Warning, Watch, or Extreme Behavior? Three Wildfire Terms You Should Know

Like California earthquakes & midwest weather, wildfires are an ever-present danger for those of us who call the western United States home. Thousands of houses and lives are damaged or threatened on a yearly basis by wildfire. It's important to yourself and your family that you have a proper wildlife plan in place, as well as a solid understanding of the terms authorities use to warn you about potential and impending wildfire threats.

We want to clarify the three primary types of wildfire warnings, explain what they mean, and what to do when they are issued.

Three Fire-related Warnings to Know and Understand

  • Red Flag Warning: Red Flag Warnings are issued by the NWS and the various land management agencies in order to notify land owners and occupants about weather & other climate conditions that may quickly give way to a threatening wildfire. Red Flag Warnings should be taken as an indication to put your family on high alert, and read through your wildfire response plan as a family.
  • Fire Weather Watch- A Fire Weather Watch is an indication that extreme wildfire conditions are possible in the near term. Watches are not notifying you about an ongoing fire, but to give you a heads up that things could quickly escalate given the current conditions. Be sure to have your preparations and wildfire plan up and ready, and ensure your go-bags are easily accessible.
  • Extreme Fire Behavior- This notification means that there is an an existing wildfire, and conditions make it difficult to predict where it might spread next, or how fast. If you are in an Extreme Fire Behavior area, it's recommended that you evacuate. Why? In order for a wildfire to be characterized as "Extreme", it has to either be moving rapidly in an erratic manner, have a strong column of convection (a column of gases, smoke, fly ash, particulates, and other debris), or other visual clues that the fire is abnormally dangerous.

Keeping an eye out for the above warnings should be considered a critical component of your family's wildfire preparedness plan. Knowing these terms can play a major role in preserving the life and health of you and your family.