Safe from the flame: How to survive a wildfire

A young family packing their vehicle as they react to an wildfire evacuation order.

Through the thick stew of putrid smoke, the sky above the Alberta landscape was a blanket of unsettling orange dullness. In a rush to escape the fast-moving wildfire, residents evacuated their communities in fear that their homes might be gone when they return. 2023 was a record-breaking year in wildfires, and with the season starting earlier this year, it’s important as ever to be extra prepared.  

Wildfire preparedness 

It’s always a good idea to have everything planned well before a wildfire risk presents itself. When a fire approaches, there may be limited time to gather important items.

Have an emergency kit at the ready:

  • You should have enough water and non-perishable food to get you through a minimum of 72 hours. 
  • Include wind-up or battery powered flashlight and extra batteries, and a wind-up or battery powered radio with extra batteries. 
  • Have a first-aid kit handy. 
  • Important documents like identification, insurance, and bank records. 
  • Cash in case ATMs, gas station debit payment systems, etc. are disrupted.

Have your emergency plan prepared:

  • Establish several safe exit points from your home and neighbourhood. 
  • Plan out meeting locations for family members or other members of your household. 
  • Have a pet plan. 
  • Designate someone to pick up children in case you’re unable to. 
  • Have a lodging plan for extended evacuation periods. 

What to do during wildfire season 

Wildfire season can start before winter has even finished, so you need to be prepared, however improbable a wildfire may seem: 

  • Download your province’s emergency alert application.
  • Keep an eye out for extended dry, hot weather in your region, especially when a sudden lightning storm hits. They’re the ingredients that create the recipe for disaster. 
  • Know where and how to shut off your utility valves in case local authorities instruct you to do so. 
  • Keep your vehicle’s gas tank full during the season in case there are limited places to fill up during an evacuation. 
  • An ember can sneak through an unprotected vent or another access point, so ensure your smoke detectors are in working order and test them monthly. 

What to do if a wildfire is blazing in your region 

A wildfire may seem like a good distance away, but they can spread and grow in unpredictable ways. Diligence is required: 

  • Persistently check the radio, television, or social media for any emergency warnings or evacuation orders. 
  • Have your emergency kit prepared and handy. 
  • Park your vehicle in a way for a quick and easy exit. 

What to do if a wildfire approaches your home 

If your home is in the vicinity of a wildfire, you’ll want to react smartly, swiftly, and safely: 

  • Call 911 or your local emergency number to report it and to get instructions. 
  • Close all your doors and windows to prevent embers or smoke from entering. 
  • If possible, cover all your vents with duct tape. 
  • Turn off your propane or natural gas. 
  • If you have a propane bbq, patio furniture, or firewood directly outside of your house, move it all far away from your home or any structures. 
  • Be prepared to evacuate and check local radio or social media for recent information or potential road closures.  

Be safe from the flame 

This story began with the frightening evacuation from the 2023 wildfires in Alberta. Though even in the most ferocious fires, we can remain safe from the flame, with the right vigilance and diligence. Through our other stories, Safe from the flame: The cause and cost of wildfires and Safe from the flame: How to protect your home from wildfires, you can learn more about the issue and what you can do about it. 

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