Medicine for the Outdoors
Medicine for the Outdoors

Dr. Paul Auerbach is the world's leading outdoor health expert. His blog offers tips on outdoor safety and advice on how to handle wilderness emergencies.

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Wildfire Lookout Situations

As I write this, I am near the Black Crater fire near Sisters, Oregon, which is growing by 1/4 acre per jump. The air is thick with smoke in the area, and so persons with chronic lung disease, including asthma, are advised to stay indoors or move away from the smoke. Three years ago we were evacuated by another fire that ripped into Black Butte, and now we are perhaps facing that possibility again.

2006 is already a record-breaking year for wildfires in the U.S. The numbers are on track to witness perhaps more than twice the 10-year average in terms of number of acres burned. The situation is more serious in the western states, but with the heat wave that has been affecting the rest of the nation, fires are a big hazard in many parts of the country.

There is much dry fuel ready to ignite. I just returned from a visit to the interior in British Columbia, where I saw enormous expanses of clear-cutting interspersed with the remnants of fires triggered by lightning. In addition, insects, mostly beetles, have cut huge swaths through the forests, so that as many trees are brown and dead as are green and alive. It is only a matter of time until raging fires clean out the deadwood in preparation for natural renewal or reforestation.

If you’re camping or traveling through fire country, be alert for the following high-risk conditions:

  1. Drought conditions, including low humidity, high air temperature, and gusty winds
  2. Areas rich with abundant fuel, such as dead grass, pine needles, shrubs, and dead and fallen trees
  3. Travel through gullies or canyons, or along steep slopes where wind and fuel can rapidly advance a fire
  4. Recent fires in the vicinity
  5. A smoke-filled situation in which you cannot judge the location of a fire
  6. Rugged terrain in fire-vulnerable country, so that escape would be difficult
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About the Author

Dr. Paul S. Auerbach is the world’s leading authority on wilderness medicine.