Everything you need to know to stay safe and informed in case of a wildfire while traveling.

Wildfires Informer

Everything you need to know to stay safe and informed in case of a wildfire while travelling.

Wildfires continue to pose significant challenges to travel, with 2024 witnessing an alarming increase in both the frequency and intensity of these blazes.


This surge is largely attributed to prolonged droughts, unseasonably high temperatures and the lingering effects of climate change. As a result, regions previously unaffected by wildfires are now experiencing disruptions, complicating travel plans and threatening safety.
Staying informed about wildfires is crucial to protect your travel plans. Wildfires can impact travel in various ways, including flight disruptions, road closures and health risks. Following reliable sources such as local news channels, government websites and weather apps is essential for staying updated.


Understanding the factors contributing to wildfires is crucial for developing prevention strategies. Purchasing comprehensive travel insurance that covers cancellations and disruptions due to natural disasters is recommended, especially when traveling to areas affected by wildfires. During a wildfire, it is important to comply with officials’ advice and remain indoors, monitoring air quality and keeping travel plans flexible.

Viajes

EMEA

Wildfires are a significant environmental concern across the EMEA (Europe, Middle East and Africa) region, with each area facing unique challenges and impacts.

In Europe, the wildfire season typically reaches its peak during the summer months, (June-September), particularly in Mediterranean countries such as Spain, Portugal, Italy, Croatia, Greece and southern France. In 2023, there was a dramatic surge in burn areas, with the fire season commencing with an unprecedented number of fires in February and March compared to historical averages. The year marked the fourth-highest total burn surface area since 2000 and saw fires mapped in 24 out of the 27 European Union countries (all except Luxembourg, Malta and Slovakia). In Greece, at least 28 people were killed and several resorts on the island of Rhodes were forced to evacuate by sea. Initial data for the first quarter of 2024 demonstrate an approximate doubling of the typical number of fires. Wildfires in Europe cause significant damage to forests, wildlife, property and human lives. They also pose challenges to firefighting efforts and can result in air pollution and health issues.

In the Middle East, the wildfire season is primarily during the dry and hot months, typically from late spring to early autumn (April-October). Countries like Israel and the Palestinian Territories, Lebanon, Türkiye and parts of Iran are susceptible to wildfires during this period. While some parts of the region have sparse vegetation due to arid conditions, other

“ In 2023, there was a dramatic surge in burn areas, with the fire season commencing with an unprecedented number of fires in February and March compared to historical averages.”

areas, such as forested regions or shrublands, can still be vulnerable to wildfires. Dry vegetation acts as fuel for fires, particularly during periods of drought. Wildfires in the Middle East can threaten human settlements, agriculture and natural ecosystems. They also exacerbate air pollution and respiratory problems in affected areas.

The wildfire season in Africa varies across its diverse regions due to the continent’s climatic heterogeneity. In many sub-Saharan countries, wildfires coincide with the dry season, and onset and duration vary by location. For instance, in South Africa and other neighbouring countries, wildfires are prevalent during the winter months (June-August), with widespread agricultural fires also occurring. North African countries, such as Algeria and Tunisia, are particularly affected by escalating heatwaves, amplifying wildfire risks. On July 24, 2023, Algeria experienced significant wildfires across its northern areas rapidly spreading and resulting in 34 fatalities. Wildfires in Africa pose severe threats to biodiversity, agriculture and local communities, while also contributing to air pollution and carbon emissions.

High temperatures, drought, strong winds and abundant vegetation in some regions, as well as human activities like slash-and-burn agriculture in some countries, contribute to the wildfire risk. Climate change is also leading to a rise in wildfire frequency, with traditionally non-fire-prone areas now experiencing heightened vulnerability.

Regarding the influence of El Niño on wildfires, while it is associated with flooding, cyclones and droughts, its repercussions vary widely depending on the geographical context and a specific link between El Niño and wildfires in the EMEA region may vary depending on local climatic conditions and other factors.

AMER

As most models predict the decrease of El Niño effects by April-June 2024, wildfires in the Americas have become a worrying phenomenon in recent years.

In North America, the wildfire season usually runs from spring to fall. In the United States, the timing of the wildfire season varies due to the country’s diversity of environments. In areas such as the Great Plains, late winter is the highest-risk period, while in spring, it is the Upper Midwest and Southeast, and between summer and fall, California and the West.

