Hazards: Fire/Wildfire


Fire icon

Wildfires often begin unnoticed. These fires are often triggered by lightning or accidents. Wildfires live up to their name, spreading quickly and igniting brush, trees and homes.

If you live where there is an abundance of plants and other vegetation that can easily catch fire, you may be vulnerable to wildfires. After a wildfire there is danger of additional problems from the loss of ground cover, such as landslides.

Red Flag WarningA Red Flag Warning, issued by National Weather Service, means that critical fire weather conditions are either occurring now or will shortly.

General fire safety information is available from the Fire Department.

What to Do

If you see a wildfire, call 9-1-1. Don't assume that someone else has already called. Describe the location of the fire, speak slowly and clearly, and answer any questions asked by the dispatcher.

If You Are Trapped at Home

  • If you do find yourself trapped by wildfire inside your home, stay inside and away from outside walls. Keep your entire family together and remain calm.
  • Close all doors inside the house to prevent draft, but leave them unlocked. Open the damper on your fireplace, but close the fireplace screen.
  • Wear protective clothing – sturdy shoes, cotton or woolen clothes, long pants, a long-sleeved shirt, gloves and a handkerchief to protect your face.
  • Gather fire tools such as a rake, axe, handsaw or chainsaw, bucket and shovel.
  • Close outside attic, eaves and basement vents, windows, doors, pet doors, etc. Remove flammable drapes and curtains. Close all shutters, blinds or heavy non-combustible window coverings to reduce radiant heat.
  • Shut off any natural gas, propane or fuel oil supplies at the source.
  • Connect garden hoses. Fill any pools, hot tubs, garbage cans, tubs or other large containers with water. 
  • Listen and watch for air quality reports and health warnings about smoke and limit exposure.
  • Use the recycle or re­circulate mode on the air conditioner in your home or car. If you do not have air conditioning and it is too hot to stay inside with closed windows, seek shelter elsewhere.
  • If you have asthma or another lung disease, follow your health care provider's advice and seek medical care if your symptoms worsen.

Survival in a Vehicle

  • This is dangerous and should only be done in an emergency, but you can survive the firestorm if you stay in your car. It is much less dangerous than trying to run from a fire on foot.
  • Roll up windows and close air vents. Drive slowly with headlights on. Watch for other vehicles and pedestrians. Do not drive through heavy smoke.
  • If you have to stop, park away from the heaviest trees and brush. Turn headlights on and ignition off. Roll up windows and close air vents.

Fire Prevention

  • Before burning debris in a wooded area, make sure you notify local authorities and obtain a burning permit.
  • Use an approved incinerator with a safety lid or covering with holes no larger than ¾ inch.
  • Create at least a 10-foot clearing around the incinerator before burning debris.
  • Have a fire extinguisher or garden hose on hand when burning debris.

Increased Flood and Landslide Risk

You may be at an even greater risk of flooding if wildfires have burned across the region. Large-scale wildfires dramatically alter the terrain and ground conditions. Normally, vegetation absorbs rainfall, reducing runoff. However, wildfires leave the ground charred, barren, and unable to absorb water, creating conditions ripe for flash flooding and mudflow. Flood risk remains significantly higher until vegetation is restored—up to 5 years after a wildfire.

Flooding after fire is often more severe, as debris and ash left from the fire can form mudflows. As rainwater moves across charred and denuded ground, it can also pick up soil and sediment and carry it in a stream of floodwaters. These mudflows can cause significant damage.

Related Information




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