A Wildfire Danger “Watchout” List for Summer Campers

When wildfires force evacuations, it’s not just the residents of an area who may be in harm’s way. Summer campers are vulnerable, too.

“Preparing Camps for Wildland Fire 2016,” a webinar sponsored by Washington State University Extension, the American Camp Association, Washington DNR, South Pend Oreille Fire Department and others, focused on steps that owners, managers and staff of recreational camps should take to prepare for the potential of wildfire. These principles are derived from the Watchout Situations used by wildland firefighters to continuously assess safety risks while in the field.

The S.P.O.T (Strategic Preparedness Online Training) session streamed online June 1 suggested the following “watchout” situations for summer campers, staff and visitors. See if any of these 13 potentially dangerous situations apply to you, your camp or a facility that you are visiting.

Camp Wildland Fire 13 “Watchout” Situations

  1. Your camp is located in the wildland urban interface, a fire adapted area, or areas close to your camp have burned in the past.
  2. Your camp does not have defensible space. Also your camp buildings and structures are not prepared to resist wildland fire ember storms.
  3. Your local fire department/DNR/ Emergency Medical Service has not visited your camp in the last year. They have not reviewed your emergency management plan and are not fully aware of the numbers of campers/staff and any special needs present each week of camp.
  4. You and your staff were not involved in the creation of your emergency management plan, have not reviewed the plan with key emergency response agencies, or you don’t have a current emergency plan. Also, your staff are not trained and have not been tested in emergency procedures and responses to various emergencies.
  5. Your camp emergency management plan has not been tested for evacuation procedures and protocols. This would mean a safe and full evacuation of all at camp.
  6. Your camp does not have adequate transportation resources to safely evacuate all campers, camp staff and personnel. (or a contract/agreement with local emergency management staff or a bus company for immediate evacuation)
  7. Your camp roads are not adequate for emergency vehicles and evacuation vehicles to easily enter or leave your camp.
  8. Your camp does not have specific staff identified to monitor fire conditions.
  9. You have horses and other animals that would need to be evacuated. Your camp lacks adequate transportation and an agreement for housing horses, livestock and other animals during a wildland fire.
  10. Your camp does not have procedures to contact parents in the event of an evacuation and a designated meeting location away from camp and potential wildland fires.
  11. Your camp offers trips that go into the back country, and your camp does not alert emergency response agencies of the camper/staff counts, their itinerary and any special needs.
  12. Your camp does not have good/reliable communications for emergencies at camp or outside of camp trips.
  13. Your camp records and information are only at camp (located in several buildings).

By Mike Jensen, Associate Professor/4-H Faculty and WSU State Camp Specialist, Washington State University Extension