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M Walking on Fire: A Light-Hiker's Guide to Wildfire Awareness, Survival, and Evasion (Part 2 of 3)

by Andrew Mattox

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Article Summary:

We can now distinguish parts of a fire, know some basics of wildfire behavior, and are familiar with the fundamental suppression method. We come to the crux question: how do you get away?

Mobility is the forte of the ultralight hiker. Your first priority is to evade the fire and exit the area. When the fire isn't an imminent threat to you, the most sensible way is to leave the area. No special techniques are necessary: just leave the area. I call this the "Straight Out." If you come over a ridge and see a fire across the valley that threatens your route forward, you can simply turn around and go out of the area.

If an active fire is threatening your current position or the other most sensible routes out of the area, you may need to get more elaborate. For light hikers, the closest analogues in fire are probably smokejumpers, who frequently operate in small teams on remote fires with little support, 110-plus-pound loads on their pack-outs notwithstanding. When things get hot, the preferred smokejumper exit strategy is the "Down and Out."

Get down by getting as low as possible on the fire, precluding the possibly of it making an uphill run at you. Then get out by creating as much horizontal distance between yourself and the fire. "Out" also means out-drainage.

This tactic is superior, all else equal, to either using a Safety Zone or going into Hard Black. In applying the Down and Out, the most important thing is to properly assess the terrain. The objective is to get away from any areas where fire runs, ember cast, roll-out, or other spread mechanisms are capable of endangering you, and then egress the area in relative safety.

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