Fire vs. Flood: How to be ready
So, fire or flood, which of these two are the most dangerous? Which of these two is the hardest to prepare to survive? In my opinion being ready to handle these events, require similar types of planning. In this article, we will discuss the dangers associated with both events, some activities to help you be ready for an event, actions to take before, during, after the event.
Floods are often a result of a weather event. An exception would be a dam breech. While this particular event is not addressed in this article, some of the flood affect characteristics are the same.
Floods that result from weather events are often preceded by thunderstorms and/or hurricanes, especially along the coast. Thunderstorms can drop massive quantities of water. This deluge of rain (especially over a short period) can overwhelm the drainage system and create flooding. Low areas that are often inundated are most susceptible to flooding. There are other hazards that can accompany these thunderstorms. Hazards that are often associated with thunderstorms are lightning, hail, damaging winds, and even tornadoes. We will not discuss these hazards in this article, however, if these hazards are present – seek shelter immediately.
Remember as you are seeking shelter from these hazards to keep an eye out for the potential of flooding. If possible, seek shelter in an area that provides protection from the thunderstorm’s accompanying hazards and flooding (e.g. seek shelter on high ground).
The bottom line is, both fire and flood can be deadly. Both events normally affect large areas of land. Fires, on average, destroy an average of 64,932 acres (from 2010 to 2014-per http://wildland-fires.findthedata.com/) and cost over $8 billion. Floods caused about $8.41 billion worth of damage in 2011 alone. There are approximately 3,240 deaths per year (average from – https://www.usfa.fema.gov/data/statistics/#tab-2) While there are approximately 200 deaths occur per year due to flooding. If you are ever exposed to either of this, do not take chances, avoid the area or areas that have be affected. Fire and flood destroy everything in their path.
One large difference between these two, most wildfires are preventable. As many as 90 percent of the wildfires in the United States are due to people being careless or negligent. While floods are not avoidable, damage and deaths from flooding are. It is a conscious choice to build in areas that are known to be prone to flooding. If someone decides to build in these areas, then they need to be ready to react to the threat of a flood. Damages and deaths from fire can be minimized as well.
Fires and floods can approach rapidly. Warnings can vary from a few days to a few minutes depending on the speed and intensity. Both events are impacted by the unpredictability of the weather. Winds can cause fires to spread rapidly and even change direction. Winds (especially along the coast) can intensify the impacts of coastal flooding. Weather affects both fires and floods.
In the case of fire, winds intensify a fire. Winds often increase the oxygen available to a fire and thereby increase its intensity. This effect is similar to a blacksmith using a bellows in the furnace. Winds can also “direct” a fire one direction, and then suddenly alter the direction. This makes it hard to predict where a fire may affect, making it difficult to issue warnings. A fire can also create its own weather. Fire tornadoes are possible with some fires. A fire tornado (aka fire devil) is a whirlwind induced by a fire (similar to a dust devil).
There could be one “silver lining” in regards to having fires and floods pass through an area. Soils are often enriched after a fire, or a flood occurs. In a fire, the vegetation that was there is deposited allows new growth to occur. Similarly, sediments are deposited during and after a flood. Some vegetation (trees in particular) will only grow after there has been a fire. Jack pines and California Redwood trees are just two examples.
Similar, but different traits
Fires are possible wherever there are combustible materials. Combustible materials can be natural, such as under brush, trees, etcetera. These materials can also be human-made, such as homes, buildings, fences, and any other items that are combustible. If there is an “upside” in regards to fire, once a fire has burned off all of the combustible materials, it cannot come back.
Floods on the other hand can reoccur, even after they have happened, or even during a current flood event. It is possible for an area to flood again while still experiencing a flood. Floods occur in areas where there is low ground, and usually a drainage feature (creek, river, etcetera). As long as the low ground remains, the threat of a flood remains. The potential for damage and loss of life can linger even after the initial threat has passed. A recent example of this can be seen in regards to Ellicott City, Maryland. Ellicott City was hit by a “once-every-thousand-years” flood twice in two years.
[Note: The term “1000-year flood” does not mean that a flood of that magnitude only happens once every thousand years. It means there is a 1 in a 1000 chance (0.1%) or a flood of that magnitude occurring in any given year.]
Fire and floods destroy everything in their path. How they destroy is different. The timeline the destruction occurs is also different. A fire consumes everything combustible in its path, trees, buildings, vehicles – whatever can be burned is consumed. The fact that everything combustible is consumed lends to a relatively short duration in regards to the actual event. The effects may linger for several years, such as in the case of forest fires. However, the loss of life threat usually ends after the fire passes.
