Forest Fires and Survival

Kevinhooa

Explorer
Mar 12, 2008
332
25
41
Hammonton, NJ.
www.flickr.com
A little while back I decided to take a drive through the pines on my way home from Batsto to Atsion on what seemed like a nice calm sunny evening. I took the road up the west side of the Batsto and then cut over to the east side of the Mullica/Atsion. The wind quickly started picking up and by the time I got to the Beaver Pond there was lightning all over the place. It was neat looking at first, but then realizing the lack of rain we had in the past week I decided it best to get to the pavement of 206 before a wind fueled fire broke out.

Turns out that night or the next day the woods near Lower Forge wilderness camp caught on fire. This made me think…. I’m not sure I’d know what to do if I got caught in a forest fire? Would you haul ass in the other direction and hope your car wouldn’t break down in a really dry area? Or should you climb into a swamp/lake/river and try to ride it, hoping the firefighters see your burned shell of a vehicle on the side of the road.

I know this is kind of a downer of a subject, but I figure some tips could really be the difference between life and death while hiking, riding, driving through the middle of the pines. Obviously watching the weather might have helped in my situation, but I’m sure other people have done the same.

I saw a post from FireTech792, and went to the Section B forest fire service site and was reading around in there. Seemed to be some good info and they had a huge article on Fire Shelters do’s and don’ts.

What do you guys think?
 
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GermanG

Piney
Apr 2, 2005
1,111
434
Little Egg Harbor
The training forest fire fighters receive addresses this in depth. Escaping the path of an oncoming fire in a reliable vehicle and on a passable road is a good tactic but outrunning one on foot is a not if the fire is too close. A wet area is an obvious advantage over dry uplands but the number one safe zone is burned ground. Fire doesn’t always burn in an unbroken line, and the line is often narrow in places. Both conditions can allow you to reach burned ground. In the worst-case scenario, get face down in the lowest area possible, protecting your airways as much as you can. The injuries that can occur to your lungs are far more serious than those to your skin. Perhaps FireTech792 can elaborate or correct me on the current Forest Fire Service policy on what to do in such cases.
 

Chrisr

Explorer
Sep 14, 2008
295
2
Cinnaminson, NJ
Being a firefighter, not forestery qualified, Kevin's post got me thinking. I really don't know what I'd do besides try to drive away or as German said, seek the lowest ground possible. Low ground makes sense to me, because in a structure fire, your suppose to remember to "Stop, drop, and roll" or crawl if possible. Looks like I'm going to be doing some research. If and when I find some good info, I'll be sure to post back here.
 

bobpbx

Piney
Staff member
Oct 25, 2002
14,193
4,292
Pines; Bamber area
I do remember the advice to get onto the already burned ground if you can. But if I was in my truck, and knew the area I'd drive away from the fire. Quckly.:siren:
 

Teegate

Administrator
Site Administrator
Sep 17, 2002
25,627
8,228
I go with driving away. As long as the fire is behind you you have a good chance of getting away. Then I would try Germans burned ground.

Guy
 

Banjo

Scout
Apr 17, 2005
76
0
S.W. Missouri
I would try driving away. If that is not an option, I would try to drive as far from the fire as possible, then try to get my truck off of the road possibly, so that emergency vehicles could get by. I would park on the side of the road away from the fire. My other thought would be to drive as close as I could to any type of wet area. If on foot, I would look for a wet area in order to get myself as wet as possible before trying to get to an already burned area. In order to get to the burned area, I would look for an area with the least amount of available fuel for the fire. Timing is everything in this situation. Smoke and wind direction if any are major factors too. Fires do not burn evenly depending on the amount of fuel available. An area that does not have as much vegetation would be a good place to consider. A fire that cannot race through the undergrowth will creep along the ground, and through the leaves and branches of the trees. The biggest risk to try to cross an area like this would be smoke inhalation, and falling limbs and trees. Depending on the situation, the fire will cross the road, but may not continue down the opposite side of the road, again depending on wind direction and available fuel. One may be able to safely go down the road a while after it has crossed it and reach a burned section.

Of course it would be best to walk out or drive out away from the fire if possible. My very limited forest fire fighting was done in the hills of Virginia, where you could see where the fire was moving because of the hills. I'm not saying that the things I mentioned are the way to go or the safest, but I would take them into consideration if I was in that situation.

