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40 Frequently Asked Questions About Pandemics and Their Answers

While the term "pandemic" may be thrown around quite a bit and used to refer to a number of different events (like a "pandemic" of mortgage lending leading up to the 2008 housing crisis), this is actually a very specific medical term. According to the World Health Organization, “A pandemic is the worldwide spread of a new disease. A pandemic occurs when a new virus emerges and spreads around the world, and most people do not have immunity. Viruses that have caused past pandemics typically originated from animal viruses.”

One's chances of surviving a pandemic are highest when they adequately prepare for one and when they know how to respond to a pandemic, should one occur. Most deaths that occur during such an event are preventable. While this is a sad truth, it does afford a silver lining in that, if most deaths are preventable, having the right knowledge about pandemics improves one's odds of preventing those deaths.

Put as simply as possible; a pandemic is an outbreak of illness of global proportions. Such events occur when infection due to a bacteria or virus becomes capable of spreading widely and rapidly. Pandemics form when a contagious illness spreads from person to person faster than public health responses can contain that spread.

Another one to consider is “outbreak.” And while these terms are similar, they do have distinct differences. Here are the definitions:

  • A pandemic is an epidemic that has spread over multiple countries or continents. It is a far-reaching public health crisis.
  • An epidemic refers to a disease that affects many people within a specific community, population, or region.
  • An outbreak refers to a (usually) sudden increase in the number of cases of a disease in a single area. An outbreak is a public health emergency because it can become an epidemic if it is not quickly controlled.

The last global pandemic, at the time of this writing, is the one that is still ongoing, the COVID-19 pandemic, which began in late-2019.

One could create a very long list of things to stock up on, depending on their own tastes and preferences. One health group lists the following foodstuffs as being good items for staying well-fed while social distancing at home:

  • Healthy cooking oils, such as canola or olive oil.
  • Balsamic vinegar, for flavor.
  • They last longer than many cold-storage foods.
  • Consider shelf-stable milk or nondairy milk.
  • Family packs of lean meat, fish and chicken. Separate these into smaller portions and freeze until needed.
  • Fresh produce with a longer shelf life. Try options like oranges, apples and broccoli.
  • Canned or boxed broth.
  • Canned tomatoes or tomato sauce.
  • Dried fruit for snacks.
  • Canned fruits and vegetables. Choose fruit packed in its own juice, not syrup. And pick canned vegetables labeled as low- or no-sodium.
  • Canned beans for protein. Low-sodium is a healthy choice here too.
  • Frozen fruits and vegetables. Choose frozen veggies without added sauces.
  • Dried pasta (preferably whole wheat).
  • Brown rice.
  • Hot cereals like plain oatmeal.
  • Dry cereal or granola.
  • Hard, aged cheeses.
  • Protein or fruit bars.
  • Peanut butter.
  • A variety of dried herbs and spices.
  • Food for infants, if needed.

Pandemics are simply major diseases and illnesses which become global, and such diseases and illnesses appear in the form of outbreaks every year. This means that there is the potential for pandemics every year. Thankfully, public health measures are usually effective in preventing such events, though they do happen every few years, with very severe events occurring every few decades.

Yes. As touched on earlier, pandemics can be the worst type of natural disaster known to man because it is one of the only if not the only disaster event that threatens the entire human race as a whole. If a particularly contagious and highly dangerous virus was released into the human population, there is a chance it could kill off most humans before public health experts would be able to formulate a vaccine or treatment for the virus. The key difference between a pandemic and other disease events is that a pandemic is global. Disease events can cause serious harm in isolated regions, but that harm does not spread outwards and into the general population if the disease spread is contained. A pandemic is the worst type of disease event because it denotes a serious illness that has spread across the entire planet.

The Covid-19 pandemic is undoubtedly the most-talked-about pandemic in modern American history, but there have been others. Most notably was the Spanish Influenza of 1918 and 1919, in which about 675,000 people died, or almost 1% of the entire world population at the time.

Another pandemic that caused immense harm in the United States was the Polio outbreak and pandemic. This crisis was very difficult to get rid of, and it ebbed and flowed between 1916 and 1955. It claimed about 3,145 lives. While the death toll was not that high, thousands upon thousands of Americans, especially young people, were permanently paralyzed by the outbreak.

The H2N2 flu was another serious pandemic. It started in Singapore and came to the U.S., appearing in coastal cities in the summer of 1957. About 116,000 people died from it in the United States, and global deaths were estimated at 1.1 million.

Pandemics have occurred throughout history. For as long as humans have inhabited this Earth, pandemics have existed. That's why it's worthwhile to remember that the next pandemic is not a matter of if... but when.

The most effective ways to stop a pandemic are through public health measures like social distancing, masking, vaccinations, practicing good hygiene, proper diet, sufficient sleep, and other activities that boost one's individual health and immune response while reducing contact with others.

