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What travelers should know about fires raging across California and Europe

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© HUNG T. VU, Record Searchlight via USA TODAY NETWORK Fire damage in Salt Creek Heights, Calif. on July 29, 2018.

By Nancy Trejos, USA TODAY

Fires have torn through prominent destinations in California and Greece, leaving travelers to wonder how to deal with their summer vacation plans.

So far, two fires are raging in California, according to the California Statewide Fire Map. About 50,000 people have been forced out of their homes, The Associated Press reports.

The Ferguson fire has shut down parts of Yosemite National Park. The fire in Redding, about 200 miles north of San Francisco, has killed at least six people.

Fires have spread across numerous counties from the California-Oregon border in the north to San Diego County down south. Fires have raged throughout 13,242 acres in Mendocino County. Mariposa County has a fire on 53,646 acres. Napa County has had a fire on 150 acres.

[post_ads]In Greece, fires have swept through seaside towns near Athens. At least 91 people have died so far, many of them in the resort town of Mati, about 20 miles from Athens.

Greece isn’t the only European country battling fires. Europe has been experiencing a heat wave and drought conditions this summer. That has contributed to fires across Sweden, Norway, Finland, Spain and England.

“For travelers interested in booking a trip to Greece following the recent fires that ravaged the city, there’s understandably some hesitation about whether or not it’s safe to visit,” says Justin Tysdal, chief executive of Seven Corners, a travel insurance firm. “One key factor in determining the safety of your trip is the location of the damage in relation to your intended destination.”

Tysdal points out that when the Mount Kilauea volcano in Hawaii erupted this year, travelers canceled trips even if they were planning to visit spots hundreds of miles away.

“If the area you are intending to visit isn’t impacted, you still have the option to proceed with booking your trip,” Tysdal says.

Even in California, there are still plenty of destinations far from any of the wildfires, so canceling a trip is not always the best option as many airfares and some hotel reservations are nonrefundable.

That said, travelers need to consider other factors, such as whether or not they will be able to experience all the activities that attracted them to the destination.

Travelers should always know what the cancellation policies of their travel vendors are. That includes airlines, hotels, excursion operators and more.

Sean Wolinsky, senior environment intelligence analyst for WorldAware, a travel risk management firm, says travelers should stay informed about the ongoing fire operations and evacuations in the affected areas. They should find out about evacuation zones, restricted areas or ongoing fire activity that could still be occurring during their travel. They should keep up with information from local sources, such as emergency management agencies and police and fire departments. 

“The rapidly changing nature of the fires, compounded by the possibility of an individual being unfamiliar with a travel destination, make updated information on active fires a vital resource,” he says.

If a wildfire breaks out during the trip, he advises travelers to adhere to evacuation orders from local authorities.

Traffic congestion along evacuation routes should be expected.
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“Remain calm during the evacuation process, and make sure to bring important travel documents, such as passports, travel reservations and identification cards,” he says. “Individuals not under evacuation warnings should consider remaining inside well-ventilated, air-conditioned spaces to reduce exposure to smoke.”

If stuck in a fire situation, Wolinsky suggests staying in touch with family and friends through text messaging and social media as phone lines may be overwhelmed.

It is impossible to predict what Mother Nature will do, but if traveling to known hot spots, such as the Caribbean during hurricane season, it may be useful to buy travel insurance, experts say.

But not all travel insurance policies will cover canceling a trip for any reason. Policies will be very specific about what events are covered, whether it be sickness, injury or weather. For an extra fee, travelers can purchase a Cancel for Any Reason policy. That must be done within a certain number of days after the initial trip payments, Tysdal says.

Travel insurance plans can cover trip interruption and delay, lost baggage, missed flight connections, and emergency medical expenses. Emergency evacuation coverage can apply to serious situations.

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