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GPS or a compass could save you in a wildfire

Posted by John T. Reed on

Upon further review of the escape from a wildfire question, some thoughts.
There are at least three dangers: smoke blindness, heat, and lack of oxygen to breathe or poison gases.
Many photos of the fires indicate no blindness due to smoke in many cases. Sometimes the smoke rises from the heat of the fire. Sometimes the wind direction takes it toward and sometimes away from you.

Blinded by smoke

But you can be blinded by smoke. One salvation might be GPS in your car, lap top, iPad, or your cell phone. I commented when I first got my Lexus LC 500 that if you covered the windows I could park and drive on roads albeit with some difficulty relying on the GPS and radar and radar cruise control.
 
In a car, you could and should run the AC to recirculating air rather than bringing in new air. That might keep the interior of the car smoke free. GPS would tell where you were on the map. Radar would tell you what obstacles were in front of you before you hit them.
 
Internet on a lap top or iPad could possibly give you occasional live news aerial videography that might reveal what area near you is the place to move to.
 
GPS and radar require electricity—a working generator or battery that has not died. In Army ranger school, we had to find our way through the woods at night in mountains over a 10,000 m course daily. At times, it was a moonless, overcase, rainy night so we could not see stars for navigation. But we had a lensatic compass. Those require no battery. You ought to put one in your car or escape pack, although I would caution that a compass is a magnet that might be screwed up by a large mass of steel like a car or truck.
 
I do not mean to suggest that you can escape a wildfire for sure by using a car or cell phone GPS. It may not be enough. But if you get caught in the situation and have GPS, using it could save you.
 
If you are not blinded by smoke, the fire itself should illuminate the scene at night. But the fire may change the picture so much that you do not recognize terrain features and structures you know well.
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If smoke was so thick you could not see the GPS screen, you could rely on the audio directions. Again, in that situation, you are in big trouble. But the audio directions could be your salvation.
 
Airliners have strips of lights on the floor to guide you out in a fire. In a suburban wildfire, the equivalent would be to crawl along by feeling the curb. Panicked drivers might run over you if you are feeling the curb in blinding smoke. But the curb would sometimes be the best guide to escape. Better you are in a car, but if you encounter a collision or fallen debris that means you have to get out and go on foot, the curb or cell phone GPS could guide you with regard to the map if not new obstacles caused by the fire.
 
I am going to try to research the clothes and air supply firemen use as possible emergency gear for us. You need fire retardent protection protection between your skin and eyes as you navigate on foot in a wildfire. And you need good air to breathe.
 
I researched the SCUBA and swimming pool solution a year ago after the Santa Rosa fire where a couple of people used pools to save their lives. Not a great solution in general but it saved some lives.

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