Such a term simply refers to a major health crisis that requires a population to observe public health guidelines. It is a health crisis so significant that the cooperation of an entire population is needed to end the crisis.

No. They actually occur far more often than that. It is just coincidental that two of the worst health crises, the COVID-19 crisis and the Spanish Influenza, occurred almost exactly 100 years apart.

By person-to-person contact, or by humans touching or coming into contact with things that infected humans had previously touched or come into contact with.

Not technically, no. Though the effects of smallpox were devastating in the United States, when the outbreaks were occurring, they were largely occurring before international travel was a major, daily event. So most smallpox outbreaks just ended up being localized epidemics.

This brings up a point worth mentioning. The reason why most pandemics have occurred within the last 150 to 200 years is because such a health crisis involves the entire world experiencing the crisis, something that has only been able to realistically occur in the last two centuries (due to the modernization of international travel).

This subject has been disputed for some time now. Quoting one article, “HIV/AIDS, or human immunodeficiency virus, is considered by some authors a global pandemic. However, the WHO currently uses the term 'global epidemic' to describe HIV. As of 2018, approximately 37.9 million people are infected with HIV globally. There were about 770,000 deaths from AIDS in 2018. The 2015 Global Burden of Disease Study,  in a report published in The Lancet estimated that the global incidence of HIV infection peaked in 1997 at 3.3 million per year. Global incidence fell rapidly from 1997 to 2005, to about 2.6 million per year, but remained stable from 2005 to 2015.”

Though this event technically does fit better under the “epidemic” title, there is no doubting that this health crisis was excruciating. According to one resource, “The Black Death was a devastating global epidemic of bubonic plague that struck Europe and Asia in the mid-1300s. The plague arrived in Europe in October 1347, when 12 ships from the Black Sea docked at the Sicilian port of Messina. People gathered on the docks were met with a horrifying surprise: Most sailors aboard the ships were dead, and those still alive were gravely ill and covered in black boils that oozed blood and pus. Sicilian authorities hastily ordered the fleet of “death ships” out of the harbor, but it was too late: Over the next five years, the Black Death would kill more than 20 million people in Europe—almost one-third of the continent’s population.

Such a disaster involves the rapid spread of a contagious disease that can be fatal. Such events are terrifying, because if public health measures are not successful in containing and eradicating the illness, it could lead to the end of the human race.

Such illnesses begin with a human coming into contact with a bacteria, virus, germ, or pathogen of some kind. This occasionally occurs by the bacteria jumping from a host body of an animal to the human, or it can occur by a human coming into contact with a contaminated surface, a contaminated liquid, a germ in the air, etc.

The best way to prepare for such an event is to practice good hygiene and to be in great health. Even the most ruthless of communicable diseases tend not to be as effective against people who are very healthy. Practicing good health measures in one's home and following public health guidelines (and encouraging others to do the same) can be effective at preventing the spread of illness.

After a crisis like this comes to pass due to some form of herd immunity, life will likely return to normal, though the recovery period for all aspects of day-to-day life may be a long one.

Following are ten emergency tips for what to do if you find yourself in an environment with an active pandemic:

  1. Avoid airports and public transportation.
  2. Stay away from heavily crowded areas, such as malls, schools, churches, city centers, etc.
  3. Get into the right protective gear, including coveralls, face masks, gloves, eye protection, etc.
  4. Procure and use antibacterial products. Keeping the hands clean during a pandemic is essential.
  5. Clean your environment frequently. Regular disinfection helps prevent contamination.
  6. If you begin to feel ill, seek medical help immediately. Please don't put it off.
  7. Do NOT visit family and friends during a pandemic.
  8. Keep to yourself and your immediate family bubble as much as possible. Avoid contact.
  9. Stock up on essential supplies. The less you have to go out and be around people, the better.
  10. Isolate, isolate, isolate. Stay indoors as much as possible and away from your neighbors.

A pandemic is a unique natural disaster in that it is almost guaranteed you and your family will survive if you simply eliminate all contact with other humans. Unlike other disasters that are entirely nature-based, pandemics can only exist with the human component. If you and your family can isolate yourselves from others, you stand a high chance of surviving the crisis.

Yes. Most experts agree that, while our capacities for battling such events are improving, major disease events are getting much worse very quickly.

A pandemic is never just a "one time" event. Once a new virus or pathogen introduces itself into the human population, it will likely make a comeback, even after it appears to recede. With that being said, most pandemics come in waves, meaning they appear and "disappear" about two or three times over the course of one to two years.

Such events can lead to widespread problems including mass deaths, illness, economic shutdown, infrastructure failure, joblessness, poverty, premature deaths, serious societal harm, increased crime, reduced educational attainment, problems with international relations, etc.

Pandemics can reach as far as wherever humans live. For example, consider Covid-19, arguably the worst pandemic to strike the United States since the Spanish Influenza of the early-1900s. Covid-19 not only reached every single country on Planet Earth, but there were even Covid-19 cases in Antarctica!

