Unlike many natural disasters, most wildfires are caused by and can also be prevented by people.

Each year, wildfires cause unnecessary damage to property, natural and cultural resources.

As well, threatened and endangered species of plants and animals are lost each year as wildfires burn through critical habitats. Wildfires can decimate cultural resources that have been in place for hundreds of years.

Without protection or fire-resistant landscaping, homes built in rural and urban areas can quickly be consumed by fire. Fires that burn with high intensity can even change the landscape. Brush and native grass is often replaced with more fire-prone California grass or Guinea grass.

With recent brush fires in Hawaii Kai and Haleiwa, the time is now to closely monitor activities that may cause a wildfire and to take action:

•Call 911 or the local fire department if you notice an unattended or out-of-control fire.

•Wait for wood or barbecue ashes to cool before throwing them out.

•Don't play with matches.

•Do not discard cigarettes, matches and smoking materials, especially not from moving vehicles. Be certain to completely extinguish these items before disposing of them.

•Refuel lawn mowers and power saws only after the engine and mufflers have cooled. Use approved gasoline containers.

•Keep approved mufflers and spark arrestors installed and maintained.

•Park vehicles so that the exhaust system does not come in contact with dry grass, weeds or leaves.

•Notify the electric power company when dead trees or overhanging limbs endanger electric wires. Ensure that wires do not touch each other or the ground, causing sparks that can start fires.

Household Fires

In 2007, an estimated 51,800 home-structure fires reported to U.S. fire departments involved some type of electrical failure or malfunction as a factor contributing to ignition. These fires resulted in 451 civilian deaths, 1,641 civilian injuries and $1.2 billion in direct property damage, according to NFPA.org.

The Federal Fire Department offers the following fire prevention tips:

•Unplug small appliances when they are not in use.

•Replace or repair damaged or loose electrical cords.

•Avoid running extension cords across doorways or under carpets.

•In homes with small children, make sure the home has tamper-resistant outlets.

•Consider having a qualified electrician add additional circuits or outlets, so you do not have to use extension cords.

•Follow the manufacturer's instructions for plugging an appliance into an outlet.

•Avoid overloading outlets. Plug only one high-wattage appliance into each outlet at a time.

•Call a qualified electrician if outlets or switches feel warm, if you have frequent problems with blowing fuses or tripping circuits, or if you have flickering or dimming lights.

•Place lamps on level surfaces that are away from things that can burn, and use bulbs that match the lamp's recommended wattage.

•Make sure your home has ground-fault circuit interrupters in the kitchen, bathroom(s), laundry room, basement and outdoor areas.

•Arc-fault circuit interrupters should be installed in your home to protect electrical outlets.

In 51 percent of home fires caused by home outdoor grills, the first thing ignited was flammable or combustible gas or liquid, according to the National Fire Protection Agency's latest statistics.

Therefore, never use a charcoal grill in an enclosed space, because deadly carbon monoxide is a byproduct of the charcoal fire.

Follow these safety tips, too:

•Only use an approved charcoal lighter fluid to start up a charcoal-fired grill.

•Grills need to be kept away from houses, fences, trees and anything else with a propensity for burning.

•Perform a thorough safety inspection before lighting the grill.

•Don't wear loose clothing. Nonflammable short-sleeved shirts and form-fitting clothes are best attire.

•Keep all other flammable materials far away from the grill.

•Never add lighter fluid or any flammable liquid to a burning fire.

•When lighting a gas grill, use the 10 to five rule. If the grill does not start within 10 seconds, turn off the gas, leave the lid open and give it five minutes before you try again.

•Make sure that the fire is out when you are done.

(Editor's Note: Information was compiled from Scott Yamasaki, Wildland Fire Program, U.S. Army Garrison-Hawaii; Angela Sanders, Federal Fire Department; and Brenda Donnell, U.S. Army Combat Readiness/Safety Center.)

Page last updated Fri September 30th, 2011 at 15:12