5 best ways to help wildfire victims


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Wildfire evacuations in California have been prominent in the headlines. Wildfires can strike in any state, causing damage to homes and businesses. Learn more about wildfires and the damage they cause to know how to help victims.

What is a wildfire?

Wildfires are large, destructive fires, typically in an uncontrolled rural area. The Insurance Information Institute (III) estimates that most wildfires are started by humans, discarded cigarettes, unattended campfires or arson. Lightning strikes and lava account for the 10% of fires started by natural causes.

Wildfires need three components to start, a heat source, fuel and oxygen. Forests and plains have the fuel required to burn. The wind provides oxygen. When a fire is started in an area that has all three elements, it can turn into a raging blaze that is difficult to put out. In the dry desert air in New Mexico, two separate fires, each started by lightning strikes, burned almost 300,000 acres when the fires merged. It took over two months to fully contain the Whitewater-Baldy complex Fire of 2012.

How much damage can wildfires cause?

According to III, in 2018, there were over 58,000 wildfires in the United States. These wildfires burned about 8.8 million acres. The Mendocino Complex Fire is the largest in California’s history with over 459,000 acres burned. A total of more than one million acres burned by wildfires in California in 2018. Other states ranking over 500,000 acres burned were Oregon, Utah, Washington and Oklahoma, but practically every state in the nation was affected by wildfires. In 2018, there were over $24,000,000,000 in losses from property damage.

A wildfire can travel 20 mph or more, depending on the geography and wind speeds. Many animals and most humans cannot outrun a fire. Animals can go deeper into hiding or try to find a body of water to stay in during a fire. Birds and insects may relocate when they begin to smell smoke. Humans are usually told to evacuate to a safe location. Wildfires have to be put out by firefighters and it can take days or weeks to put out larger conflagrations.

5 Ways to Support Wildfire Victims

The III reports that over 4.5 million homes in the United States are at high or extreme risk from wildfires. The 2019 Getty Fire near Los Angeles had a mandatory evacuation zone that included over 7,000 residences. Most evacuations have now been lifted, but when victims were forced to leave their home, people wondered what to do to help. Here are 5 things that your family can do to help wildfire victims.

Donate Money

Cash donations can be used by non-profits to help where needed. The Red Cross shelters families, serves meals, supports emergency responders and does much more for wildfire victims. When you donate to the local Red Cross in a wildfire zone, you give them money to do what needs to be done. If you want to get more personal, find a local charity that is working with wildfire victims.

The Humane Society needs money to assist with pets who have been relocated from wildfires. Make sure to find an organization that has a good reputation for using the funds where they say will. Check with the local Chamber of Commerce or Charity Navigator to get information about a non-profit organization.

Donate to Food Pantries

Food pantries step in and help victims with food needs. You can give money to local food pantries to let them get what is needed or you can donate food. When donating food for wildfire victims, consider their needs. Choose foods that can be easily prepared. Temporary housing doesn’t have ovens and kitchens. Most hotels only have microwaves and small refrigerators, if they have a fridge in the room. Some local food pantries and providers may have a surplus of some items, so ask what the community needs before sending large donations.

Donate Clothing and Household Goods

Victims who lose their homes need practically everything to start over. Clothing and household goods are necessary items for families. There are a few things that you should keep in mind. Send clean clothing that you would wear. Organizations that accept these donations don’t have time to sort through clothing that might not be usable, nor do they have time and accessibility to wash and dry clothes. Buy new underwear. Donate home items that you would use. Of course, you can send new items or cash to these organizations, too.

Offer Your Home

If you are close to a wildfire evacuation zone, but still safe, you can offer your home to victims of wildfires, emergency responders and volunteers, or even animals. AirBnB has a website where you can offer your space to people who qualify. It takes the guesswork out of opening your home, because guests must certify their need before they can book your home. Local animal shelters can use help fostering animals while their owners find new homes. You may need to be certified with the shelter, so ask for the qualification process. Again, you can always donate cash to any organization that helps with victim relief to feel a part of their mission. Organizations that depend on donations will have higher expenses during a crisis, so cash is always welcome.


Nonprofits that send relief to wildfire zones are often stretched thin during a crisis. Offer to volunteer by serving in an animal shelter cleaning up cages. If you have medical training, check with your licensing board to see how you can help victims. Many people don’t think about getting their dental aids or eyeglasses when they’re evacuating. Opticians, dentists, and doctors are needed to provide assistance.

The Red Cross usually has a volunteer process to help you get involved quickly. Check with local churches to see what their needs are. Cleanup efforts after a natural disaster can take months. Once the fire is out, families may need help sorting through the fire remains.

Don’t think that you can’t help. Be prepared to take care of your own expenses. The organizations that assist victims don’t have the time or resources to place volunteers in housing. Try to be efficient in your efforts.

If you personally know victims, you can help by getting information for them on where to get help. Let a family come to your home to use your WiFi and phone to get help. Offer to get victims to the right agencies to find help. Although the federal government offers assistance through FEMA, many state organizations also have programs for victims. Don’t let people get caught in scams. There is never a charge for helping wildfire victims get relief from a government agency.

The Importance of Wildfire Preparedness

Wildfires are a serious problem in the United States. A wildfire can occur anywhere or anytime. If you live near a forest, grassland or prairie, be prepared to evacuate. If you are told to evacuate, get to a safe place right away. Sign up for community alerts through your local warning system or use the NOAA Weather Radio to get instructions. If you can’t get out, call 911. Emergency responders may be delayed or even impossible due to weather or impassable roads. Use lights to help responders find you at night or during smoky conditions.

Have an evacuation plan for your family, pets, and livestock. Keep emergency supplies on hand such as N95 respirator masks, important documents, and medications. Be cautious when leaving your home. Watch for live embers and heat pockets on the ground that could burn you or your pets.

Prepare for wildfire loss by reviewing your insurance coverage to make sure you can replace your home if it is damaged in a fire. Make digital copies of your important documents. Keep a copy of important documents in a fireproof safe or a safety deposit box offsite. If your home is in a zone that could have a wildfire, consider using fireproof material when you make repairs or renovate your home.

Make a fire-resistant zone around your home. Don’t have fuel that would feed a fire closer than 30 feet from your home. Leaves, debris, and flammable material can easily ignite and transfer to your home. Make sure to have a hose attached to a water source that will reach all areas of your property. Know where your electric and gas shutoff controls are to turn them off in case of a fire danger.

Create a family communication plan that gives everyone in your family one point of contact. Communication systems are often limited during a disaster, which can make it difficult to get ahold of people. Designate a place to meet after an emergency to be safe. Know where the community safety shelters are in your town. Schools or churches often open their doors after a disaster as a place for families to get resources and assistance.

Are You Prepared For a Wildfire?

Most people don’t think about wildfire danger until the threat is imminent. Wildfire preparation can help you and your family stay safe during a wildfire or other crisis situation. Stay calm and listen to authorities during the crisis. The more prepared you are for a wildfire, it will help you rebuild following the disaster.

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