Although forest fires haven't gotten worse in the last one hundred years (nothing has compared to the fire season of 1910) it has caught the minds and attention of the media and the nation. Despite the risk of getting caught in a wildfire is very slim, knowing what to do can make the difference between life, and death.
Have a good plan and be aware of your situation. If you're hiking, camping, or backpacking in an area that has a high fire risk or wildfires burning in the area, be aware of the situation. Have multiple routes planned with a variety of exits. Don't intentionally put yourself in harms way. Be sure to use trailhead registers and stick to your route. This is critical in the event authorities search for you or have to evacuate you.
Follow the rules. Although this is nothing more than common sense, this is often overlooked with tragic consequences. If an area is closed to camping or hiking than change your plans. If there is a burn ban in effect than only use a controlled source of flame like a stove. In extreme cases all sources of flame, controlled and uncontrolled may be banned.
Look for warning signs and have a plan If you smell or see smoke during the day, or a red/orange glow on the horizon at night a fire is nearby. Remember that fire travels faster uphill so try to move downhill and in the opposite direction of the wind. If you hear cracking or see sparks in the air a wildfire could be less than a mile away and you may be at extreme risk.
Find a place to make your stand. You will never outrun a wildfire, period. Your biggest risk of injury and death is not from the flames, but from superheated air, which can sear your lungs. Find a wet area to lie down in. A swampy, boggy area away from forest fuels is best. If there is a larger body of water like a pond or lake, swimming out to the middle and treading water is also effective. If you're on a paddling trip, getting under your canoe and getting into the river can shield you from the heat and provide you with a pocket of cool air to breathe. If all else fails find the largest opening you can. Your odds will improve if you can find a pocket of cool air to breath and can be shielded from burning debris. Sand bars, gravel washes and rocky areas can offer some protection.
Remove synthetic clothing Wool offers the best protection against the flames and heat. Synthetics can melt at relatively low temperatures resulting in severe injury. If your choices are wearing no clothing or synthetic, keep the clothing on, as it will offer some protection from mild heat. Never cover yourself in a synthetic poncho to create an air pocket or to protect yourself from the heat. Wrapping your face with a wet cloth can help you breath. Every effort should be made to protect your feet, lungs, and eyes.
Don't panic. Always remember that heat rises. If you get up to run you can breath in superheat air and cause severe injury to yourself. People who have been trapped in wildfires describe the roaring sound, intense heat, and difficulty to breath. You must fight your natural urge to run. As the wall of flames passes over the entire time you're in the wildfire typically ranges from just 30 to 60 seconds.
After the fire passes, remember danger still lurks. Even though the flames have past, the danger is not over. Burned trees and snags can fall easily. Debris on the ground can still be white hot, and logs can split sending embers, sparks, and burning sap into the air. Travel through a recently burned area very carefully.
Notify the authorities. If you had become trapped in a wildfire and hike out, notify the authorities immediately. Trailhead registers can be burned and records lost. If you simply go home people may risk their lives looking for you in the fire area.
Report fires immediately. Yes, there can be severe consequences for starting a wildfire, even if by accident. However you should consider it your duty to report any wildfire you see or start. Early intervention can prevent major disasters.