Since October is Fire Prevention Month, we thought it would be fitting to close the month with information regarding Red Flag Warnings.  A Red Flag Warning is a term used by fire-weather forecasters to call attention to limited weather conditions of particular importance that may result in extreme burning conditions.  It is issued when it is an on-going event or the fire-weather forecaster has a high degree of confidence that Red Flag criteria will occur within 24 hours of issuance.  Red Flag criteria occurs whenever a geographical area has been in a dry spell for a week or two, or for a shorter period, if before spring green-up or after fall color.  It also happens when the National Fire Danger Rating System is high to extreme and the following forecast weather parameters are predicted:

  1. A sustained wind average 15 mph or greater
  2. Relative humidity less than or equal to 25 per cent
  3. A temperature of greater than 75 degrees F.

In some states, dry lightning and unstable air are criteria.  A Fire Weather Watch may be issued prior to the Red Flag Warning.  Several states have experienced extreme drought conditions this year, resulting in fires that destroyed homes, property, and animals.  For rural families, precautions should be taken long before a fire threatens property, in order to minimize costly damages after a fire.  All rural families, farmers and ranchers should be able to identify potential fire hazards and understand the basic fire response techniques to eliminate or minimize personal and property damage.  This should also apply to those who have chosen to build their homes in high locations, surrounded by many trees. 

Practice farm-specific fire safety.  Listed are basic suggestions:

  • Avoid fire hazards in the initial construction.
  • Have emergency numbers posted in a central location.
  • Your farm or ranch should have adequate water supply, such as an irrigation ditch, a water tank, a cistern, or pond.
  • Keep irrigation sources clear of combustible material.
  • Place fire extinguishers in all barns, vehicles, and tractors.  Check extinguishers periodically for charge.  Discard damaged or used fire extinguishers.
  • Keep barns and buildings clean of trash and other combustible materials, such as hay, lumber, logs and empty feed sacks.
  • Park tractors and implements away from combustible materials such as hay stacks and fuel storage containers.
  • Obtain fire insurance for livestock, buildings, and equipment. 
  • Develop an escape or evacuation plan, and practice it.  This plan should also include how to transport animals and livestock that may be in danger.
  • If you have time to evacuate animals, proceed with caution.  Some animals may be so frightened that they would even run back into a burning barn.  Make sure to close gates prohibiting access to dangerous areas. 
  •  Remove fuels, pesticides, medicines and other chemicals away from heat sources and combustible materials.  These types of fuels, etc., should be stored in a fire-retardant enclosure or secure location.
  • Ask your local fire department to conduct occasional fire drills and inspections, in order to avoid confusion in the event of an actual fire.

If you are traveling in an area that has Burn Ban notices or Red Flag Warnings, do not take a chance on throwing out a cigarette, building a campfire, or doing anything that could cause a fire.  It only takes one spark to create devastation that may cause loss of life, both human and animal, as well as destroying homes.  Houses can be rebuilt, but the memories and special treasures, such as pictures, possibly may not be replaced.