Canada saw more than 3.3 million hectares consumed midway through 2023. This year’s wildfire season has already begun with several large wildfires having been recorded in British Columbia and Alberta in April. Areas that experienced a mild winter and received little snow, including Ontario, should anticipate a more active wildfire season during the summer months.

In Latin America, the dry season, normally lasting from December to April, can lead to an increase in forest fires due to the lack of rainfall. In 2024, the El Niño phenomenon saw countries such as Colombia, Venezuela, Nicaragua and Guatemala frequently registering fires.

In Colombia, more than 340 fires occurred between November 2023 and January 2024 while in Venezuela the number of fires between January and February 2024 exceeded 9,000. Nicaragua is another victim of fires, as by mid-April of this year, 888 forest fires were recorded. Additionally, the Brazilian Amazon has become increasingly vulnerable to wildfires, due to climate change and mass deforestation.

The Southern Cone countries of Chile, Argentina and Uruguay are prone to wildfires, with Chile being the worst-affected in recent history. Chile’s forested areas are most at risk, particularly between the summer months of October and March; summers in Argentina and Uruguay run from December to February and March, respectively. Aside from the health and safety risks, displacing tens of thousands and exacerbating pre-existing respiratory issues, wildfire smoke has the potential to trigger delays or suspensions of flights at nearby airports, including in Santiago, Buenos Aires and Montevideo. Road closures and intercity public transport disruptions are also possible, affecting millions of people. This is especially true for the Pampas region, which includes all of Uruguay as well as more than 60 percent of Argentina’s population. The region is characterised by vast, open lowlands that can spread fire quickly under specific conditions as the lack of physical obstacles allows potential wildfires to advance unimpeded. Many Latin American countries do not have the capacity to combat extreme wildfires, endangering the restart of operations and services that are necessary for travellers.

APAC

Unlike the EMEA and the Americas, fewer countries in the APAC (Asia-Pacific) region experience regular wildfires.


The worst-affected countries include Australia, Indonesia and India. Australia is frequently hit with bushfires, which are wildfires that burn in grasslands, scrublands or forests, with around 45,000-65,000 annually. Bushfires kill dozens of Australians per year, while their smoke causes health complications that result in the deaths of nearly 500 people annually. While bushfires can occur all year round, each Australian state has different periods for “bushfire season”, where the risk of bushfires is at its highest. In the southernmost parts of the country, such as Tanzania’s Hobart, South Australia’s Adelaide, Victoria’s Melbourne and Western Australia’s Perth,

"Australia is frequently hit with bushfires, which are wildfires that burn in grasslands, scrublands or forests, with around 45,000–65,000 annually”

the threat of bushfire peaks from late spring until mid-autumn seasons
(mid-November to mid-April). In Canberra and Greater Sydney, the bushfire season starts from October to the end of March. In the northern and eastern parts of the country, bushfire season occurs in the winter and spring seasons, with Queensland’s Brisbane and Northern Territory’s Darwin experiencing peak fire danger from July to October.


Although hot and windy weather increases the risk of bushfires, around half of bushfires in the country are caused by human-related incidents, such as discarded cigarettes. Authorities often impose total fire ban orders during bushfire season across a given area, where it is illegal to light an open-air fire or conduct any activity that could start a fire. Non-compliant individuals are penalised with hefty fines or imprisonment.

Indonesia experiences frequent forest fires, which are often massive in size. Around 1.6 million hectares of forests and grasslands were lost to wildfires in 2019. Wildfire risk is highest during the dry season, running from April to September, with drought and heat waves peaking in July and August. However, predicting the exact timing of the wildfire season is difficult as 99 percent of wildfires in the country are caused by human activity. Travellers should exercise caution when visiting forest areas, especially on Borneo and Sumatra. Extensive logging and palm oil plantation cultivation have greatly increased the forest fire risk.

In the Indian subcontinent, forest fires are expected to increase significantly in the coming years due to rising temperatures. The frequency of forest fires in India has increased by 52 percent in the last two decades. The wildfire season in India generally occurs between November and June. The forests of northeast India are largely covered by dry deciduous trees that lose their leaves in autumn, making them more vulnerable to fire, while forests in southern India are less prone to fires as the vegetation is largely evergreen or semi-evergreen trees that remain green throughout the year. However, in recent years, wildfires have also begun affecting areas that were previously considered to be immune to such events; in 2023, fires occurred in the wet forests of Tamil Nadu and Goa.

