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In Michigan, firefighters respond to 10,000 to 12,000 wildfires each year. We use the name wildfire to describe any unplanned or unwanted natural or human-caused free burning fire, which is resistant to being put out. Wildfires can cost millions of dollars because there are there are huge losses of property and a great deal of resources are used to fight them.
Causes of Wildfire
The main cause (47%) of wildfires in Michigan is burning yard debris, such as grass clippings, leaves, and trash. Most wildfires occur in the spring here in Michigan when days are dry and windy with abundant dead vegetation left after the snow melts. These conditions can spread a wildfire quickly because there is less moisture in the air and the wind carries burning debris to other areas. The dead vegetation makes for good wildfire fuel.
Fires in rural and forest areas are hard to control. Homes are usually not close to fire stations, and tend to be far apart and hard to reach. Because there are fewer firefighters than in cities, when some are sent to protect homes and families from wildfire, the wildfire may spread more quickly. Properties that have not been fire-protected add to the fire hazard.
How to Stay Safe
Because most wildfires are caused by people the solution is up to you. As a resident, you have to know the hazards and the risks and learn what you have to do to protect yourself and your property. Ask for help from your local fire agency.
When you do everything you can to reduce the risk of fire, you help to reduce wildfires. The cooperation of everyone is needed.
How to Prepare
- Ensure you have an emergency kit ready in case you have to evacuate.
- Develop a fire escape plan. Practice it with your family regularly.
- Keep fire extinguishers, buckets, shovels, ladders, and lengths of hose handy at home.
- Have at least two ground-floor escape exits.
- Install smoke detectors or alarms and test them monthly. Replace batteries annually, or as recommended by the manufacturer.
- Set up a fire-watch with neighbors. This can protect your home when you are not there.
- Have reliable telephones or two-way radios and keep the local number for reporting fires handy.
- How to Stay Healthy
Smoke from wildfires is a mixture of gases and fine particles from burning trees and other plant materials. Smoke can hurt your eyes and irritate your respiratory system. When smoke levels are high enough, even healthy people may experience symptoms. You can protect your health during a wildfire:
Know your risk of health issues that may be worsened during a wildfire. Older adults and children are at a higher risk for adverse health effects. Also those with heart or lung disease are at a higher risk.
- Pay attention to local air quality reports and public health messages about taking additional safety measures.
- Keep indoor air as clean as possible, especially if advised to stay indoors. Keep your windows and doors closed unless it is extremely hot outside. Run an air conditioner if you have one, but keep the fresh-air intake closed and the filter clean to prevent outdoor smoke from getting inside. If you do not have an air conditioner, and it is too warm to stay inside with the windows closed, seek shelter elsewhere.
- Do not add to indoor pollution. When smoke levels are high, do not use anything that burns, such as candles, fireplaces, or gas stoves. Do not vacuum, because vacuuming stirs up particles already inside your home. Do not smoke, because smoking puts even more pollution into the air.
- Follow your doctor's advice about medicines and about your respiratory management plan if you have asthma or another lung disease. Call your doctor if your symptoms worsen.
- Do not rely on dust masks for protection. Paper "comfort" or "dust" masks commonly found at hardware stores are designed to trap large particles, such as sawdust. These masks will not protect your lungs from smoke. An "N95" mask, properly worn, will offer some protection.