RVing and Wildfires

Mid August. Out east this is simply late summer. Out west however, this is the height of fire season. And if you’re going to be RVing out west this time of year, it’s good to pay attention to what’s going on with the fires as they can seriously impact travel plans.

Inciweb map of fire incidents in the US as of 10 am, 8/16/18

Having lived east of the Mississippi until I hit the road, I didn’t really understand the wildfire thing until I made it out west in 2015. My scariest morning on the road was the morning I woke up to a wildfire out my window at Lee Vining, CA two summers ago. I ended up having to change my travel plans completely because 395 was shut down. And besides road closures and evacuations, smoke in the air reduces visibility and becomes a health hazard if thick enough.

Inciweb

Inciweb is a government run site that tracks all wildfires in the US, and is a valuable tool for checking on the status of fires near places you might be staying at or planning to visit. Calling local authorities such as park or forest departments or DNR offices will also get you information, but these lines are often overrun during fire season so I recommend Inciweb unless you don’t have internet access or you absolutely need to speak to someone in person. The Inciweb map shows icons where fires are located, and zooming in lets you see the area that a fire has burned. For this example, I’m looking at the Ferguson fire that closed parts of Yosemite National Park this summer.

So here you can see that the fire got very close to Yosemite Valley, the most popular part of the park, but did not make it in. Clicking the fire icon brings up some basic stats about the fire. Bigger and more noteworthy fires like Ferguson get updated on Inciweb numerous times a day, smaller fires burning in remote places that don’t impact people may only get updated once or twice a week.

Clicking “Go to Incident” will bring up a lot more information about the fire in question, including when and how the fire started, how the fire is being managed, who is managing it, and how many personnel are working the fire. Closures and evacuation notices are also displayed prominently, and there may also be external links to associated helpful pages such as air quality, social media pages, and who to contact for further information. Here under “Current Situation” we can see that all entrances into Yosemite are open again as of two days ago, but care should be taken when driving in the park as there are still a lot of fire personnel and equipment in the area.

We also see that two people died fighting this fire. When you’re not the person directly impacted, it’s easy to keep emotional distance from the threat of wildfires, but every summer thousands of men and women put their lives on the line to save lives, property, and treasures like Yosemite National Park. This time, Braden Varney and Brian Hughes paid the ultimate price. Thank you firefighters, for your service.

AirNow

AirNow is another government site, this one tracking air quality across the US. I’m currently camping near Mt Hood in northern OR, and here we can see that I’m in an orange area. Orange means unhealthy for sensitive groups, such as older adults, children, and those with heart or lung problems. Clicking an area on the map will show specific numbers for nearby cities.

This is a good site to follow if you’re sensitive to smoke, or if you’re wanting to avoid areas with poor visibility. There’s a pretty thick smoke haze hanging in the air here that is swallowing the mountain views which makes for a less scenic camping experience. Mt Hood is barely visible.

Preventing wildfires

  • Never leave campfires unattended, and put out fires completely when you’re done with them.

  • Know the fire regulations for places you’re camping, and respect burn bans when they’re called – that includes not only no campfires, but often no charcoal grills, fireworks or shooting either.

  • Be careful with flammable liquids, heaters, stoves, and lanterns. Store fuel away from appliances or anything that might spark.

  • If your rig has a propane system, check it regularly for leaks and if you notice one, immediately turn off your propane and do not use it until the leak is fixed.

  • Only dump coals and ash from grills in designated areas.

  • Dispose of cigarette butts properly.

  • Don’t create sparks near flammable materials. For instance, don’t let metal come in contact with the road while driving, such as dragging trailer safety chains.

What to do when threatened by a fire

If an evacuation is posted where you’re camping due to a wildfire, don’t wait, get out of there. If you’re in an area that is on evacuation alert, that means there’s a chance you’ll have to evacuate. Pack up as much of your camp as you can and don’t stray too far from your RV in case an evacuation is called so you can leave in a hurry. This is the situation I was in with the Marina Fire in Lee Vining.

Smoke from the Marina Fire drifting over Mono Lake. Lee Vining, CA – June 2016

In developed areas, if an evacuation is called you’ll likely hear about it in person from campground management or officials. In remote and dispersed areas though it isn’t a guarantee and if a fire springs up suddenly or you’re boondocking somewhere without signal, Inciweb may not yet have info about the fire, or you may not be able to access it or call out to ask. It’s up to you to decide if you want to risk boondocking without signal in a fire-prone area when wildfire risk is high.

Be safe out there everyone!

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Becky

Forget about what the world tells you your life should be like. At IO I teach people how to ditch the status quo and go full-time RVing before retirement. Included at no additional charge: seizing your dreams, living boldly, and making a difference.

26 Comments

  1. Voytek on August 30, 2018 at 8:39 am

    Thank You Becky .
    Have a nice weekend.
    Voytek



    • Becky on August 30, 2018 at 8:56 pm

      You’re welcome Voytek, thanks and you too.



  2. Trish on August 18, 2018 at 11:19 pm

    The NRCC website is also good: https://gacc.nifc.gov/nrcc/index.htm. Sometimes it takes a little while to get things on inciweb, but because NRCC is satellite based you see things sooner.

    Thanks for such an interesting blog. I’m a long time lurker, but living in MT, had to “decloak” for this post. Hope the rest of your western travels are safe.



    • Becky on August 21, 2018 at 1:19 pm

      Thanks for sharing Trish, I’m glad you decided to step out of lurker mode and comment! It’s good to hear from you.



