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Tips for Safe Hiking During Fire Season

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By David Lockeretz of Nobody Hikes in LA / Special to LAist

Fall is fire season in southern California. People who are thinking of getting out into nature for a hike may be intimidated by dramatic reports of devastating wildfires on television and online, and obviously, a healthy respect for fear can be a life-saver. That being said, there are several easy precautions that can make exploring the outdoors in SoCal safe and enjoyable, even during fire season. Besides the obvious — not hiking in any areas where fires are burning — here are five safety tips to keep in mind.

Let someone know where you're going. This is a good thing to do regardless of what time of year you are hiking. In the film "127 Hours", based on Aron Ralston's ordeal in a remote Utah canyon, much is made of the fact that he didn't let anyone know where he was going.

Pack extra water. The fall is a dry time of year. Because temperatures are cooler than in the summer, it may not seem as if you need as much water, but hydration doesn't just make you feel good; it helps you avoid muscle cramps. If an emergency happens while you're hiking, you can last longer without food than without water.

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When in doubt, stay coastal. To be sure, Laguna Canyon, the Santa Monica Mountains and other coastal areas of So Cal have had their share of wildfires, but they tend to be easier to contain than those higher up in the mountains, such as the Station Fire of 2009 or the Esperanza Fire of 2003. Coastal areas tend to be more populated than those at higher elevation, so resources are more accessible to fire fighters.

Knowledge is power. Most national and regional recreation areas in Southern California have web sites with detailed information about current conditions, including fire danger. Often times at trailheads and on roads leading to forests, signs will indicate current fire conditions. Although a sign indicating a "high" or even "extreme" fire danger doesn't automatically rule out an area for hiking, it is certainly something to consider.

Keep it short and sweet. While the L.A. basin is ringed by some dramatic mountain ranges, and while peaks such as Mt. Baldy, San Gorgonio and San Jacinto may be must-dos for many hikers, there are also hundreds of shorter trips that are very scenic and enjoyable. If you're worried about fires, save the 10-mile plus epics for the spring or summer and find a nice shorter trail that will get you out into nature.

While wildfires are a reality that must be dealt with and respected, with planning and a few
extra precautions, they don't have to prevent you from enjoying the huge variety of nature to be enjoyed in the Los Angeles area.