Fire!

Outside's guide to surviving everything

Fire

Fire     Photo: S. Johan / Index Stock Imagery, Inc.

Survival Myth

Survey Says: Moss grows only on the north side of a tree trunk.

Science Says: In shaded or wet forests, mosses may grow on all sides. Aspens, however, exude a powdery white substance (which can also be used as a sunscreen) that is usually heaviest on the trunk's south side.

The Forecast: In April, Texas was engulfed with wildfires that ­eventually consumed more than two million acres and destroyed more than 460 homes. Then, in June, eastern ­Arizona went up in flames, in the second-largest blaze in state history. Anomalies? Probably not. A 2009 study in the journal Geophysical Research predicts that fire frequency could increase by 50 percent in the next 40 years, mainly due to climate change. Cyclical patterns like El Niño and La Niña also have an impact—this year’s La Niña–­fueled drought in the Southwest made the area tinder-dry.

Stats: $3.4 billion—the amount appropriated last year to fight domestic wildfires. $200 million—property damage in Texas this April.

Worst-Case Scenario: You’ve got no fireproofed shelter. If it happens, don’t flee—you can’t outrun a fire. ­Instead, wrap a wet handkerchief around your face and lie prone in a pond or a rocky area. If that’s not available, use a match or lighter to burn off a few hundred square feet of brush to create a safe zone. Not enough time for that? If the wall of flames is less than four feet when the fire approaches, you can try jumping across to the burned-out side of the fire. Don’t have the nerve? Lie facedown with your mouth as close to the ground as possible and cover yourself with a wet, nonsynthetic material, like a wool blanket.

Smart Play: Consider a portable fire shelter. These once controversial devices have been redesigned and are now often used by wilderness firefighters. Be sure to get one with three-ply fiberglass and aluminum laminate, like those sold by Anchor Industries ($323; anchorinc.com).

More Likely Scenario: Camp Fire

What: Your camp stove explodes.

Strategy: The reflex is to knock it away. Don’t—kicking it toward needles and brush will start a rager. Instead, smother a growing fire with water, rubber mats, nonsynthetic clothing, or shovelfuls of dirt. If it jumps into the canopy, evacuate and call Smokey.

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