The hotter and more widespread the inferno, the more wind it self-generates. That wind fans the flames like the bellows in a blacksmith's forge until a raging firestorm consumes everything in its path. Then the wind blows embers into the sky, carrying the eager coals to combustible fuel, and the fire clones itself in a new place.
Even though hurricanes, tornados, earthquakes, and tsunamis create massive damage, they tend to come and go in a relatively short period of time. But a wildfire can hang on for weeks or even months (remember Yellowstone), defying all human efforts to suppress it until there is virtually nothing left to burn. In the worst cases, firefighters can exhaust themselves, struggling against impossible odds, eventually having to wait for rain or snow to come to their aid.
An uncontrolled wildfire is truly a monstrous type of catastrophe with an appetite that will not be sated until the last combustible fragment is consumed.
If you're ever caught up in a wildfire, there are certain things you can do to survive.
- Get out of the area early. Don't wait for an official evacuation order, because by then the escape routes might be clogged with fleeing evacuees.
- Unless the fire is upwind of your position, head upwind because the fire will run downwind.
- If the fire is upwind of your position, choose an escape route that will take you directly away from the advancing fire. If the fire is small and localized, you may be able to make an end-run around it and get upwind. But if there is a lengthy and active fire line burning, move directly away.
- Try not to get uphill of the flames, because fire burns rapidly up a slope. If anything, try to get to a lower elevation, as long as that takes you farther from the fire.
- Roll up the windows and close the vents. Drive slowly with headlights on so others can see you through the smoke.
- If you must stop, park well away from trees, brush or other combustible objects.
- If the fire overtakes you, get down on the floor and cover up with a blanket or coat to protect against the intense heat.
- Stay in the vehicle until the fire passes. Fuel tanks rarely explode from the heat of a wildfire.
If trapped in your home:
- Move to an interior room that has no walls or windows directly in contact with the outside of the house.
- Close doors, but leave them unlocked so rescuers can enter and search for survivors.
- Don't leave the relative protection of the house or vehicle and try to run away on foot, because you will probably be overcome with heat and smoke.