Have you thought about what you will do when you can’t call the fire department during a long-term disaster? If not, you are among a high percentage of preppers who have neglected to work this fire preparedness into their survival plan.
As preppers, we know calling 911 will not be an option during a SHTF situation, so we plan to become our own police officers, doctors, and farmers during a doomsday event. Yet, far too few of us plan for an equally important and potentially deadly domino effect like a raging blaze happening without those big red trucks being able to roll to our rescue.
Prepping to deal with a fire during any type of long-term disaster involves far more than battling the flames ourselves. The fire survival plan should include building with fire retardant materials or retrofitting an existing home with them, and manicuring the areas around the main structure to create fire breaks and prevent adding fuel to a growing blaze.
Thinking that rural preppers are going to be more vulnerable to fires than our suburban and urban peers would be a false assumption. Yes, those of us who live in the country are more likely to deal with wildfire roaring unchecked when you can’t call the fire department, but there are equally substantial SHTF fire threats lurking in the suburbs and metropolitan areas as well.
Suburban and Urban Fire Threats
Ponder for a moment, the number of suburban and urban dwellers who routinely use a fireplace or wood stove as their sole source of heat. Few, if any, would be the answer to that question, right?
During a SHTF disaster of any type, you should not expect the power grid to remain functional for very long. Even during a pandemic or economic collapse the sustainability of our overly taxed and antiquated electrical grid will only remain operational as long as a workforce is able or willing to show up and tend to business.
The unprepared masses will be desperate to stay warm, cook food, and purify water. Again, few if any, will have a generator to provide these types of off the grid necessities.
As the wife of a firefighter and a former county newspaper editor who often went to fire scenes, I have seen first hand how destructive, and deadly a fire from just one tiny candle or an improperly used kerosene heater can rapidly become.
Nothing short of pure ignorance will cause an unnecessary and massive loss of life. If your home, barn, and storage sheds have not been “fire proofed” you neighbor’s stupidity could be the single act that derails your otherwise stellar survival plan.
Rural preppers, and to some extend, suburban preppers, must prepare to deal with wildfires (AKA brush fires) during a long-term disaster. Brush fires are the most unpredictable of all types of blazes. They eat everything in their path, and they morph larger and larger thanks to the readily available fuel sources.
Beautiful log cabins in the woods disappear in mere minutes during wildfires – along with all of the contents inside. Lax governmental policies pertaining to controlled burns and rules against select cutting timber on both state and federal land, only serve to enhance the risk of brushfires both now and when the SHTF.
If you live on one of the many western states where preppers wisely choose to cultivate a survival homesteading retreat in a western state or Appalachia, a national or state park is likely situated only feet to maybe a single mile, from your home. The abundance of natural resources and seclusion that such location provide is tempered by the increased fire risk you have now assumed.
EMP Fire Threats
The fire dangers posed by an EMP will be felt equally both rural, suburban, and urban preppers – as well as our unprepared neighbors.
You might be shocked to know there are approximately 7,000 planes flying above our heads on any given day in the United States.
In an Earth-directed X Class solar flare or an EMP of any origin is unleashed, all of the sensitive technology that keeps those massive tin cans airborne, will most likely stop functioning immediately… unless you happen to be riding on Air Force One that has supposedly been sufficiently hardened against an EMP.
If an EMP hits, only fire engines about as old and simply constructed as this one will still be able to run. Unfortunately, most historic beauties like the one below, have been removed from actual fire service – meaning they are no longer equipped to carry water, and have been relegated to purely ceremonial use:
When a plethora of airplanes fall from the sky and land smack dab in the middle of suburbia, the jet-fueled fires that stem from them will quickly encompass everything in their wake.
The same EMP event will prevent all modern fire engines from being able to respond to the dire and growing emergency scenes.
Bugging Out During a Fire Disaster
When, not if, fires are started due to any of the above circumstances, and local firefighters are not available to respond, the flames will mount and move with reckless abandon as they garner more and more fuel – consuming entire blocks in mere hours.
In a scenario like this, you run or you die. If you flee on foot, carrying anything more than a backpack would be impossible. Bugging out in a vehicle gives you the opportunity to pack more valuable preps with you, but only if you can get them loaded quickly enough to beat the bottleneck of fellow future refugees, roadways blocked by debris, and the approaching blaze.