That depends entirely on how contagious the virus is. In the case of Covid-19 and its variants, because the virus was especially contagious, the pandemic spread very quickly. The outbreak started in Wuhan, China. But despite the efforts of governments across the planet to prevent spread, Covid-19 had made its way into several countries in a matter of weeks, dozens of countries within a matter of months, and the entire planet in less than a year.

Densely populated urban areas are always at the highest risk for viral spread. The most densely populated cities in the U.S. are:

  • New York
  • San Francisco
  • Boston
  • Miami
  • Chicago
  • Philadelphia
  • Washington, DC
  • Long Beach
  • Seattle
  • Los Angeles

And the most densely populated states/territories/districts in the U.S. are:

  • New Jersey
  • Puerto Rico
  • Rhode Island
  • Massachusetts
  • Maryland
  • Delaware
  • New York
  • Florida
  • Pennsylvania
  • Ohio

Yes. Even if a significant percentage of a population becomes inoculated against a particular virus, a pandemic can resurge and come back. If herd immunity is not achieved, a population is always at risk for a reappearance of a virus and a resulting pandemic. The Mayo Clinic defines herd immunity as such, “Herd immunity occurs when a large portion of a community (the herd) becomes immune to a disease, making the spread of disease from person to person unlikely. As a result, the whole community becomes protected — not just those who are immune.”

Pandemics are more likely to occur when unsanitary conditions are prevalent and when people in an environment are not following basic public health and hygiene practices. Pandemics are also more likely when people are not taking care of their health. As it turns out, common-sense strategies like good hygiene, practicing good health, taking care of one's immune system, following public health protocols, and maintaining sanitized homes, businesses, and restaurants all go a long way towards preventing pandemics.

There is a long but important answer to this question that cites meticulous research done by an international coalition of virologists.

The big question on everyone's mind is this. Are pandemics going to become more common in future years? The hard answer is yes. According to Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, there are five, key points that will undoubtedly make pandemics more common (and more serious) in the future:

Global Travel.

  • "In 2020, people in many countries around the world are almost as used to hopping on an international flight as they are catching a bus or a train to another city. Air travel makes it possible for someone to travel halfway across the globe in less time than it takes for many diseases to incubate, making it extremely difficult to prevent their spread. In 1990, 1 billion people travelled by air, a number that more than quadrupled to 4.2 billion by 2018."


  • "In 1950, roughly two-thirds of the world lived in rural settings, and the rest in urban dwellings. By 2050 the UN predicts this will have reversed, with 66% of people living in urbanized settings in which infectious diseases can thrive, without adequate health systems that can deal with these threats."

Climate Change.

  • "Between 2030 and 2050, climate change will kill an additional quarter of a million people a year through the spread of infectious diseases such as malaria and dengue fever. An increasing risk of flooding, which can be brought about by more frequent extreme weather events, also means that outbreaks of waterborne diseases, like cholera and other diarrheal diseases, are also much more likely. And climate change is also radically changing where people live, with climate shock events resulting in significant human displacement, often leading to populations moving into already-crowded cities or sometimes crossing borders into other countries. This can trigger conflict and an increase in the number of people living in refugee camps, where infectious disease epidemics can spiral out of control."

Increased Human-Animal Contact.

  • "The way in which people and animals come into contact today is significantly increasing the risk of outbreaks of zoonotic diseases – those that originate in animals. When pathogens jump the species barrier, from animals to humans, their ability to spread and the severity of the disease they cause is a potentially lethal unknown."

Health Worker Shortages.

  • "The constant migration of nurses from low- and middle-income countries to high-income countries has left many nations in Africa, Asia, and Latin America with too few nurses and other health workers to adequately care for their populations. These are also the regions where epidemic diseases, with the potential to become pandemics, are most likely to originate."

If you are going to be in close proximity with others, wear a face mask. If you're going to be touching high-contact items, such as while on public transit, wear gloves and do not touch your skin with your gloved hands. When you get home, take your shoes off and leave them outside. Spray them with disinfectant.

Use a spray or wipe disinfectant on the parts of your car that you would touch frequently. Drive with the air on and make sure your airflow settings are adjusted so that fresh air is being brought into the car. Try to reduce having other people in the car with you.

Clean and sanitize the following, high-touch areas:

  • Children’s areas
  • Doorknobs
  • Stair rails
  • Countertops
  • Faucets
  • Phones
  • Desktops
  • Tables
  • Chair arms
  • End tables
  • Personal electronic devices
  • Keys
  • Credit cards
  • Tablets
  • Remote controls
  • Keyboards
  • Pens

Other ways to sanitize the home include doing laundry frequently, cleaning the floors often, sanitizing the bathroom and kitchen more frequently than usual, and airing the house out often (opening the windows, running fans, increasing airflow, etc.)

  Follow a similar protocol as you would when sanitizing your home. Disinfect commonly touched surfaces, clean the floors frequently, ensure sufficient air flow and filtration, etc.

