For public water systems located in areas prone to wildfires or mudslides/flash-floods due to wildfire damaged areas.
The EPA Incident Action Checklist helps you prepare for and respond to wildfires. At a minimum, please consider the following (refer to checklist for more detail). We list additional resources at the bottom of this page.
Prepare—The Most Important Step
Connect locally, review emergency response plans, protect critical infrastructure.
- Understand level of risk of wildfire damage to service area using local fire management, local government, and Department of Natural Resources (DNR) planning efforts.
- Establish response partner contacts and communication routes to include neighboring utilities, DOH, WaWARN, responding fire authorities, and county emergency response.
- Join WaWARN.
- Review and update fire management plans, including contingency plans for system operation if critical facilities are impacted and access is limited. Include an emergency drinking water supply plan. Review and update your emergency response plan.
- Check out DNR's Information on Wildfires webpage.
- Communicate locations of critical facilities with local emergency responders.
- Understand how the local and utility Emergency Operations Center (EOC) will be activated and how the EOC can support your utility during a response. Emphasize having a utility representative placed at Incident Command or EOC when there is major infrastructure damage or multiple water systems impacted. Decide on who best to assign as a water/wastewater utility representative. Support could include access through evacuation lines, public notices, or obtaining needed resources such as personnel, equipment, bottled water.
- Identify priority water customers (hospitals, schools, daycares, senior living, etc.).
- Decide options for how you will communicate both internally and externally following a disaster when normal communications may be out for an extended period of time.
- Keep a supply of safety gear available for employees.
- Ensure staff have identification (badges identifying them as water system staff, magnetic vehicle identifier, etc.).
- Backup water system records and maintain a copy in a separate location.
- Create zones of defensible space around facilities such as tanks, well houses, and pump stations.
- Make sure generators are operational. Fill fuel storage. Contact fuel supplier to discuss access and priority to fuel.
- Monitor weather conditions for “red flag” or similar high-risk events. Prioritize maintaining full storage tanks during the weather condition.
- Select a spokesperson and an alternate for media response following a wildfire disaster.
- Consider water use leading into and during fire threat. Customers will water their roofs and lawns leading up to an evacuation and may leave sprinklers on during an evacuation. Consider informing your customers on what to expect during and following a wildfire.
- Make a plan for how employees will keep records following a wildfire. It is critical to capture this information in order to receive FEMA reimbursement if a federal declaration is made.
Respond—Demanding and Exhausting
Safety first, monitor supply, communicate with emergency partners, communicate with customers, document all actions.
- Notify local emergency responders of your operational status. Consider immediately implementing a precautionary water advisory if conditions are unknown.
- Contact DOH if your water system is impacted by a wildfire. Respond to inquiry by DOH on system status. Maintain communication with DOH.
- Conduct assessment of system and document damage. Contact local EOC for resource needs. If major damage or multiple water systems impacted, assign a utility representative to the incident command or local EOC (this action typically needs to be agreed on prior to the event).
- Notify customers of any water advisories; working with local EOC, DOH, media outlets, and other available means.
- Request or offer assistance through mutual aid agreements already in place such as WaWARN.
- Document all damage assessments, mutual aid requests, emergency repair work, equipment used, purchases made, staff hours worked, vehicle mileage. Take photos to help with documentation.
Recover—the Long Road Back to Normal Operations
Compile documentation, communicate with response partners, communicate with customers, monitor water quality.
- Continue to work with response partners to obtain available resources, funding, or other needs.
- Contact DOH for water quality monitoring requirements.
- Establish fill stations for clean-up and re-build contractors.
- Participate in any wildfire response teams to lend assistance and ensure recognition of critical water infrastructure and locations.
- Communicate to customers regarding recovery actions and timing.
- Implement mitigation measures to prepare for possible mudslides/flooding events following a wildfire. Measures could include installing erosion control, measuring turbidity upstream of surface water intakes, securing pipelines, exercising emergency sources or interties for backup supply.
- Consider sharing lessons learned and experiences with other utilities.
Issuing Health Advisories
Water systems significantly impacted by wildfire must notify customers that the water might not be safe to drink. The health advisory must remain in effect until water sample results confirm the water is safe to drink.
- Boil Water public notification (Word): For pressure loss, loss of required chlorination and biological contamination. This would be the most likely scenario for small, rural water systems impacted by wildfires
- Do Not Drink public notification (Word): For loss of treatment or chemical contamination.
If a health advisory is issued, notify the regional engineer or the regional office. The regional office will provide guidance regarding sampling or other steps necessary to lift the health advisory.
- Eastern Region: 509-329-2100
- Northwest Region: 253-395-6750
- Southwest Region: 360-236-3030
- After Hours Toll Free Hotline 1-877-481-4901
Guidance for Private Well Users
Defensible Space—Prepare Your Home
Private well users returning after an evacuation, may not have safe water to drink. Power loss can cause backflows, water treatment equipment failures, and other problems. For wells that are free of nitrate, boil tap water for one minute to kill germs (boiling will concentrate nitrate) until water can be tested.
Things to look for after wildfire:
- Damage to electrical wires and connectors that supply power to well.
- Damage to above-ground PVC pipes used with the well to bring water into the home.
- Damage to well houses and equipment, such as chlorinators, filters and electronic controls.
- Damage to pressure tanks, potentially caused by exposure to excessive heat.
- Damage to storage tanks, vents and overflow pipes.
Contact a licensed contractor to repair any damage found. Collect water samples and have a professional water lab analyze the quality of your water. At a minimum, water should be tested for coliform bacteria. If chemical or other contamination of the well is suspected, ask the lab about other tests they can run.
Perform a damage assessment of the well and distribution system. Contact a licensed contractor to repair any damage found. Collect water samples and have a professional water lab analyze the quality of your water. At a minimum, water should be tested for coliform bacteria. If chemical or other contamination of the well is suspected, ask the lab about analyzing the water for other contaminants.
Contact the local health department for additional information regarding private wells.
Drinking Water In Your Home. Resources for consumers and private well owners.
- DNR Information on Wildfires—for mapping and contacts
- Water/Wastewater Agency Response Network (WaWARN)
- Wildfires, Stay Healthy
- Wildfires, Stay Safe
- Emergency Publications for Water Systems
- Public Notification for water systems
- Pressure-Loss Events Q&A 331-338 (PDF) (You can use the Drinking Water Warning: Loss of Pressure Form (Word) for public notification.)
- Backflow Incident Q&A 331-494 (PDF) (You can use the Drinking Water Warning: Backflow Incident Form (Word) for public notification.)
- Calfire's Create Defensible Space webpage
- USGS Review of Wildfire Impacts on Water Quality
- EPA Incident Action Checklist—Wildfire
- EPA's Wildfires webpage
- EPA Federal Funds webpage
- Infrastructure Assistance Coordinating Council (IACC)