Folks with some type of protective masks will stand a far better chance of getting out – smoke inhalation causes more fire fatalities than the actual scorching hot flames.
Now that you have a clearer picture of why fire prepping should be a vital part of your survival plan, it’s time to delve more deeply into how you can mitigate the risk of being burned out during a SHTF disaster.
There is no one type of fire extinguisher that works on all classes of flammables – so you will need to stockpile more than one type of extinguisher on your survival retreat. Using the wrong type of fire extinguisher on flames could cause them to spread instead of diminish.
There are five primary types of fire extinguishers, as well as both dry powder and water versions of the firefighting tools.
The primary types of fire extinguishers:
- Water Mist
- Water Spray
- Wet Chemical
- Standard Dry Powder
- Specialist Dry Powder
- Carbon Dioxide
Dry chemical fire extinguishers are the most common household variety used in kitchens and cars across America. This type of fire extinguisher is designed to be effective on Class A, B, and C fires.
Classes of Flammables
- Class A Flammables – This class of solid flammables includes typical home and outdoor goods and materials comprised of wood, paper, and plastic.
- Class B Flammables – In this class of flammables you have liquids, like pure oil, tar, gasoline, grease, and butane, and various solvents that a fire could use as fuel.
- Class C Flammables – Fires stemming from these types of flammables are caused by gases such as hydrogen, butane and methane.
- Class D Flammables – Potential fire starters or fuel builders in this class are comprised of combustible metals like magnesium, aluminum or potassium
- Class E Flammables – Flammables of this type are largely electrical components and electronic devices.
Fuel Storage Fire Prevention Tips
Many rural preppers and off the grid enthusiasts heat (at least partially) with natural gas, propane, or even kerosene. If a fire is blowing toward your prepper retreat, being able to safely and quickly drain storage tanks of the highly flammable fuel (and transport them out of the direct path of the flames) could save your home, barn, or sheds from blowing up or burning to the ground.
While it is tempting to stockpile firewood right outside of your door, resist that urge. Not only will such stockpiles attract snakes during the warm weather months and wood spiders year round, they would also serve as fuel for either a brushfire, or a fire that starts inside your log cabin and burns through the walls.
Firewood is best stored inside of a metal shed instead of a wooden one – or at least a shed with a metal roof to help protect the structure from flying or blowing hot embers. Ideally, locate the woodshed at minimum of 25 feet from your house.
If a wildfire is headed your way, use water hoses or buckets of water to wet down the exterior of firewood sheds built out of wood, and the expose the front layer of the wood to offer at least a little bit of protection from the flames.
In a worst case scenario, wet down all of the firewood in an attempt to prevent it from catching fire. If the wood catches on fire you are going to lose it anyway. Better to water log and and still usable fuel once it finally dries out.
Old tin roofing was used to build a fire-resistant covering on the side and top of our wood shed (above). The wood shed should not be located next to any structure to further prevent the firewood inside from being used as fuel by flames that are encroaching upon your house.
Top 10 Ways to Protect Your Bug in Location From Fire
Taking some basic firefighting training is a great idea, but definitely should not be the first step in your hands-on fire preparedness survival plan.
The first step in the process is to spend a day walking around your survival homesteading retreat, bug in home, or bugout location, and thoroughly reviewing the entire property and taking some detailed notes. Snapping some photos is a great idea also.
- Pay close attention to the perimeter 20 to 50 feet out from every structure, animal habitat, or outdoor materials storage spaces. Remove all shrubs, trees, and hanging branches that exist within the 20 to 50 foot perimeter around the noted areas.
- Repeat step one, removing all potential fire-fueling items that exist within 10 feet of the main living and work area near the home, but not directly adjacent to it.
- Never store flammable materials in a wood barn, shed, or workshop. If you must keep turpentine, fuel, and similar items in a workshop or garage, build or make metal footlockers or cabinets to house them.
- Clean out your gutters on a weekly to bi-weekly basis to prevent debris from gathering there and drying out in between rains. A blowing spark from a nearby tree could easily spark dry leaves in a gutter and then be blown out of the metal gutter onto something flammable.