  3. wildflower in prescott on August 18, 2018 at 6:13 pm

    Hi Becky
    You might add one more item to the list of how to help prevent wildfires.
    If you are towing, don’t let the chains drag on the asphalt pavement. This caused sparks and started a fire near Prescott Valley last June and 2 houses were destroyed by wildfire. At the time the humidity was less than 10percent, temperature was more than 90, and the wind was strong.
    Thank you for writing this all up. Your blog has become a single resource for a lot of valuable information.



    • Becky on August 21, 2018 at 1:18 pm

      It’s already in there, look at the last bullet point. 🙂



  4. Donald R on August 18, 2018 at 11:02 am

    Great post. Thanks.
    Be a good post every year around fire season.
    Helpful for your new followers.



    • Becky on August 18, 2018 at 1:41 pm

      You’re welcome Donald.



  5. jvgreer on August 17, 2018 at 4:07 pm

    THANK YOU SOOOOO much! talk about serendipity I was just looking for info on fires and could not find a good website, I gave up, went back to my email and gwaaalaa;



    • Becky on August 18, 2018 at 1:41 pm

      Haha, funny how that works sometimes! Glad this helped you jv.



  6. Bonnie howard belza on August 17, 2018 at 11:03 am

    Thanks for posting links they are so useful. We are coming home to AZ from Alaska and have had smoke all the way from topley on yellowhead hwy thru Missoula so far. Spoils the view, tires your eyes.



    • Becky on August 18, 2018 at 1:39 pm

      You’re welcome Bonnie, hope the rest of your trip is less smoky!



  7. Jim on August 17, 2018 at 9:18 am

    Thanks. I use the AirVisual iPhone app to track air quality. It provides air quality forecasts, maps, location tracking, etc. Unfortunately, I now know I’m heading to unhealthy air in north central WA today.



    • Becky on August 18, 2018 at 1:38 pm

      You’re welcome Jim. Hopefully the winds shift and northern WA gets better soon.



  8. Janet bickham on August 17, 2018 at 8:12 am

    Thanks so much for posting these sites. We were out West last year and I had a difficult time with breathing because of the smoke. The fires seemed to be verywhere we planned to go, this information would have helped!
    Thanks again, Janet



    • Becky on August 18, 2018 at 1:36 pm

      You’re welcome Janet, it’s good to be prepared. Sorry to hear that your trip last year was impacted by smoke.



  9. Swankie on August 17, 2018 at 6:56 am

    I was camp hosting near Rifle Colorado in 2012 when I became aware there was a lot of dark smoke about six miles aware. I had no communications so I got in my car to go see what I could learn and find out if it had been reported. I was about an hour away from Rifle at almost 10,000 ft. A couple miles away I found rangers who filled me in, told me at the moment my campgrounds were safe, but that we might be evacuated. I asked how I would know that. They said they would come tell me.

    I wondered if I could use my SPOT device to send 911 message. Two days later we were evacuated, and with no way to communicate that to my supervisor, I secured equipment and drove to her location. Due to the lateness of the season and the approaching fire, the campgrounds were closed early and I was laid off.

    But, curious to know if I could have used SPOT in that situation, I called them and learned that even though I was not injured, nor was anyone with me injured, I could have sent a 911 alert in that situation without being charged for sending a false alert.

    I have the first generation Spot, and the new version now has a LCD screen and keyboard so a text message can now be sent. That would have been ideal.

    I highly recommend anyone camping in remote areas to get such a tool as the SPOT.



    • Becky on August 18, 2018 at 1:35 pm

      That’s a scary situation to be in Swankie, I’m glad it turned out well. Thanks for sharing about SPOT, that’s a good idea.



  10. GKLott on August 17, 2018 at 5:27 am

    Thanks for the links. Good and timely advice.



    • Becky on August 18, 2018 at 1:33 pm

      You’re welcome GK!



  11. Ann in Tacoma on August 17, 2018 at 2:10 am

    Thank you Becky. Excellent post with excellent info about how to prevent wildfires. Unfortunately, each year a number of them are started by humans. And yet fortunately, the land and animals and birds do come back, grow back, thrive again, although it can take awhile for that to happen. As the AirNow website shows, western Canada has been extremely hard hit this year. Thoughts and prayers go to those folks and to the firefighters in every area. For us camping folks in the Pacific Northwest, we’re finding that campgrounds in “green” or “light brown” areas are jam packed full up, as folks from the areas at risk are using their camping rigs to get to safer areas and as folks who had camping plans in those risky areas are changing their plans. We’ve had two or three years of really bad fires out west now. I sure don’t remember wildfires or forest fires this bad before that! I did talk with a Forest Ranger who told me that as the weather gets warmer with climate change, the rivers and lakes are drying up (we sure have seen that!), and so the ground is drier and the plants drier and more prone to fire. I wonder if we can stop this dangerous progression.



    • Becky on August 18, 2018 at 1:31 pm

      Ann, some Canadian friends of mine said that British Columbia declared a state of emergency from all the wildfires, the two of them got some very beautiful but scary photos of a campground on fire up there. The fire season has been worse than usual the past couple years, hopefully next year is better.



  12. Bob on August 16, 2018 at 8:16 pm

    Thanks for these links, now I KNOW I’m in an unhealthy area.



    • Becky on August 18, 2018 at 1:24 pm

      Sorry to hear that Bob, but it is good to know for sure. You’re welcome.



  13. Ron / Ronnie on August 16, 2018 at 6:20 pm

    Becky, Thanks for this very valuable information. As a new nomad/workamper I appreciate all of your experiences and advice that you share, again thank you & best wishes :::)))))

    ronztikibar@yahoo.com

    ronztikibar on Instagram



    • Becky on August 18, 2018 at 1:23 pm

      You’re welcome Ron, glad you found this helpful!



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