Many adults have fond memories of their childhood days at a summer camp in the woods. But when wildfires flare up and force evacuations, it’s not just the residents of an area who may be in harm’s way. Summer campers are vulnerable, too.
The 4-H program faculty at Washington State University and the American Camp Association — an industry group dedicated to ensuring the quality of camp programs — suggest several steps that owners, managers and staff of recreational camps can take to keep campers and themselves safe during wildfire season. The principles were derived from the Watchout Situations used by wildland firefighters to continuously assess their safety while in the field.
The following are watchout” — potentially dangerous — situations for summer campers, staff and visitors in wildfire country. See if any apply to the camp or other facility that you or your family members plan to visit this summer.
Camp Wildland Fire 13 “Watchout” Situations
- The camp is in a wildland-urban interface (the transition zone between developed areas and unoccupied lands) or areas near the camp have burned in the past.
- The camp does not have defensible spaces — areas kept free of vegetation and other materials that could be ignited by the radiant heat of nearby flames — or the camp’s buildings and structures are not prepared to resist stray embers from a wildfire.
- The local fire department or emergency medical service has not visited the camp in the past 12 months to review its emergency management plan.
- The camp and its staff were not involved in creating an emergency management plan, have not reviewed the plan with emergency response agencies, or the plan is outdated. Also, camp employees are not trained nor regularly tested in emergency procedures and response scenarios.
- No drills have been conducted to test the camp’s emergency management plan evacuation procedures and protocols.
- The camp does not have transportation available (either onsite or through a contract) to safely and quickly evacuate all campers and staff .
- Camp roads cannot accommodate fire trucks and other emergency vehicles.
- The camp has not identified which staff members will monitor local fire conditions and alerts.
- The camp has horses and other animals that would need to be evacuated in an emergency but it lacks adequate transportation for them or does not have an agreement to temporarily board horses, livestock and other camp animals elsewhere during a wildland fire evacuation.
- The camp does not have a procedure to contact camper’s parents in the event of an evacuation nor does it have a designated safe meet-up location away from the camp.
- Campers have opportunities to travel into the back country, but the camp does not take headcounts and roll before excursions nor does it record itineraries or the presence of those who have special health needs.
- The camp lacks reliable communications to report emergencies that occur either at the camp or on camp outings.
- The camp keeps all records of campers and other important information only at the camp or, worse, stores the information in multiple locations around the camp.
Content for this blog was provided by Mike Jensen, associate professor, 4-H faculty and WSU camp specialist, Washington State University Extension. A version of this post appeared in Forest Stewardship Notes, a free e-newsletter published by DNR and WSU Extension.
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