That depends entirely on the type of pandemic. Not all disinfectants will be effective against all germs and bacteria. Basic household disinfectants like hydrogen peroxide are almost always sufficient, but be sure to check with local health officials to see if there is a specialty disinfectant that you should use for the specific pandemic you are in.

Sanitize these items frequently, and do not touch them with your bare skin if you can avoid it.

If you are a civilian, you should ensure that you have disposable face masks and disposable gloves. A face shield can also help prevent infection. If you are a medical expert or first responder, you should ensure that you have full PPE to cover and protect your entire body.

Any germ, virus, or bacteria that can be transmitted from one human to the next has the potential of causing a pandemic.

Avoid any and all activities that involve gatherings of people. This includes sporting events, movie theaters, shopping malls, rallies, college or school events, club meetings, etc. The goal must be one of reducing human contact as much as possible.

One of the best ways to stay healthy and well during a pandemic is to maintain great hygiene. Wash your hands when you're engaged in the following:

  • Blowing your nose, coughing, or sneezing
  • Using the bathroom
  • Before and after food preparation
  • Before and after eating
  • Before and after caring for an ill person
  • Before and after treating a cut or wound
  • After handling garbage
  • After touching an animal

Use soap and hot water when you wash your hands. Scrub them thoroughly for at least twenty seconds. Use a clean towel to dry them.

Use hand sanitizers often. Not a substitute for hand washing, but they do help to prevent the spread of infection.

Another good personal hygiene practice is to limit or eliminate the sharing of personal items. Don't share utensils, drinking glasses, dishes, bedding, towels, combs, brushes, razors, and other personal items.

Avoid hand-to-face contact. Get into the habit of refraining from touching your face.

Cover coughs and sneezes to prevent the spread of germs, and avoid contact with those who are ill. Insist those who are ill self-isolate themselves.

If you are sick, you should quarantine. If someone else is sick, they should quarantine. If you have come into contact with someone who is sick or someone else has come into contact with you while you are sick, you should both quarantine.


  • Do use a tissue or an elbow when you sneeze or cough.
  • Do leave your shoes outside before entering your home.
  • Do throw away gloves and masks after every use.
  • Do disinfect everyday-use items.
  • Do wear a mask when you're around other people, and maintain a distance of six feet.
  • Do say hi and be friendly to people. Hard times are best lived through with solidarity and kindness to others.


  • Don't share utensils with others.
  • Don't share towels or other personal items.
  • Don't use cleaning products with alcohol content over 90% (the alcohol will evaporate before it kills viruses.
  • Don't go to work, school, or out in public when you are sick.
  • Do not touch other people unless you absolutely have to.

20 Frequently Asked Questions About Heat Waves and Their Answers

A: When we think of natural disasters, we usually think of serious crisis-level events like hurricanes, tsunamis, earthquakes, tornadoes, etc. But these are not the only natural disasters that pose a serious risk to people living in the United States and across the world. Other disasters can occur in the form of more sinister, less obvious natural events, like a sudden and serious change in temperature. When the temperature spikes very high into an uncomfortable and even dangerous realm, that is considered a heat wave.

A: Such events are not discussed as often as other natural disasters. And that's mainly because they are not as newsworthy or eye-opening as hurricanes, tornadoes, earthquakes, or tsunamis. But they are no less dangerous. Extreme spikes in heat can be extremely harmful if one does not prepare for them.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration defines them as follows: "A heat wave is simply a period of unusually hot weather that typically lasts two or more days. The temperatures have to be outside the historical averages for a given area. A couple of 95 degree summer days in Maine, for example, might be considered a heat wave, but a couple of 95 degree summer days in Death Valley would be pretty unremarkable."

Such events are formed by immobile, trapped air. When air is trapped over a landmass and is unable to move around the globe, that air begins to warm up, much like the air in an oven. Again quoting the NOAAA:

"High-pressure systems force air downward. This force prevents air near the ground from rising. The sinking air acts like a cap. It traps warm ground air in place. Without rising air, there is no rain, and nothing to prevent the hot air from getting hotter."

A: Such events are measured by the heat index. According to one resource, “The heat index, also known as the apparent temperature, is what the temperature feels like to the human body when relative humidity is combined with the air temperature. This has important considerations for the human body's comfort. When the body gets too hot, it begins to perspire or sweat to cool itself off.” One of the best ways to protect oneself and others from a heat wave or a deep freeze is to closely monitor weather reports when conditions indicate excessive heat or cold. Here are some terms to watch out for:

  • A heat watch indicates that there is the potential for the heat index to exceed 105-110 degrees within the next 24 to 48 hours.
  • heat warning indicates the heat is expected to exceed 105-110 degrees in the next 12 to 24 hours.

