National Wildfire Coordinating Group

Terrain and Fuels Make Escape to Safety Zones Difficult


17. Terrain and fuels make escape to safety zones difficult. Three firefighters carry heavy packs and chainsaws as they walk through an area with lots of rocks, downed trees and logs, timber, and standing dead trees.

17. Terrain and fuels make escape to safety zones difficult.

Rocks, dead and down trees, heavy fuels, and steep terrain can make escape to safety zones slow and difficult. This Watch Out shows firefighters already weighed down by heavy fire gear and tools trying to walk through uneven terrain and heavy fuels.

Read about all 18 Watch Out Situations.

When fighting wildland fires, it is often easy to get committed to areas that put you in Watch Out Situation #17. As firefighters progress along the fireline, it is imperative to constantly keep the following considerations in mind:

  • Retreat times should be based on the slowest member of the crew.
    • Does the crew’s condition allow for fast travel?

    • Discuss physical and mental conditions that could interfere with a crew’s ability to travel quickly.

  • Will you get adequate warning to make it to your safety zone? Who will you rely on to warn you? How will you ensure that everyone gets the word?
  • Can escape routes be improved to make travel to safety zones faster? Are escape routes marked?
    • Review what you have done on past fires to locate, mark, and improve escape routes.
  • Will posting more lookouts give adequate warning? Talk about situations where there was more than one firefighter assigned to be a lookout.
  • To reduce the risks, consider other tactics that will allow you to be in a safer location. Review fires where you have had to change tactics because escape to safety zones was not adequate.


Operational Engagement
Page Last Modified / Reviewed: 
Mar 2022

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