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Section 5.0 Wildfire Entrapment Survival

(Probable Life Threatening “Last Resort” Situation)

(you are now in an emergency situation - it is assumed you are unable to use an established escape route or you become trapped while on an escape route heading to a Safety Zone)

On the fireline

You are now looking for an Emergency Survial Zone!


  • stay together
  • follow instructions
  • communicate situation to incident command centre
  • consider requesting for air support
  • take tools and packs (unless ordered to leave them) (in an extreme emergency you may be able to travel considerably faster if you do drop your tools and pack)
  • do not panic
  • do not run (unless in extreme emergency) (if you twist an ankle or worse, your situation may quickly become very dire)
  • do not try to outrun the fire - especially going up hill
  • consider running back into the “black” burned area if the fuel is not too thick and fire burning too hot in that area
  • consider running directly through the flames is they are low and not too wide a fire front - fine fuels may present an opportunity (Understand this is a dangerous action but dangerous situations sometimes require dangerous actions)
  • travel crouched, stay low, protect airway (heat rises) (if you inhale a breath of superheated air / smoke you will immediately drop to the ground and will be unable to move or stop coughing / choking - this is from actual personal experience)
  • if you have to stop and “defend”, protect your airway
  • get down in a hollow and dig / scoop out a depression for your nose to get down into - there is usually relatively cooler and fresher air inches above the surface of the ground
  • protect exposed skin with clothing, even chunks of bark held in place like a “shield”
  • try to find a large area with light fuel or free of fuel
  • rocky outcroppings, rock slide areas, cat guards, swamp/wet ground, deciduous stand of trees, cultivated field, water, into the “black” if it is not too hot  
  • a fuel free hollow /depression is good as this will usually have more cool, fresher air and protect you from the intense radiant 
  • heat behind large boulders, even logs or trees (be aware the flames may wrap around these objects
  • lay face down, scoop out a “hollow” for your nose, if your feet face the oncoming fire that keeps your head and airway more protected
  • hold your arms over your head, ears and face
  • if possible, wet your clothing
  • keep your overall body exposure to the fire front to a minimum

Go to the nearest Safety Zone and communicate location to supervisors and IC

Stay there until it is safe to move back to main staging area (or fireline if so ordered - not a usual procedure as a crew incident briefing should be conducted)

Vehicle  (not heavy equipment)

If you make it to your vehicle and decide to drive out to safety, you must consider the following;

Using Vehicle to escape

  • is the “escape” road still passable?
  • are there bridges that may burn before you reach them?
  • might the road lead to worse entrapment potential?
  • turn on your lights
  • do NOT drive at “crazy” speeds - a vehicle accident will only severley lead to compounding the situation

Deciding to not drive vehicle to escape

  • you may be able to shelter inside the cab for a very short time   (depending upon the fuel and topography around you)
  • you may have a better survival chance by “hunkering down” beside the vehicle on the “off side” to the fire front
  • lay in the ditch on the off side of the fire front, beside the vehicle 
  • always keep an eye on the vehicle because if and when it ignites you will now be seriously threatened by the potential of an explosion (but that does not always occur)
  • a burning vehicle and especially burning tires will force you to move away from it
  • avoid breathing any smoke from a burning vehicle due to the high potential toxic gasses involved
  • do not shelter under a vehicle
  • do not shelter in or at the opening of a culvert (heat and smoke will travel in it - similar to not sheltering in a cave

Heavy Equipment  - (bulldozer, loaders, excavators)

  • try to create a large, fuel free zone to shelter in
  • try to dig a depression to shelter in
  • use the stationary equipment similar as a large boulder to shelter behind


  • a building may be a good choice to shelter during an emergency entrapment
  • the fire front will usually have been passed even if the structure does ignite
  • close all windows and get curtains away from them
  • as soon as the main fire front passes, and it is considered cool enough, leave the building
  • you CAN be in burning building (burning on the outside walls and roof) for a short time  (this author has experienced that situation - the inside was burning by the time we exited but we were fine and sustained no injuries) 
  • be very very cautions about taking shelter in garages and outbuildings that may contain gasoline or other hazardous material
  • do not take shelter in any structure that is in the proximity of a propane tank

Fire Line Safety

Safety on any work site begins with an attitude.  … and this attitude must be that safety is number one.  In the case of a wildland fire fighter, safety is first and controlling and putting out the fire is always a lesser consideration.  

Fire fighters are responsible for their own safety and for the safety of their fellow workers.  Whenever a fire fighter is injured, the whole fire attack plan may have to be reconsidered and changed.  This could be to the extent of pulling all crews from fire suppression activities until the medical emergency incident is over. 

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Think ahead


"If In Doubt  

Back Out!"