Its been quite a while since I have posted here. Hope everyone is well, and having a good summer
 

Kevinhooa

Explorer
Mar 12, 2008
332
25
41
Hammonton, NJ.
www.flickr.com
Thanks for the tips guys. The lowest ground possible, a lake or swamp, or getting to ground that is already burned sounds good to me. At least there is a lot of water in most areas of the pines. Having water and or "other refreshments" would be a nice bonus as well.

Just something I figured I'd look into as I spend a lot of time wandering around out there. And you never know.
 

MarkBNJ

Piney
Jun 17, 2007
1,875
73
Long Valley, NJ
www.markbetz.net
Well, I'd like to think I would stay alert and on my toes, not panic, and move along the fireline looking for a place to get upwind of it. That has to be the number one desirable location. If you can't get upwind of it, then I guess you're in survival mode. Find a creek and duck.
 

Chrisr

Explorer
Sep 14, 2008
295
2
Cinnaminson, NJ
OK folks, found this tid bit of info on the National Geographic site.

If Caught in a Wildfire
• Don't try to outrun the blaze. Instead, look for a body of water such as a pond or river to crouch in.
• If there is no water nearby, find a depressed, cleared area with little vegetation, lie low to the ground, and cover your body with wet clothing, a blanket, or soil. Stay low and covered until the fire passes.
• Protect your lungs by breathing air closest to the ground, through a moist cloth, if possible, to avoid inhaling smoke.
 

local vollie

Scout
Apr 6, 2011
46
3
I would not recommend the wet clothing. The heat generated by a forest fire can well exceed 2000 degrees F. Steam burns would certainly prevail. A ditch, or low lying area would preferable if no water is available to submerge in. Your vehicle is also an option. While it will certainly be scorched, the survivability is greater than remaining on foot if fire is imminent. Fire tends to move through the pine barrens very quickly due to the flash fuels it consumes. You may wish to purchase a fire shelter to keep on you while hiking/exploring the pine barrens. While they are not overly expensive, they are a little cumbersome to carry.
 

manumuskin

Piney
Jul 20, 2003
8,554
2,466
59
millville nj
www.youtube.com
if the fire is hot enough to burn you with steam from your wet clothes then your pretty much dead anyway if you let it catch you unless you can dig a sizable hole to drop into which you probably wouldn't have time to do even if you had a shovel.I personally don't think the heat at ground level would be that bad as long as the flames didn't actually touch you.Hot air floats up and as long as you didn't become kindling and could find a bare spot that was big enough to keep the flames off of you and nothing on fire dropped on you and you could avoid smoke inhalation with a wet rag you might be alright....maybe.
 

local vollie

Scout
Apr 6, 2011
46
3
I assure you, it gets plenty hot enough to kill you quickly at ground level. Having been on many fires and prescribed burns, the radiant heat will burn you regardless. It would have to be a large bare area for one to not get burned. A suggestion might be, wear nomex clothing if you're unsure about the probability of a wildland fire. While this certainly does not guarantee safety by any stretch of the imagination, it will assist in shielding alot more of the heat than cotton material. As I posted earlier, a fire shelter would certainly be recommended here.
 

bobpbx

Piney
Staff member
Oct 25, 2002
14,193
4,292
Pines; Bamber area
Vollie, surely you don't mean to just sit in your vehicle until the fire passes over you. I just want to clear this point up. You did not mean to give that advice, right?
 

local vollie

Scout
Apr 6, 2011
46
3
Yes, I meant just that. Given the choice between getting caught in the open, or taking my chances in a vehicle, I'll take the vehicle. This advice does not come from me directly, but rather through just about every wildland training course I've ever attended. Your survivability is much greater lying as close to floor of your vehicle and letting the fire pass by. Most fire fronts (heads) pass rather quickly. The remaining smoke intensity is another issue, however, many firefighters have survived utilizing this method. A vehicle can withstand quite a bit of heat before total consumption. Sure, the tires will burn, and eventually it will be consumed, or explode, but we're dealing with a realtively short duration as the fire blows through, certainly long enough for it to shield one from the main body of fire. BTW....Just had this last week at a NJFFS class, and this is exacly what was taught.
 
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