Preventing and Protecting Farms From Wildfires
With climate change exacerbating droughts in many parts of the world, farmers in Africa and the Middle East have had to contend with more severe, frequent wildfires. However, people can take many steps to protect their homes and livelihoods.
Africa is home to at least 70 percent of the fires burning worldwide. Nomadic herders often set small fires during the dry season to clear land and release nutrients into the soil. However, it’s important to distinguish these prescribed burns from wildfires, which spring up unexpectedly and are uncontrolled.
Farmers should regularly clear fuels from the environment to protect their homes and land against wildfires. Fuels are combustible materials, including grass, shrubs, logs, hay bales and trees. Farmers should establish a wide perimeter free of long grass, thick brush or stacked logs around their homes and outbuildings. Mowing and raking give wildfires less material to burn.
Implement Strong Fire Safety Practices
Humans are responsible for most wildfires. In the United States, people start 88 percent of forest fires, while lightning causes the remaining 12 percent.
Landowners must practice strong fire safety habits when working outdoors. Common causes of wildfires starting on farms include smoking and improperly storing flammable liquids. Faulty heating and electrical equipment can also give off sparks that turn into flames. Smoking only in designated areas, regularly inspecting equipment and storing fuel in secure containers go a long way toward preventing wildfires.
Develop a Plan
Farmers must create an evacuation plan to follow in an emergency. It should cover where to move livestock — such as a heavily grazed pasture or plowed field with a water source — during a wildfire. Printing out a physical copy of the evacuation plan makes it easier to find in a chaotic situation.
Where are hazardous materials like gasoline and diesel stored? Which gates should farmers open? An evacuation plan should answer these questions and more.
It’s important to put a map of the farm in the same spot as the evacuation plan. The map should include access routes, fences and gates, livestock pens and the locations of all utility shutoffs. Farmers can highlight which roads to take during an emergency and identify backup routes if flames block an exit.
Create an Emergency Contact List
Having a list of people to call for help is critical during a wildfire. Examples of emergency contacts include a farmer’s insurance agent, preferred veterinarian, the fire department and the local extension office. Farmers may also need to alert feed and fuel suppliers so they don’t schedule a delivery during an emergency.
Inventory the Farm
A list of everything on the farm helps farmers and rescuers notice when something is lost. An inventory should include crop types, seeds, all livestock species and the number of each one, fuel, fertilizer and animal medicines. It’s also essential to add vehicles and machinery, including serial numbers.
Create Resilient Infrastructure
Farmers should place fire extinguishers in barns, greenhouses and other buildings on the property. Water hoses should be easily accessible and connected to spigots.
Maintaining roads is important so everyone can evacuate quickly in an emergency. Mowing the grass along frequently traveled routes also helps people walk faster and can allow vehicles to access more of the farm.
Additionally, a generator can be crucial for keeping things running smoothly during a power outage. It can warm greenhouses, help the air conditioner stay on in the barn and power milking machines. A generator may also be critical for using cell service or the Internet during an emergency.
Staying One Step Ahead
Protecting a farm against wildfires involves reducing the fuel load around buildings, implementing fire safety behavior and building resilient infrastructure. It’s also crucial to create an evacuation plan and take inventory of a farm in case disaster strikes. Wildfires are becoming more prevalent and intense, but landowners can be ready when they strike.