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The ultimate guide to wildfire defense: Preparation and prevention

If a wildfire started right now...would you be prepared?

Smokey Bear isn’t joking around when he says, “Only you can prevent wildfires.” In Idaho, the number one cause of wildfires is people. And according to the National Interagency Fire Center, 63,546 human-caused wildfires burned nearly 5 million acres across the country in 2017.

What’s even scarier? These wildfires don’t seem to be calming down any time soon. Just as of August 2018, 43,077 fires have burned 6,463,893 acres across the United States, and 13 large fires have smoked through 211,634 acres in Idaho. So, what can you do to keep these fires from burning? Or to prevent new ones from starting? Idaho Firewise has plenty of steps you can take to prevent a fire and to prepare for a worst-case scenario.

Wildfire prevention.

Many escaped fires are started illegally by people violating burn restrictions (which are highly enforced during the fire danger months). It’s important to note that if you start a fire, you are responsible for it until the fire is completely out. If it gets away, you can be held responsible or liable for any property damages and fire suppression costs. So, let’s avoid those costly fines and citations – burn safely by doing the following:

  1. Obtain a burn permit. The fire safety burn permit is required under Idaho law for any burning outside city limits statewide (excluding campfires) from May 10 to October 20. Burning may only be conducted on weekdays and during daylight hours.
  2. Comply with air quality regulations. Check air quality conditions online, call the Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) office in your area before burning, or contact the appropriate Tribe if you plan to burn within Reservation boundaries.
  3. Know before you go. Call the Idaho Fire Restrictions hotline before burning any fires: 1-844-ID-FIRES or 1-844-433-4737.

Vehicle Safety.

It’s important for the safety of your home and nearby wildlands to learn how to use and maintain outdoor equipment and vehicles in ways that prevent sparking a wildfire. Remember always to keep a cell phone nearby and to call 911 immediately in case of an accidental fire.

  1. Be sure chains and other metal parts aren't dragging from your vehicle—they throw sparks.
  2. Check your tire pressure. Driving on an exposed wheel rim can ignite flames.
  3. Be careful driving through or parking on dry grass or brush. Hot exhaust pipes can start fires, and you may not even notice until it’s too late.
  4. Never let your brake pads wear too thin—metal on metal makes sparks.

Wildfire preparation.

Research shows that people can protect their homes and businesses against wildfires by addressing three clear zones of vulnerability: their home or business, nearby landscaping, and the general vegetation in the area surrounding the structure. You can best prepare for wildfires through maintenance, material, and design improvements, as so:

  1. Eliminate risk factors in your home or business. The most vulnerable part of your home’s structure is the roof—if the roof is flammable, anything else you do will be of little to no help. Make sure to also keep flammable objects like lawnmowers, oil or gas cans, and propane tanks at least 30 feet away from the home at all times. Screen off vents that allow embers to enter the attic, debris that collects in gutters and various locations along the roofline, single-pane windows that can break and allow flames inside, and decks and fences that can ignite and bring a fire right up to the building.
  2. Manage nearby vegetation. Fire officials recommend a vegetation management zone around your home or business of at least 100 feet, depending on the type of vegetation in the adjacent wildland areas and the slope of the land.
  3. Prepare an animal evacuation plan. If you have livestock or pets on your property, you can take advanced steps to increase their chances of surviving a wildfire. Contact local fairgrounds, animal shelters, or friends about their ability to temporarily take in your pets in the case of emergency, and keep a disaster preparedness kit on hand at all times.

Raising awareness is the first step toward wildfire prevention. Spread the word (not embers) by reading and sharing the following links:

Idaho Firewise is a non-profit organization that develops and promotes statewide wildfire education for those who live in or visit Idaho. To learn more about wildfire prevention and protection, visit