- Keep a sand-filled metal or ceramic container to extinguish cigarettes, cigars, and fireworks. We‘ve had deadly brush fires in my county that were caused by a cigarette tossed out of a car window by a corn field during a dry season. One such blaze cost one firefighter his life, and injured another.
- Invest in a metal roof on your home and all barns and outbuildings. If you cannot work a metal roof into your budget immediately, set up an old-fashioned bucket brigade to douse or hose down existing traditional roofing materials during dry spells.
- Never store round hay bales so they can touch. Spontaneous combustion of round bales during warm and dry seasons has been a problem for farmers for centuries. Keep at least 1-3 feet of space between them even if they are stored under a roof or a lean-to. Square bales of hay and straw are still flammable, and should not be stored in the same structure as animals, but because they are far less dense than round bales, they pose far less of a fire threat.
- Use a lightning rod to help prevent a fire caused by a storm to take your barn, chicken coop, home, and outbuildings.
- Having electricity in a barn is nice, but also enhances the chance of a fire starting around your meat, egg, and working homestead livestock. Consider using solar powered motion lights, landscaping, and lanterns, as well as battery-powered lanterns, and either a portable gas or solar generator to have plug-in power at your barn only when it is needed.
- Cut back the underbrush around the primary living area, home, and barn to prevent a wildfire from using it for fuel and bringing flames closer to your home and belongings. Goats are an excellent way to control underbrush. If you do not free range like I do (at least during non-SHTF times) simply tie a goat to a tire or cinder block to create a browsing area near the unwanted underbrush.
Fire Prepping Building Tips
Choosing the right construction materials is among the most important aspects associated with preparing for fires during a long-term disaster – or at anytime, actually.
Log cabins might be beautiful and a great DIY project for skilled preppers, but they are so very far from being a good choice for a bug in location from a fire prevention perspective. You entire home, and likey your floor and your roof if the same beautiful building materials were chosen, are merely fuel for a brushfire to consume.
The best materials to use when building a home or any other structure is concrete. A building built out of either poured concrete walls and floors, or one constructed using cinder block framing will protect the dwelling, contents, and the people or animals inside from soaring flames.
When a home is built or retrofitted using these materials, along with a metal roof, the threat posed by either a brushfire or man-made fire is substantially decreased. But we all must remember that it is not the scorching hot flames that cause the vast majority of fire related deaths, but smoke inhalation.
Although it is true that dirt does not burn, the ground will scorch during a brush fire. When a wildfire like the one being fought in the photo above happens, wooden fence posts burn, fencing may need to be knocked down to fight the flames, hay bales in the field will not only burn, but fuel the fire, any farm equipment caught in the field could be destroyed, as well as the loss of crops thriving in your survival garden.
How will you feed your family if all of your growing plots are destroyed in a brush fire? In a scenario like this one, the bugin home better be constructed of fire resistant materials so all of the preserve and long-term storage food inside is not lost as well.
Top 10 Fire Prepping Gear and Education
Becoming a volunteer firefighter would not only enhance your fire preparedness and first aid survival skills, but offer the opportunity to meet other like-minded people. Typically, the fire department pays for the basic 40-hour course required to become a firefighter, as well as the bunker gear, helmet, and boots needed to become a certified local hero.
You do not have to belong to a volunteer fire department to take a single or entire fire science course, but you would have to work the class fees into you prepping budget. The possibility of auditing a firefighter course for free or a reduce credit hour price might also be feasible.
1. Fire Helmets
Buying old helmets that still have a lot of life left in them but do not meet current government standards is one relatively inexpensive way to garner helmets for your prepper group fire brigade if available from a department or on Ebay. New helmets can range in price from nearly $300 to $400 each.
There are several varieties of firefighter helmets, structure, wildfire, and urban search and rescue being the primary types most often used in departments across the United States.
The American Classic Fiberglass LION Helmets is a popular model because this traditional style helmet is both lightweight and comfortable. TherMax technology is used to make the helmet, which includes a protective Nomex covering around the sides of the neck and back, and cushioned foam to protect the upper head.
