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What to do if you find yourself trapped by wildfire while driving

Jul 21, 2020, 1:09 PM | Updated: 2:13 pm

LEEDS, Washington County — Most likely you will never be caught in a wildfire while driving, but this did happen to drivers just north of Leeds in southern Utah Sunday.

They became trapped in their vehicles as a fire raged feet from them while they watched. The fire destroyed at least one car. The occupants abandoned their vehicle in the brush and jumped into the back of a passing truck as the flames raced toward their stuck vehicle. 

Tips from firefighters

The fire Sunday, caused by a blown tire, is not typical. Generally, there is not a traffic jam in a rural area on top of a fire, but if it happens, Unified Fire Authority spokesperson Matthew McFarland suggests the best action is to turn around when you spot smoke and avoid the situation before being caught up in it. 

If you can’t turn around or avoid the fire, here are some tips KSL-TV picked up from firefighters.

  • Stay in your vehicle 
  • Roll up the windows
  • Turn on your headlights and hazard lights
  • Leave your vehicle running 

“Staying in your car is going to be the safest place for you. Turning off your vents, making sure your AC is off and your vents are shut is going to limit the amount of smoke coming into your car,” said McFarland. “It is going to make it easier to breathe for you. Past that, make sure your headlights and your tail lights are on because accidents happen in this scenario.”

Your car will protect you from the elements, McFarland said. He said staying on the highway during a wildfire affords better protection than driving into the brush as highways are often used as a fuel break.

The worst thing you can do, according to McFarland, is to leave the roadway and try to outrun the fire. 

Officials also ask that you keep driving so you and other drivers don’t get caught in a traffic jam with a wildfire blazing around you. This will better allow you and other drivers to get through the fire without being trapped.

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What to do if you find yourself trapped by wildfire while driving