Just finished teaching a ten day course in the mountains to the military. Seems like the wind never stopped blowing during that entire time as is often the case this time of year in the West. Some days we had fires, some days we went without as it was just too risky.
Each year, though, we hear about lost hikers who light up a signal fire to expedite their rescue and then ends up torching the forest instead. With much of the Western US a tinderbox, my advice is to carry a quality (glass) signal mirror and learn how to use it- something that takes a few minutes in your backyard.
A decent signal mirror will run you $10 and can shoot a flash for miles and miles and, most importantly, doesn’t endanger the forest and the dozens of searchers on the ground headed your way.
Signal fires have their place; such as when the ground is covered with snow, it’s the rainy season, it’s a non-windy day, and you have exhausted other means.
Since survival is all about being prepared, carry a signal mirror and whistle, at the very least, and you’ll have a much easier time drawing Search and Rescue personnel to you in the event you become stranded in the wilds.