The different colors of the firefighter helmets do not denote any difference in quality. Traditionally, fire helmets come in three colors: black for firefighters, red for lieutenants and captains, and white for a chief or assistant chief.
2. Bunker Gear
This is the heavy and protective duty gear a firefighter wears to protect himself or herself from flames, debris, and sharp objects during vehicle accidents. Firefighter bunker gear is also commonly referred to as turnout gear.
Structural bunker gear, like the set shown in the photo above, is heavier and thicker than wildfire gear – like a real firefighter, it is advantageous to possess both type of turnout gear. New bunker gear coats cost approximately $1,000 and the pants cost around $750 per pair.
Wildland turnout gear is comprised of a protective yet lighterweight and durable yellow coat, but fairly light weight green pants – as shown in the smoke-filled brush fire scene in the photo below.
The gear is not as protective as structural bunker gear, but decreases the chances of the firefighter from becoming overcome by the heat and strenuous labor involved in fighting the flames, which typically involves traversing rugged terrain.
3. Bunker Boots
These thick rubber boots will also help protect the feet and lower legs from being scorched by flames. The gripping tread on the soles and its thickness will also help prevent any sharp objects from running up into the boot and injuring the foot.
They are designed to protect firefighters who are walking around horrific vehicle accident scenes where thick shards of both metal and glass are present. This common and protective style of bunker boots usually ranges from $115 to $175 per pair.
4. Nomex Hood
These fire retardant yet thin hoods are worn beneath the helmet to protect the throat and the sides and back of the neck. The hoods come in a broad array of lengths, with some giving added protection to the chest and back area. Nomex hoods generally range in price from $30 to $65 each.
A firefighter likely has multiple types of gloves, with each being designed to aid him or her during specific types of emergency calls. Common firefighter glove types include: structural, rescue, rope, wildland fire, and industrial. Top quality firefighter gloves usually range in price from $50 to $100 a pair.
6. Indian Pack
This backpack style water toting device allows a firefighter to pack water over long distances an over rugged terrain to help thwart a fire, and can be used when digging a fire break – something you should consider doing if living on a rural survival retreat like I do.
An Indian pack has a hose and sprayer attached that can be manipulated even when wearing thick, protective gloves. The Indian pack attaches to the breathing mask worn on structure fires by firefighters.
Like gloves, firefighters also regularly have a variety of flashlights stockpiled. The common and ultra durable flashlights packed by firefighters includes: right angle, headlamp, strobe multi-function, and tilting head.
Fire-grade flashlights can range in price from $60 to $100 each. Most firefighters keep a flexible head flashlight in their bunker gear pocket, and a duty mag light attached to their fire helmet.
The self-contained breathing apparatus firefighters pack on their back to prevent smoke inhalation is a compressed breathing unit that comes with a timer that alerts the firefighter when the tank is close to empty.
This type of fighting gear will likely be the most difficult to acquire (and garner a pressure fill) if you are not a member or a volunteer of the fire department.
9. Pack Tools
Firefighters not only carry an axe, they also pack fire hooks (bar busters, square blades, bicoastal varieties) either on their person or inside of a vehicle to use to garner access to the flames, or to get through a wall to save either a victim or themselves – among many other vital firefighting tasks.
A special wall breaching tool is also often a part of a firefighter’s manual and portable equipment, as well as a pike pole, long-arm maul, and a sledge hammer.
10. Pocket Tools
Smaller manual tools that can fill the pockets of bunker gear or be hooked onto the waist include: door wedges, forcible entry tools, glass breaking tool, folding scoop shovel, and cable cutters.
If you can purchase used (or even new) firefighter bunker gear, boots, gloves, and a helmet, they will help protect you from raging flames, but they will not make you bulletproof. At some point, even a brand spanking new of the best bunker gear will go up in flames.
Tara Dodrill is a homesteading and survival journalist and author. She lives on a small ranch with her family in Appalachia. She has been both a host and frequent guest on preparedness radio shows. In addition to the publication of her first book, ‘Power Grid Down: How to Prepare, Survive, and Thrive after the Lights go Out’, Dodrill also travels to offer prepping tips and hands-on training and survival camps and expos.