Furthermore, forest fires’ frequency may increase due to El Niño, as the weather event is linked to unseasonably high temperatures, resulting in severe dryness of vegetation. El Niño is also associated with a potential reduction in rainfall during the monsoon season, running from June to September in India. These conditions are conducive to rapid wildfire spread. However, the Indian Meteorological Department (IMD) predicted
a weakening of El Niño, which is likely to be neutral for the start of this year’s monsoon season. Indian meteorologists have suggested the possible emergence of La Niña conditions by June-August, which could lead to more monsoon rainfall compared to last year. However, this does not mean that forest fires will cease. Above-average heat waves are expected until June and this will likely lead to more forest fires in many regions of India.

Stay informed

Wildfires can impact travel plans in several ways, such as affecting flight operations due to low visibility caused by smoke, causing power outages, impacting traffic due to road closures and emergency evacuation plans and worsening health conditions. Staying informed ahead of wildfire seasons is crucial to prevent these events from ruining your travel plans. There are several ways to remain updated. The best is to follow the latest information from reliable sources: local news channels, official government websites and weather apps.


Some destinations have been heavily impacted by wildfires in recent times. Uncontrollable fires devastate ecosystems, destroy livelihoods and harm local economies, especially in terms of tourism. Some of the most attractive tourist destinations, including Southern Europe, could lose attractiveness in the long term, due to extreme heat temperatures and wildfires that occur more often over touristic coastal regions from which prompt evacuation may prove difficult. On the other hand, northern countries could gain a new attractiveness. Yet, this change in travel trends will not be immediate.


Understanding the factors contributing to wildfires in each region is crucial for developing effective prevention and mitigation strategies. Promoting awareness and community engagement can help reduce the risk of wildfires and minimise their impact on the environment and human health. Emergency plans include having an emergency kit with essential items such as water, non-perishable food, first aid supplies, flashlights, batteries, masks, important documents, cash, clothing and personal hygiene items. If travelling with a personal vehicle, ensure that you have a full tank of gas, and pack an emergency kit, valuables and important documents in your vehicle before leaving.


During a wildfire, it is crucial to comply with officials’ advice to ensure everyone’s safety. Travellers can remain updated with information from local authorities, fire departments and emergency management agencies. The media and social media channels have also become a place to find the latest information and instructions. If you are unsure about what
to do, don’t hesitate to contact local authorities for guidance. Riskline’s country and city reports contain Emergency Number information for fire departments, among other emergency services.

Travel Advice

Purchasing travel insurance before departure is always recommended, as several contingencies could impact your travel plans. When heading to areas notoriously affected by wildfires, travellers should protect themselves with comprehensive travel insurance that covers cancellations and disruptions due to natural disasters, including wildfires. While some policies offer full coverage of the trip, others provide refund and compensation only for trip delay or trip interruption or provide credits and vouchers for future travel itineraries. However, the possibility of refunds or compensation due to wildfires may vary depending on the specific circumstances of the event, and the policies of the travel providers involved. Some airlines, including United and American Airlines, have recently issued waivers allowing passengers whose trips were affected by the wildfires to reschedule their flights at no additional cost. During extremely severe wildfires in the summer of 2023, the governments of Italy and Greece offered refund/cancellation options to tourists without insurance coverage impacted by the wildfires on the islands of Sicily and Rhodes. However, these were exceptional circumstances, therefore travellers should not rely on this possibility and buy full coverage travel insurance before departure. Contact all travel providers used to book your trip. For tickets that were booked via a travel agency, travellers are recommended to contact them. Travellers are also advised to contact hotels, car rental companies and other travel providers used to book to know more about cancellations or changes due to the wildfire. Stay indoors. If a wildfire is threatening the area where your accommodation is located, stay indoors and remain at a relatively safe distance from the blaze. Limit exposure to smoke by closing all windows and doors. The fresh air intake on air-conditioners should be shut. If your place of residence is threatened, select a direct route that leads you away from fire hazards. Watch for changes in the speed and direction of the fire and its smoke trail. Wear protective clothing: sturdy shoes, cotton or wool pants, a long-sleeved shirt, gloves and a breathable covering to protect your face. Monitor air quality. Wildfires cause poor air quality, which can be harmful, especially for individuals with preexisting respiratory issues, the young and the elderly. Consider wearing masks rated for smoke protection if air quality is poor.