A: The following states are most at risk:

  • Mississippi
  • Oklahoma
  • South Carolina
  • Texas
  • Georgia
  • South Dakota
  • California
  • Alabama
  • Louisiana
  • Hawaii
  • Florida
  • Arizona
  • New Mexico
  • Nevada

A: As the planet continues to warm as a result of climate change, more frequent cases of extreme heat is all but guaranteed. Hot weather is more frequent than it used to be. There is no questioning that. According to the Center for Climate and Energy Solutions:

“Across the globe, hot days are getting hotter and more frequent, while we're experiencing fewer cold days. Over the past decade, daily record temperatures have occurred twice as often as record lows across the continental United States, up from a near 1:1 ratio in the 1950s. Heat waves are becoming more common, and intense heat waves are more frequent.”

A: Yes. Because of the serious risk to human life that such events pose, they are considered natural disasters.

A: According to the CDC, “Extreme heat events can be dangerous to health – even fatal. These events result in increased hospital admissions for heat- related illness, as well as cardiovascular and respiratory disorders. Extreme heat events can trigger a variety of heat stress conditions, such as heat stroke.”

A: The phenomenon that causes this is simpler than one might think. From the experts at the NOAAA, “During heat waves, the air becomes stagnant and traps emitted pollutants, often resulting in increases in surface ozone.”

A: There is usually sufficient warning of a heat wave, as weather predictors often manifest themselves clearly in the days leading up to the event. Keeping an eye on the weather channel is a good way to help prepare for a heat wave. To further prepare for such an event, it’s always a good idea to have fresh water on-hand and at all times. Having shade or something that can create shade, like a large umbrella, is also a good idea. And finally, a first aid kit and electrolyte-rich liquids on-hand can help protect someone during a serious heat event.

A: When humans are exposed to a heat wave, they can experience cramps, swelling, fainting, heat stroke, heat exhaustion, etc. Young children and the elderly are most likely to experience heat exhaustion and other heat-related health hazards.

Such events can also be fatal too, the most concerning risk factor of them all. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about 50 Americans die every year from exposure to heat wave weather events. The death toll per capita is much higher in undeveloped countries that do not always have access to air conditioning, clean water, and medical responders.

A: Thankfully, those who pay close attention to heat waves and deep freezes should get plenty of warning that such a weather event is likely to occur. But if you find yourself trapped in particularly hot weather, refer to the following tips:

Drink plenty of water during a heat spike! Drink before you feel thirsty.

Balance water intake during an increase in outside temperature with salt, potassium, and other electrolytes.

If you don't have salt or potassium tablets on hand, eat bananas or raisins.

Heat can KILL. Get out of the sun, seek shaded areas, and get cool as soon as possible.

Apply ice packs to the neck, wrists, ankles, groin, and armpits. Get into cold water if possible.

A heat wave can be lethal. But the worst of such a weather event can be avoided when properly planned for. Don't let you or your family be stuck outdoors and exposed during such an event.

A: The primary difference with these weather events is their extreme and unusual characteristics. Heat events denote temperature surges and drops that are extreme and unusual for that geographic area. A heat spike can cause roads to buckle, making travel by car complicated and preventing emergency medical responders from reaching victims in time. Heat surges can also cause massive damage to agricultural production, potentially disrupting the food supply.

When trying to understand the potential damage of an extreme heat event, it helps to analyze historical events. The worst heat surge event in modern U.S. history was undoubtedly the 1936 North American Heat Wave. This heat wave took place in the middle of the Great Depression and during the Dust Bowl of the 1930s. The weather event caused catastrophic human suffering and an enormous economic toll. The death toll exceeded 5,000 lives lost, partially because the heat wave destroyed many crops.

A: Such a heat event begins at ranges over 90 degrees Fahrenheit and goes up from there. The effects of a such a heating event are made much worse if the humidity level is also particularly high.

A: DO drink water, stay out of the sun, apply cold presses and ice packs to your neck, wrists, ankles, and groin. Take salt and potassium, as well as electrolytes. Stay cool and in the shade if possible.

Do NOT go outside, exercise, labor physically, stay in the sun, or otherwise overly expose yourself to the heat or exertion.

A: While you should not go outside during such a heat event, if you are outside, try looking over a flat, empty ground. You may see a shimmering-like refraction of light coming up off the ground.

A: While animals tend to be naturally more resilient to extreme changes in temperature than humans are, they are also most certainly at risk. If you have pets, livestock, or other animals under your care, try to get them out of the sun, into a cool place, and be sure they have access to water.

A: Such events are more common in the late spring, summer, and early fall. Such an event can last anywhere from a few hours to several days.

A: Such events are named “waves” for a reason. The waves you are seeing when you stare out over flat land during such a heat event. Such is the result of a phenomenon called “refraction.” Refraction occurs when light that is passing through one substance, like air, changes its speed when it passes through particularly hot air, like the air over a blacktop road during a serious heat event.

