Why Are Fires Common After Earthquakes?

If you’re living in San Francisco, chances are you’ve felt at least a little temblor at some point since you moved here, and perhaps even some of the larger quakes the area is famous for. Most people are familiar with the devastating 1906 quake, which decimated parts of the city—but few people realize that the fires after the quake were far more devastating than the earth shaking itself. In fact, about 90 percent of the overall damage was caused due to the subsequent fires.

Unfortunately, fires are common after earthquakes occur, in San Francisco, CA and beyond. Knowing what to expect if (or when) “the big one” hits can help you keep a level head and safely escape.

Why fires happen after earthquakes

Fires used to be even more common after earthquakes, thanks to using candles, oil lamps and gaslight as light sources—if they tip over and the flame catches, your building, or what’s left of it, can easily go up in flames. Electricity may have eliminated most of that danger, but there’s still plenty to worry about when it comes to post-quake fires.

When major earthquakes occur, they often disrupt gas lines and other sources of flammable liquids and gases. The gases or liquids are released, and it only takes one spark before a major conflagration will occur. Today, many buildings—especially in the Bay Area—are equipped with gas lines that will shut off when major seismic activity is detected. This is particularly important in densely populated areas like ours.

The other problem with fires after earthquakes is that rubble makes it extremely difficult to reach the affected areas and tap into the local water supplies. Even when your building has a seismic shutoff valve, if it catches fire, there may not be enough resources to battle the blaze.

What to do if you’re caught in an earthquake

Although earthquakes and fires are scary to think about, let alone experience, there’s no need to panic. If you get caught in a major temblor, wait for the initial shock to subside, then evaluate your escape plan. Most people and businesses will already have a list of established protocols, so be sure to follow those.

If your building appears undamaged, make sure that you shut off the gas to your building as soon as possible. Follow all emergency evacuation instructions—in some cases, it may not be safe to leave the building, or you could be trapped. In that event, try to reach emergency services, or use the whistle in your earthquake kit to signal for help.

In many cases, it’s advisable to stay inside your building during an earthquake, lest you be hit by fallen rubble during the shaking. However, if a fire breaks out, you should try to leave as soon as you feel it’s safe.

For help installing, repairing, maintaining and getting your fire escapes ready to serve you in the event a fire is caused by an earthquake in San Francisco, CA, call Great Escape Fire Escape Service today.

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