Last Updated on July 7, 2024 by Kristin

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Wildfires are becoming a worsening problem across North America every summer. Canada experienced its worst wildfire season ever in 2023, with the government recording more than 6,000 fires that blazed through 16.5 million hectares. Smoke from these fires even reached all the way to New York City, blanketing the Big Apple in a haze. Meanwhile, wildfires are a problem every summer in the Western U.S. If you’re renting a car in a wildfire-prone area, it’s wise to understand what to do if you encounter a wildfire while driving.

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Stay Tuned for Wildfire Warnings

The best way to avoid a wildfire while driving is to keep tabs on where danger lies. When wildfires are burning in an area, the situation on the ground can change quickly. If you are driving a car near a wildfire-prone area or active blaze, be sure to tune into local radio and news reports. The following apps can alert you to areas with active evacuation orders or warnings.

  • Watch Duty is a free app powered by firefighters and dispatchers. The app is available for iPhone, iPod touch, iPad, and Mac, and includes features like notification tones and a contact button.
  • FEMA has an app that provides real-time alerts from the National Weather Service for up to five locations nationwide. Users can also sign up for community alerts in their area.

Turn on Your Fog Lights

Even if a wildfire is not present in the immediate vicinity, smoke can travel for hundreds of miles. If you notice smoke or smog blanketing the air and are already in a safe area, avoid traveling until conditions improve. If you find yourself caught near a forest fire or driving through smoke, use your windshield wipers and turn on low-beam (fog) headlights.

Keep Windows and Doors Closed

Just like at home, keep car doors and windows closed when wildfire smoke is present. Smoke can drastically worsen air quality and be dangerous to your health. Turn on the car’s air conditioning in recirculation mode.

Respect Road Signs and Evacuation Orders

Always take road signs warning about wildfires seriously. Slow down and turn around if instructed. Never try to get around blocked roads or knowingly enter no-go zones. Watch out for any obstacles in the road, such as fallen trees and downed power lines. If instructed to evacuate an area, do so immediately.

Stay in the Car and Call for Help

If you find yourself in the middle of a wildfire, try to stay calm. Stay in the vehicle. Lie on the floor while covering yourself with a natural fiber material. Only leave the car if absolutely necessary. Call 911 if needed.

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Check Car for Any Damages

While human safety is the first priority in any natural disaster, it is worth noting that wildfires and smoke can also cause damage to your rental car. If you have passed through a wildfire zone or heavy smoke, double-check the rental car for any damages as soon as you are in a safe place away from danger. Wildfire smoke can clog the air filter, which can trigger the “check engine” light. If you notice any issues with the car, call the rental car company’s roadside assistance hotline and ask for next steps.