A: When people are very hot, they don’t want to do much else but rest in the shade, drink water, and try to stay cool/out of the sun. For laborers, farmers, factory workers, and much of the working class at large, a heat wave can mean a death sentence if workers are forced to work in it. Thankfully, the United States has considerable safety rules and regulations that protect workers during such natural disasters as an extreme spike in heat.

The flip side of that coin, however, is that the economy suffers during such an event. A small price to pay, certainly, to save workers’ lives. But a price nonetheless. Quoting one body of research, “Multiple areas of the economic sector experience reduced worker productivity during heatwaves, especially agriculture and construction. Globally, 2% of total working hours is projected to be lost every year, either because it is too hot to work or because workers have to work at a slower pace.”

A: Alarmingly, scientists have been able to prove that there is a direct correlation between rises in temperature and acts of violence. In a nutshell, when the heat is on, humans are more likely to commit acts of aggression upon each other. This is quite concerning, because as the temperature of the planet warms, it portends that there will be more acts of aggression and violence in the future.

We already know that such surges in temperature result in serious threats to physical health. But what if spikes in heat also create risks to psychological health? What if heat events cause or at least contribute to violence? Quoting some of the research, “On average, overall crime increases by 2.2% and violent crime by 5.7% on days with maximum daily temperatures above 85 degrees Fahrenheit (29.4° C) compared to days below that threshold. Heat only affects violent crimes while property crimes are not affected by higher temperatures.”

30 Frequently Asked Questions About Wildfires and Their Answers

A: Such a blaze can start with anything from a cigarette butt or a spark from a car’s muffler to a lightning strike or a tree falling against a power line. Unfortunately, there are many ways in which such fires can take off.

A: Human carelessness is the most common cause of wildfires. Humans cause more than 85% of wildfires in the United States. However, there are other causes of wildfires, including lightning, volcanic eruption, and spontaneous combustion.

A: From a quiet, peaceful night to a sudden roaring blaze in just minutes, wildfires are serious disasters that kill about 339,000 people across the world each year. Wildfires can happen anywhere, they spread rapidly, and they must be prepared for. The first step towards protecting yourself from a wildfire begins with knowing what wildfires are, how they form, and what about them makes them dangerous.

According to the United Nations Office of Outer Space Affairs (a department that helps monitor wildfires from space), wildfires are defined as, “Wildfire, also called forest, bush or vegetation fire, can be described as any uncontrolled and non-prescribed combustion or burning of plants in a natural setting such as a forest, grassland, brush land or tundra, which consumes the natural fuels and spreads based on environmental conditions (e.g., wind, topography). Wildfire can be incited by human actions (such as land clearing), extreme drought, or in rare cases by lightning.”

A: In most of the natural disaster sections we've discussed so far, the key has been to focus on protecting yourself and your family from the disaster. This has been the focus because most of the disasters discussed have been natural disasters. And while some fires are natural in their cause, most of them are caused by humans.

That's why no discussion of such fire events is not complete without a discussion about prevention. When humans follow basic wildfire prevention techniques, such events rarely occur. Here are some prevention points to keep in mind:

  • Only you can prevent wildfires.
  • Always be careful with fire.
  • Never play with matches or lighters. Fire is not a toy.
  • Always watch your campfire.
  • Make sure your campfire is completely out before leaving it.
  • Don't ever toss a cigarette butt into the woods.
  • Don't park a car in dry, grassy areas as residual heat from exhaust systems can ignite dry grass.
  • Make certain recreational vehicles have operating spark arrestors.
  • Make sure you are aware of current fire risks in any area you are living or traveling through.
  • Do not use fireworks or incendiary ammunition in dry, forested areas.
  • It is illegal to use fireworks or incendiary ammunition on all DNR-protected lands, regardless of conditions.
  • Make sure a campfire is cold before leaving it. Douse it with water so it is completely out.
  • Wildfires can start in residential backyards. Make sure your at-home fire pits and landscaping burns (burning leaves, for example) are well-tended to.
  • If you own forest land, do your best to manicure it and keep it well-maintained.

According to the United States Forest Service, about 87% of wildfires are caused by humans. That means that at least 87% of fires are 100% preventable. Do your part to prevent such fires from occurring, and if they do occur, get yourself and your family to safety as soon as possible.

A: This state experiences literally thousands of fires each year, with as many as 10,000 fires occurring in any given year.

A: According to an expert, the changing climate, the large concentration of people, the over reliance on fire suppression, and high winds all contribute to the fires in California.

A: As the planet continues to warm and as dry regions become drier and rains become more sparse and infrequent, wildfires will be more common. Quoting the Council on Foreign Relations, “Climate change creates conditions that favor wildfires: hotter temperatures, deeper droughts, and drier vegetation. As the planet warms, fires start earlier in the year, last longer, and get bigger. Climate change is to blame for more than half of the increase in areas vulnerable to fire since 1984. Climate change has fueled the crisis in states such as California by driving record-breaking temperatures. Hotter temperatures dry out soil and vegetation, creating favorable conditions for fires to grow and spread rapidly. An intense heat wave generated California's hottest August on record this year, and in September, Los Angeles County reached its own historical peak of 121°F. This extreme heat, along with years of preventing forests from burning naturally, has resulted in fire-prone lands brimming with fuel. Highly flammable vegetation serves as a powerful propellant for fires.”