Keep your travel plans flexible. Wildfires can be unpredictable. Be prepared to change your plans if authorities issue evacuation orders or safety recommendations, or if your means of transport are impacted by the event. Wildfires can lead to road closures, flight delays and cancellations.


Anticipate disruptions to telecommunications. During emergencies such as wildfires, communication networks may be overwhelmed. Fire-damaged infrastructure and heavy data usage can both cause mobile network outages in evacuation zones, leading to delays in receiving information.

Health

Burns

Exposure to heat from wildfires can cause skin burns of varying degrees depending on how deep the damage is. First-degree burns affect the outer layer of the skin and may cause redness and pain. Second-degree burn effects reach the second layer of skin, and may cause swelling and red, white or splotchy skin; blisters may develop and pain can be severe. Deep second-degree burns can cause scarring. Third-degree burns reach the fat layer beneath the skin; burned areas may be black, brown or white, and the skin may look leathery. Third-degree burns can destroy nerves, causing numbness.


Minor burns can be treated by holding the affected area under cool running water for about 10 minutes. Do not break blisters. Rings and other tight items should promptly be removed from the affected areas before they swell. After the burn is cooled, apply lotion to prevent drying and to provide relief. Loosely cover the burn area with a clean bandage to protect blistered skin. If needed, take a pain reliever.


For major burns, seek medical attention. Until receiving medical treatment, promptly remove tight items as swelling can be quick, and loosely cover the burn with gauze or a clean cloth. Raise the burned area above heart level if possible. Seek assistance from others if possible to monitor for signs of shock; signs and symptoms include cool, clammy skin, weak pulse and shallow breathing.

Keep your travel plans flexible. Wildfires can be unpredictable. Be prepared to change your plans if authorities issue evacuation orders or safety recommendations, or if your means of transport are impacted by the event. Wildfires can lead to road closures, flight delays and cancellations.


Anticipate disruptions to telecommunications. During emergencies such as wildfires, communication networks may be overwhelmed. Fire-damaged infrastructure and heavy data usage can both cause mobile network outages in evacuation zones, leading to delays in receiving information.

Smoke

Wildfire smoke, comprising gases and microscopic PM 2.5 particles, can travel far and remain airborne for extended periods. These particles penetrate deep into the lungs and can enter the bloodstream, posing health risks even if wildfires are distant. Exposure can lead to symptoms ranging from burning eyes, runny nose, coughing, shortness of breath and chest pain, and increases the risk of respiratory and cardiovascular diseases. Certain vulnerable populations are especially at risk. Children, with their developing airways and higher activity levels outdoors, are more susceptible to polluted air and its harmful particulates. Similarly, older adults face increased risks due to a higher risk of underlying heart and lung diseases. Respiratory or heart conditions, such as asthma, heighten sensitivity to the adverse effects of smoke, potentially worsening existing health issues.


Additionally, pregnant women are at risk as changes during pregnancy, like elevated breathing rates, can increase their vulnerability to smoke, potentially leading to complications such as preterm births and low birth weight in infants. Other vulnerable groups include physically active people, those with serious mental health conditions, individuals with alcohol or drug dependence and people on certain medications. These groups should take extra precautions to minimise exposure during wildfire events. Using masks can help filter out harmful particles from smoke.

Heat

During summer, wildfires and heat waves often occur simultaneously. The primary health threats from heat waves include dehydration and heat exhaustion, marked by symptoms such as excessive thirst, fatigue, muscle cramps and dizziness. Prolonged heat exposure can also worsen cardiovascular, respiratory and kidney diseases, and lead to heatstroke.

Respiratory or heart conditions, such as asthma, also heighten sensitivity to the adverse effects of heatwaves, potentially worsening existing health issues. Travellers can reduce the risk by staying hydrated, wearing light and breathable clothing and limiting outdoor activities during peak daylight hours.

