Navigating Wildfire Conditions on the Road

Driving during a wildfire can be stressful and dangerous, especially if you are not used to driving in such conditions. Smoke can obscure visibility, flames can threaten roadways, and unpredictable fire behavior can create a chaotic, ever-changing situation that puts you and your passengers at risk. By developing an understanding of possible dangers and taking necessary precautions, you can significantly increase your safety when fleeing a wildfire via car. We discuss key considerations related to wildfire spread and safety in this article.

How Do Wildfires Spread?

Wildfires are unpredictable events fueled by wind, terrain, and available fuel sources. First and foremost, wind direction plays a critical role in where a fire will spread to and how fast it will travel. By determining the direction of the wind, you can have a better sense of the path a fire may take and determine a route to safety away from that corridor. Additionally, wildfires tend to move uphill more quickly due to the natural flow of air and burning debris. Being aware of local topography can help you identify areas that are especially dangerous.

When you reach the road, you’ll likely find your visibility significantly reduced due to wildfire smoke. Thick smoke can make it hard to see even a few feet down the road, significantly increasing the risk of a collision. When fleeing a wildfire, a car accident lawsuit is likely the last thing on your mind, but it’s important to remain alert for hazards in your path. Smoke can also irritate your eyes and or cause respiratory problems, which can make it more challenging to seek safety. Stay aware of air quality advisories and take precautions as needed, such as wearing a mask while driving. 

Safely Navigating Wildfire Conditions

Wildfire situations can change rapidly, so you need to stay alert and pay close attention to your surroundings. Be aware of changing road conditions, which can take the forms of thicker smoke, flames, or increased debris. You may encounter emergency vehicles on the roadway. Always yield the right of way to first responders as soon as safely possible. Even if you are driving during the daytime, it may be wise to turn on your headlights, to improve both your own visibility and to make your car more noticeable to other motorists. 

When driving in wildfire conditions, it becomes more important than ever to prioritize defensive driving accordingly. If you are not in immediate danger from the wildfire, reduce your speed to allow more time to react to unexpected situations. Increase your following distance behind other vehicles so that you can maneuver around obstacles or come to a stop if traffic slows ahead. You should not use your vehicle’s cruise control system, as you may need to adjust your speed to properly respond to road conditions. 

What Should You Do if You Become Trapped in Your Vehicle?

When fleeing a wildfire, the last thing you want is to become trapped in your vehicle by disorienting smoke or impassable flames. However, by staying calm and following these steps, you increase your chances of safely making it through the situation:

  • Stay in your vehicle: Unless the fire is directly approaching your vehicle and you have a clear escape route, the safest place to be is inside your car. Roll up your windows and turn off the air conditioning to keep smoke from getting inside the vehicle.
  • Turn on your headlights and hazard lights: Increasing your vehicle’s visibility will help first responders find your vehicle and get you to safety.
  • Call 911: If you are able to, call emergency services and provide them with your location and situation. 
  • Stay informed: Listen to the radio for instructions and updates from local authorities. 
  • Cover your mouth and nose: If smoke begins to enter your vehicle, use a cloth or piece of clothing to cover your mouth and nose to help filter harmful particles. 
  • Lie low: If the vehicle begins to heat up rapidly, lie on the vehicle’s floorboards to reduce the risk of harm from flying debris or extreme temperatures.
  • Exit only as a last resort: Only leave your vehicle if it is absolutely necessary. Do not attempt to drive through thick smoke or flames.

Protecting Yourself While Driving During a Wildfire

Wildfires can pose an extreme threat to everyone in their proximity, and it’s important to thoroughly prepare yourself before driving during such dangerous conditions. By understanding wildfire behavior, preparing your vehicle, and employing safe driving techniques, you can significantly increase your safety on the road. We hope this article helps if you ever find yourself in the position of needing to drive during a wildfire!