Floods have potentially two impacts. The first impact is, as the flood waters pour into an area, the water washes away dirt, roads, buildings, bridges, and anything else that is not secured. As the water’s force diminishes, the water begins to pool. These pools range from inches to feet. This standing water is the second impact. These pools of water damage structures, vehicles, and most other items it touches. Often times these floodwaters are contaminated by the debris or items it has pummeled along its way. This can include toxic chemicals, sewage, and anything else the floodwaters has collected along its way. As the floodwaters begin to recede, mold, bacteria and other potential contaminants are left behind. Many of these can be as life threatening as the original flood itself – perhaps even more. The loss of life threat begins as the flood waters begin and continues until after the floodwaters recede.
Fire’s destruction is mostly limited to the complete removal of everything in its path. A wildfire often burns at 1,472° F (800° C). As a wildfire spreads it will usually destroy everything in its path. Unlike a flood, the material a wildfire encounters do not flow with the fire.
Warnings in regards to fire can vary greatly. When fires first start, they can hit with little to no warning. Over time, areas can be notified of the approaching fire. However, sudden wind shifts can alter the direction a fire is moving, again hitting with little to no warning.
Floods can also hit with little to no warning even when storms are forecasted. If a storm drops more rain than the drainage system and hydrological features can handle, flooding occurs. Flash flood warnings are usually issued by weather forecasters, but a flood can (and does) catch them by surprise.
Effects after the Event
After a fire has destroyed the vegetation in an area there is very little to help contain the soil. Any amount of precipitation can cause landslides and mudslides. Landslides and mudslides can occur in areas where there is steep terrain, and/or areas of unstable soils.
Excessive rain and floods can also cause landslides or mudslides (even with the absence of a wildfire). These can happen even in areas that have not been exposed to fire. It can happen in areas of unstable soils, or in areas that have become saturated.
Exclusive to floods
There is one phenomenon that can affect floods, that does not affect a fire. Moon phases can influence floods, especially in areas along the coast where they are impacted by tides. Tides are amplified during a full moon or new moon. This can exacerbate the effects of flooding.
Get Ready – Before the Event
Some actions you can take to protect yourself from fire or flood include:
- Trim back bushes, underbrush, and trees from your home and any outbuildings you may have
- Keep your grass mowed short
- If you have an area of woods, cut fire breaks inside the forested area to help control the spread of fires
- Have a Readiness Plan. Know what do to, and where to go before an event occurs
- Have a Family Emergency Information List compiled and in a safe location (freezer-see below)
- Keep copies of your important documents safe
- Get certified copies and keep separate – in your bug out bag, safe deposit box
- Have a fireproof safe
- Alternately you can keep them in the freezer
- Rehearse your Readiness Plan (recommend at least semi-annually – more is better)
- Have a bug out bag for each family member ready to go
- If an evacuation order is given, DO NOT WAIT – get out
- Don’t try to “play” the system [Note: An evacuation order should activate your Readiness Plan. Alternately, if you witness an incoming fire you should execute your Readiness Plan
- Take pictures and video of your house and its contents. Also take pictures and video of any outbuildings and their contents
- This will help you when dealing with the insurance company
- Ensure you have adequate insurance to cover any loss
- Keep ornamental flower beds away from the house
- Gather any items (within reason) you want to save, and will have time to save
- Limit this to items that are difficult to replace
- Make digital copies of any photos you want to keep
During the Event
- Gather your family and bug out bags and depart as soon as the evacuation order is give (if it appears there is or will be a threat – do not wait, execute your plan before the evacuation order is given)
- Stuff can be replaced – you and your family can not
- Get to your rally point or bug out location
- Confirm you location is safe – if not, adjust accordingly
- Wait for the “all clear” before returning to your home
- Waiting is the hardest thing to do, but easier than your family having to deal with your injury or death
- Monitor where the fire is, and where it is predicted to go
- Check on any elderly or disabled friends, family or neighbors
- Ensure you take care of your pets and any animals you may have on your property
After the Event
- After the “all clear” use extreme caution when returning to your property
- If your property is totally destroyed – seek out short-term shelter immediately
- Contact the Red Cross, friends, family, realtors
- The Red Cross can help with short-term housing, clothing, etc., but don’t wait, other will likely be seeking assistance as well
- Contact your insurance company to start the claim process (if you have created your Contact List this will be easier)
- Begin your clean up
- Ensure you take photos of the damage, and if possible take video of your property. This will help when applying for your claim with the insurance company
- Watch for secondary dangers after a flood. Secondary dangers include presence of raw sewage, chemicals, toxins, etc., down power lines, dangerous debris, and more. Exercise extreme caution when cleaning up after a fire or flood event.
- Acquire clothing for you and your family
- Non-profit companies and second hand stores can often help with inexpensive clothing until you are able to shop
Just because you have experienced a dramatic situation does not mean it has to have a dramatic impact on your life. You choose how the event will impact you. Choose to have a positive outlook. The most important preventative measure you can take to handle any type of disaster is to have a Readiness Plan. Contact Great Living Sources to get assistance in creating a plan for you and those you care about.