What to do before and during a wildfire

Photo Credit: Kayla Nicole Busse

--Don't throw cigarette or cigar butts on the ground or out of a vehicle. Dispose of them properly and make sure they are completely extinguished.

--Do not burn trash, leaves or brush outdoors; there is a permanent burn ban in the City of Austin and during certain times of the year bans are implemented in many outlying areas.

--Keep a 30-foot "safety zone" surrounding the home clear of brush and cedar, especially for those living in a woodland area. Grass should be cut short in this area as well. For homes that sit on a steep slope, the safety zone should be increased accordingly.

--Stack firewood at least 15 feet and uphill from the home.

--Rake leaves, cut off dead limbs and twigs, and mow grass regularly. Cut tree limbs within 15 feet of the ground and remove dead branches that extend over the roof.

--Don't park cars, trucks, or recreational vehicles on dry grass or shrubs. Exhaust systems on vehicles can reach a temperature of more than 1000 degrees; it only takes about 500 degrees to start a brush fire in the summer.

--Use an approved spark arrester on all internal combustion engine-powered equipment. This special muffler helps ensure that sparks generated by off-road vehicles, chainsaws and other equipment don’t start wildfires. Check and replace spark arresters periodically.

--Maintain equipment in good working order.

--Parents should emphasize to their children the dangers of playing with fire. Many grass fires are started by children who have no idea how quickly flames can grow and spread.

--Homeowners who barbeque should maintain a 10-foot area free of brush and shrubbery around grills and propane tanks. Non-flammable screens should be placed over the grill (with mesh no coarser than 1/4 inch thick). Never leave a grill unattended. After use, place grill ashes in a metal bucket and soak in water.

--Keep a shovel, bucket of water, fire extinguisher, or other fire suppression tools on hand.


Wildfires are common in Texas, especially after long, hot periods of drought. They can spread quickly and produce dangerous smoke, threatening property, lives and health. Help reduce your risks by learning how to respond.

What do I need to know about a wildfire in my area?

Be prepared to evacuate. When the threat of wildfires is high, stay tuned to local radio, television or get information from the National Weather Service about NOAA Weather Radio. Be prepared to evacuate immediately.

Taking the following precautions can help you evacuate safely and quickly:

-- Park your car in the direction of escape and keep the windows rolled up to prevent smoke from entering.
-- Load your family disaster supply kit in the car and keep family photos or other things you plan to take with you nearby. 
-- Don't let children or other family members stray far from home.
-- Wear protective clothing (long sleeves and long pants) and keep a handkerchief in your pocket to protect your face.
-- Confine all pets to one room or area of the yard so you can gather them quickly.
-- Leave the lights in your home on so that fire fighters can see it through dense smoke.
-- Before you leave, call an out-of-town contact and tell them where you plan to go.

What are the health threats of wildfire smoke?

Smoke can pose a serious health threat, especially if you have chronic heart or lung disease. Children and older adults are also at greater risk. Even healthy people can be affected by smoky conditions. Smoke from wildfires is a mixture of gases and fine particles from burning trees and plants. It can hurt your eyes, irritate your respiratory system and worsen symptoms from pre-existing conditions.

Common symptoms of smoke exposure include:

-- Coughing
-- Scratchy throat
-- Irritated sinuses
-- Shortness of breath
-- Chest pain
-- Headaches
-- Stinging eyes
-- Runny nose

If you experience any of these symptoms, take the following measures:

-- Limit outdoor activities as much as possible. When you must go outside, wear a protective mask with an N-95 rating and avoid physical exertion.
-- Keep the windows and doors of your home shut.
-- Run the air conditioner with the fresh-air intake closed and use high-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filters.
-- Avoid cooking as much as possible.
-- Do not burn candles or use fireplaces.
-- Do not use vacuum cleaners which can stir up dust already inside your home.
-- Keep your airways moist by drinking plenty of water. To help relieve dryness, breathe through a warm, wet cloth.