Seguridad

Emergency Safety Directives

Pre-emptive local emergency declarations, which allow authorities
to mobilise and deploy security and financial resources to affected
areas, are likely in regions prone to widespread wildfires every year. Travellers to wildfire-prone regions are advised to stay abreast of local news and relevant authorities, to keep track of such declarations. Pre-emptive evacuation advisories are usually issued at least a few hours before authorities foresee a dangerous wildfire to reach a populated area. However, with the speed and movement of wildfires being largely unpredictable during erratic windy and dry conditions, the situation can quickly escalate to a warning. Sometimes during a warning, it may be too late to leave the area and people may be forced to seek shelter in a safe area of their dwelling until the wildfire is brought under control. Visitors are advised to stay abreast of evacuation maps and opt for voluntary evacuations if they are able to do so, well before a wildfire threat reaches the warning level. Track local media, weather forecasts and wildfire updates to stay informed about potential risks. Sign up for free government emergency alerts; use smartphone apps designed to provide real-time wildfire information, evacuation routes and safety tips.

Preparing for the Risk of Wildfire

Being prepared and informed can help you make the right decisions
and stay safe during a wildfire situation while travelling. Remember to pack some essentials in a backpack that is easy to carry, well ahead of an evacuation. This includes food, water, a first aid kit, medicines, an emergency blanket, pet and infant supplies, including formula, to last for at least 72 hours, along with any identity and travel documents like passports. Familiarise yourself with escape routes and evacuation plans for the area you are visiting. Before exploring forested areas, attend safety briefings or workshops on wildfire awareness and prevention. Keep valuable items like jewellery, electronics and essential documents in a fire-resistant bag or waterproof container. Other preparations include following some basic safety tips, first aid measures/kit, including essentials like bandages, antiseptics/burn ointments and tools/technology, such as the following.

• Smoke and Heat Detectors: If you are staying in an area prone to wildfires, ensure that your accommodations have smoke and heat detectors to detect fires early.
• Surveillance Systems: Be aware of local surveillance systems or community-based alert systems that can notify you of nearby wildfires.
• Communication Devices: Carry a reliable mobile phone with a strong signal and consider bringing a portable charger or extra battery to keep your device powered.
• Fire Extinguishers: Always have a portable fire extinguisher in your vehicle or accommodations.
• Protective Gear: Consider carrying a fire-resistant blanket or clothing to protect yourself from heat and flames.

Identifying and Avoiding Wildfire Smoke

When encountering wildfire smoke, there is no need to panic at the first signs, as smoke and ash can come from far away. In assessing your location relative to the wildfire, different colours and behaviours of smoke can assist in taking the right action to remain safe. A large smoke column typically indicates a large fire, while the direction of the column shows where the fire is moving. It is important to head in the opposite direction, away from flames.


Smoke levels can change quickly during the day. A valley may appear smokier in the morning, as smoke settles into low areas at night. An atmosphere of yellowish-orange to red hues indicates it is time to leave, as breathing will rapidly become unhealthy. White smoke usually indicates fast-burning fuels, such as grass, whereas dark smoke could mean a longer-lasting fire of thick brush or timber which can cause embers jumping over fire lines or roads, sparking fires farther ahead.


When escaping smoke or a fire, resting is advised when the smoke is thicker and moving when it disperses. However, if you get smoked out suddenly or see “dry lightning”, it is time to move immediately. Assess your surroundings, as fires move uphill faster than downhill. Large flat areas with little vegetation are safer due to little fuel to feed or attract a fire. Paved, gravel or dirt roads and already-burned areas also provide a safer route, although hot ash pockets and ground heat may cause complications. Although crossing waterways is often unpredictable, wet areas and small streams free of electrical hazards may provide a safe escape route.

• Smoke and Heat Detectors: If you are staying in an area prone to wildfires, ensure that your accommodations have smoke and heat detectors to detect fires early.
• Surveillance Systems: Be aware of local surveillance systems or community-based alert systems that can notify you of nearby wildfires.
• Communication Devices: Carry a reliable mobile phone with a strong signal and consider bringing a portable charger or extra battery to keep your device powered.
• Fire Extinguishers: Always have a portable fire extinguisher in your vehicle or accommodations.
• Protective Gear: Consider carrying a fire-resistant blanket or clothing to protect yourself from heat and flames.

Contributions by: Travel: EMEA: Patricia Baruffi; AMER: Diego Maloney, Lorena Peña; APAC: Farhan

Rafi, Lorenzo Trevisan; Stay informed and Traveller Advice: Claudia Gualdi Health: Avantika Deb, Bumjoon Park and Sila Ceyhan
Safety: Avantika Deb, Bumjoon Park, Eeva Ruuska, Marco Tulio Lara, Nikita Billier and Ramya Dilipkumar
Content editor: Paul Mutter

Copyrights: Riskline. More info: riskline.com