start a blaze. 

If conditions allow for a campfire, follow the right steps to clear out surrounding risks, and put it out entirely. Check out Smokey Bear's website to get helpful tips, presented in easy to digest videos.

Smokey Bear

Useful information on how you, and all of us, can prevent forest fires. We recommend watching some of the short videos on campfire safety.

Smokey's 7 Campfire Safety Tips

  1. Dig a small pit away from overhanging branches. 
  2. Circle the pit with rocks of be sure it already has a metal fire ring.
  3. Clear a 5-foot area around the pit down to the soil. 
  4. Keep a bucket of water and a shovel nearby.
  5. Stack extra wood upwind and away from the fire. 
  6. After lighting, do not discard the match until it is cold. 
  7. Never leave a campfire unattended, not even for a minute. 

So, as my friend's mother always tells him before an outdoor adventure - have fun, but be safe. The best way to do that is to know the risks and how to avoid them. 

Other Resources and Questions About Fire Safety?

Do you have other fire safety resources you like to use, or questions for the community on fire safety? If so, include them in the comments section of this post.

Comments

Actually most wildfires are human-caused, by a long shot. Also the proportion of fires that are human-caused (compared to lightning) has also been increasing. Dramatically increased # of fire starts, together with climate change, is causing major changes in the amount of fire on our public lands. www.usfa.fema.gov/data/statistics
I just wanted to say thank you for the wonderful article. After a perfect labor day weekend on the Oregon Coast, we encountered the Columbia River Gorge ablaze, our favorite restaurant closed due to evacuation, and later found out 5 backpackers had been stranded all because some idiot wanted to shoot off fireworks in the gorge. These are the types of issues we need access to, and I will definitely be using this personally!
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