Because the fire season is getting longer and conditions that precipitate wildfires are becoming more common, now more than ever, Americans must learn about wildfires, learn how to prepare for them, and learn how to protect themselves and their families. Most importantly, they must learn what they can do to prevent wildfires.

A: A single fire lasts an average of 37 days before natural intervention (rain) and human intervention (fire crews) causes it to die out (or it simply runs out of fuel). The fire season now lasts an average of 76 days longer than it did in the 1970s and 1980s. In 1986, the average fire only lasted eight days. This all suggests that wildfires in America are getting much worse.

Fires can cover a large expanse of land, particularly when they become uncontrollable and cannot be put out by human intervention. The worst fire in American history also happened to be the most extensive. This was the Peshtigo Fire, a fire that occurred in both Wisconsin and Michigan. The fire burned about 3.8 million acres and took close to 2,500 lives.

A: Civilians and even EMS and other medical personnel are not equipped to stop such blazes. Only firefighters have the tools, knowledge, and equipment necessary to stop such fires from spreading, and even these individuals are limited.

A: The slightest spark can start a wildfire, and the slightest spark can also restart a fire. This is why you must not enter a recently-burned area unless local authorities say it is safe to do so. Fires can form quite suddenly and burn through millions of acres of land at shockingly fast speeds. The flames can travel about 14 miles per hour and can overtake the average human in minutes. Such fires can go from a tiny spark in the undergrowth to a full-on blaze in a matter of minutes.

A: It is very difficult to prepare for a wildfire, as there is almost nothing one can do to their home to defend it against such a flame. Rather, it’s important to know what to do to preserve human life during such a serious event. The following are ten additional, life-saving tips for how to survive a wildfire:

  • Protect your airways. The smoke may cause you to pass out and die.
  • Cover your nose and mouth with a mask or cloth while
  • Stay low to the ground if you must evacuate on foot.
  • Use the wind! If the wind is blowing past you and toward the fire, then run into the wind.
  • If the wind is behind the fire and blowing toward you, run perpendicular to the fire.
  • Go for nonflammable terrains like water, parking lots, barren ground, or already burned areas.
  • Avoid terrain with a lot of vegetation and other combustible material.
  • If trapped, hunker down in a non-combustible area. If not trapped, flee!
  • Seek safety in or near water. Get in the water, or put the water between you and the fire.
  • If you must hunker down, cover your body with wet rags, clothes, or even mud or dirt.

A: Disaster-level fire events can occur anywhere in the United States. Historically, different regions of the U.S. have been more prone to such fires than others. For example, the Midwest used to suffer particularly devastating fires, especially in the 1800s and around the turn of the century. In the 20th century, Alaska experienced many fires. In more recent decades, California has experienced the majority of U.S. fires. Idaho and the Pacific Northwest are also prone to fires.

The following are the top ten states in the U.S. for fires:

  • California
  • Texas
  • Colorado
  • Arizona
  • Idaho
  • Washington
  • Oklahoma
  • Oregon
  • Montana
  • Utah

Because wildfires can happen anywhere, it's important for everyone to know what these disasters are, what causes them, and how to prepare for them/respond to them.

A: They can be, yes. But they can also be caused by humans. In fact, most such events today are caused by humans.

A: There are actually two such seasons. One begins in February and ends in May, and the other begins in October and ends in December. However, the season is quite variable. Others define the season as beginning whenever the first fire occurs, and ending whenever the last fire occurs.

A: Not exactly. While such events do have some natural benefits, a wildfire is an uncontrolled, unmanned, unstoppable blaze that may have been caused by humans but which is not controlled or managed by humans. On the other hand, a controlled burn is a planned, deliberate effort to manicure and maintain a forest by use of conservative burning and by using flames to reduce a forest's undergrowth. Controlled burns have more benefits with fewer risks, whereas wildfires tend to have risks and destruction that outweigh the benefits.

A: Such events affect the environment in many ways. Such a fire is a part of nature, but fires can be deadly too, destroying homes, wildlife habitat, and timber, and polluting the air with emissions harmful to human health. Fire also releases carbon dioxide—a key greenhouse gas—into the atmosphere. But at the same time, such events act as a reset button for grasslands, prairies, and forests, which can be helpful to those ecosystems.

A: Primarily, such burns remove dead and dying growth, clearing a way for new growth. Fires also help maintain the balance between grasses and larger plants and trees.

A: Lightning is the most common cause of such an event, but a small percentage are started by spontaneous combustion of dry fuel on the forest floor.

