Wildfires -- what to do after returning home
July 26, 2012
By Ben Lomas
FORT HUACHCUA, Ariz. - In this final part of a four- part series on wildland fire survival and preparedness, the Fort Huachuca Office of Fire Prevention shares information on what to do after a wildfire.
After returning home …
Once it appears fire danger has passed, fire management officials lift evacuation orders and residents are allowed to return home. Upon returning, there are several things people should do right away in case fire activity took place after firefighters left the area.
Immediately check the roof. Put out any roof fires and snuff out sparks or embers. Check the attic for hidden burning sparks, and thoroughly check the inside of the house. Those with fires still burning should get neighbors to help fight them and call 911.
For several hours after the fire, maintain a "fire watch" and re-check for smoke and sparks throughout the house.
Get emergency help.
Those in need of emergency assistance should contact the Arizona Division of Emergency Management, 1.800.411.2336 or www.dem.state.az.us, to find out if a local service center for fire victims has been set up nearby. If a fire is declared a state or federal disaster, other agencies and organizations may assist with residents' immediate needs. However, AZ DEM is still the agency to contact. Local organizations may also set up central locations staffed by personnel from various agencies who can provide emergency assistance or information about obtaining aid.
Landowners should record the burned areas on a map of their property, even if a majority of the area was left unburned. The map should also show bulldozer lines and areas where trees were cut. The burn map can then be used to plan for rehabilitation measures such as erosion control and replanting, if necessary.
Soil erosion common after fires.
The most damaging long-term resource impact that can occur after wildfire burns live or dead vegetation is soil erosion. Erosion robs land of its soil and its ability to grow vegetation. Without this protection, detached soil particles can wash down, entering stream channels, reducing water quality and altering or degrading aquatic habitat.
In addition to protecting soil from the force of rain, a litter layer of dead grasses, shrubs, branches and other vegetation matter helps the soil absorb rainwater. In the absence of litter, rain is more likely to hit the soil surface and run off rather than infiltrate the soil, reaching stream channels faster, leading to an increase in the possibility of flooding.
Take erosion control measures.
A number of erosion-control measures can be taken to lower the soil erosion hazard and protect the land's productivity and water quality during the first few years after a fire. The goal of these methods is to cover the soil surface to protect it from raindrop impact, to improve the soil's ability to absorb water and reduce the amount and speed of overland water flow.
The soil can be covered with a mulch or reseeded with a grass that sprouts quickly and has a dense, fibrous root system to bind the soil. For large areas where covering the soil is not economically feasible or will not occur quickly enough, the next step is to control the water running over the soil and carrying the sediment. This can be accomplished by erecting barriers to runoff which slow and disperse the water, reducing its erosive power and allowing it to soak into the ground before reaching a stream course. Do this by piling rocks, placing sandbags and installing straw wattles or other erosion-control devices. When feasible, use a combination of measures for best results.
For more information on wildfire preparedness and after-effects, contact the Fort Huachuca office of Fire Prevention, 533.5054.