A: Protecting yourself, your family, and your community from wildfires has several parts, most of which fall under the label of prevention. But what do you do when such a fire actually does occur?

  • The key response when fires break out is to evacuate. Get out of the area as quickly as possible and get away from the fire as fast as possible. Such fires are unplanned, uncontrolled, and unpredictable. They can start and burn in forests, grasslands, and prairies. These are fires that are dangerous, volatile, and extremely lethal. Here are some steps to follow if you find yourself in a region with an active fire:
  • Recognize critical warnings and alerts. The best way to survive such an event is to know when one is coming. Make sure you are signed up for real-time alerts through the FEMA app, the Emergency Alert System, and air quality alerts.
  • Follow an emergency plan. Make sure everyone in your household knows and understands what to do and where to go during a fire. Follow a preplanned route!
  • It is not possible to hunker down and "wait out" a massive burn event that is headed your way. You must evacuate. It's important to have an evacuation route available and to determine a backup route in case the first route is consumed by fire, blocked, or otherwise inaccessible.
  • Wear face coverings. One of the biggest health risks during a serious fire is not the fire itself but the smoke and toxic fumes that one might inhale while trying to escape a fire. These can be lethal, so it is essential to wear a face-covering of some kind. Doing so may help protect your mouth, nose, throat, and lungs from smoke.
  • Follow local emergency assistance authorities. If authorities say to evacuate, do so. But if they tell you to stay put, that's likely because the fire is not headed your way. In this case, stay at your home, as evacuating may put you in further danger. Similarly, if you did evacuate, do not return home until authorities say it is safe to do so.

A: Even if its cause is human in origin, such fire events are considered natural disasters.

A: They are. According to the Environmental Defense Fund, “Not only is the average wildfire season three and a half months longer than it was a few decades back, but the number of annual large fires in the West has tripled — burning twice as many acres. Severe heat and drought fuel wildfires, conditions scientists have linked to climate change. If we don’t break the warming cycle, we expect more and worse wildfires in the years ahead.”

A: Yes it can.

A: Wildfires can consume just about anything in their path. The average temperature of a wildfire is 1,472 degrees Fahrenheit, with flames reaching several feet high. Keep in mind that the average campfire is about 600 degrees Fahrenheit, suggesting that wildfires are much hotter than campfires, ovens, stovetops, etc.

A: Yes. In fact, the majority of the human harm caused by fires is not burns, but lung damage due to breathing smoke.

A: Yes. According to the U.S. Forest Service, “The effects of breathing wildland fire smoke include eye and throat irritation, shortness of breath, headaches, dizziness, and nausea.”

A: There are many methods utilized by fire crews to extinguish blazes. From boots-on-the-ground efforts to helicopters and tanker aircraft, crews employ time-tested methods, many of which have been perfected over the decades. Most firefighting involves putting out a blaze with water or fire retardant and preventing the spread of a blaze.

A: As the dry season lasts longer and as temperatures continue to climb, such fires are more likely to occur, both by natural and human causes.

A: Fire victims need immediate relief, including shelter, food, water, and medical care. They often need financial support too, especially if their homes were destroyed by a fire. Anything from providing meals to victims to giving them a place to stay helps immensely.

A: Wildfires are categorized and named based off the damage they cause and how much acreage they burn. For some context, here are the top-ranked, worst fires in U.S. history:

One of the worst natural disasters in U.S. history just so happens to be a wildfire. It was called the Peshtigo Fire. It occurred in 1871, consuming 1.5 million acres of dry land. The fire started near the small town of Peshtigo, Wisconsin, in the upper Midwest. High winds fanned the flames into firestorms, tornado-like columns of fire that leaped natural firebreaks, and even large bodies of water, spreading the fire further than believed possible. The fire killed about 2,500 people.

The Great Chicago Fire, another serious fire in U.S. history, also occurred in 1871. The fire lasted for two days, destroyed thousands of buildings in Chicago, and killed about 300 people. The fire caused about $200 million in damages as an area of Chicago about four miles long and a mile wide was destroyed by the blaze.

The 1902 Yacolt Burn is the collective name for dozens of fires that burned through Washington State and Oregon in 1902. The fires lasted for about four days and burned about 500,000 acres. This fire, like many others, was partially caused by humans. Dry conditions exacerbated the fires, causing them to spread more easily. The fires killed 65 people.

The Great Michigan Fire of 1871 started as a series of smaller fires that merged into a massive inferno that burned about 3,900 square miles of land. The flames ravaged Michigan cities like Holland, Port Huron, and Manistee, and part of the shoreline of Lake Michigan. This series of fires is estimated to have killed around 500 people.

A: According to the experts, cutting the power in a preemptive effort to prevent fires does have some efficacy. During strong winds, tree branches are more likely to fall and cause damage to power lines, which could in turn spark fires. In fact, many fires in California are caused by utility companies’ “Electric power and distribution lines, conductors and the failure of power poles.”