As we work to diminish the threat of wildfire and smoke, a new Nature Conservancy study shows an important part of the solution may actually be more fire – of the right type.
Written by Patricia Sarmiento, Volunteer writer
Photograph by John Marshall
Emotions run high when disaster strikes. That’s why it’s important to educate yourself on disaster preparedness and make plans for what you’ll do during a wildfire before one ever comes your way.
There’s a few do’s and don’ts of reacting to an emergency wildfire situation. Many of us already know the do’s, so here’s a reminder of what you shouldn’t do during a wildfire.
Don’t Assume Everyone’s Clued In
Call 911 immediately–don’t assume someone else already has. Don’t assume your neighbors and local loved ones know about the wildfire breakout, especially if they’re at work or school in another area. Notify everyone of the potential danger.
Go ahead and get in touch with everyone in your family so you can talk about setting your wildfire action plan into motion.
Don’t Leave Your Home without Taking a Few Precautions
Unless you need to leave your home as soon as possible, go ahead and beef up your home’s ability to withstand a nearby fire by taking a few precautions such as:
Removing debris, yard waste, and firewood from your yard
Distancing your grill from your home
Shutting off all gas and propane suppliers
Closing windows, vents, and doors
But remember–lives are always more precious than things. If you feel unsafe while preparing your home for a nearby wildfire, leave immediately.
Don’t Wait to Take Action
Before you take precautions for protecting your home, know what your criteria are for deciding to evacuate. At what point will you know that it’s time to pack up and go?
Having this criteria in mind before you put your home-preparedness plans in motion will help keep you focused during times of panic. Know when you need to drop what you’re doing and get out and don’t be afraid to leave earlier than planned if you feel unsafe.
Don’t Return to Your Home without Permission
If you do evacuate, be prepared to leave for good, or at least for an extended period of time. Don’t return to your home without checking in with the proper authorities first. Don’t assume your neighborhood is safe again when there’s a possibility it might not be.
This is why it’s a good idea to keep a battery-powered radio in your emergency wildfire kit. You’ll be able to tune into the news and stay updated on the status of the wildfire.
Hopefully you’ll never need to use these disaster plans–but if a wildfire ever strikes, you’ll be glad you made them. Remember that when it comes to wildfires and other natural disasters, a detailed plan can be the most powerful tool in your toolkit.
Patricia Sarmiento loves swimming and running. She channels her love of fitness and wellness into blogging about health and health-related topics. She played sports in high school and college and continues to make living an active lifestyle a goal for her and her family. She lives with her husband, two children, and their shih tzu in Maryland.
Written & Photographed by Reese Lolley, Director, Forest Restoration and Fire
Last week was the second annual Washington Fire Adapted Communities Learning Network communities and steering committee workshop! It was held in Wenatchee where seven communities shared their outcomes of being in the trenches for a year, and three new communities were brought on to learn about how Fire Adapted Communities provide a framework and approach to adapt to live in fire prone environments and reduce community risk.
There are three elements of being prepared and resilient to increasing amounts of fire predicted in Washington:
To put unwanted fires out effectively to project people and places, and manage those that can have defined benefit.
While The Nature Conservancy does not have a large role , there is a nexus. Traditionally, the act of suppression has been the focus.
Greater than 2.7M acres of forests east of the Cascade crest are in need of active restoration (thinning and or controlled burning). Water, wildlife, and fire do not recognize ownership boundaries. Working in large watersheds, using strong restoration evidence base to set initial goals, collaboratives plan and coordinate projects leveraging resources across ownerships to increase pace and scale of outcomes having a collective positive impact.
FIRE ADAPTED COMMUNITIES (LEARNING NETWORK)
Empower people in communities to take action to prepare, reduce risk, share lessons learned and be resilient living in a fire environment. Learning Networks are developed to accelerate growth and develop innovations, to engage solutions for complex problems.
It's amazing what the local community along with partners and The Nature Conservancy have accomplished in three short years:
- Washington was the first National Fire Adapted Communities Learning Network member to expand to a statewide FAC network, which is now being replicated in other states.
- $500,000 invested by Bureau of Land Management into the state network.
- We have fostered organizational and fiscal capacity of the South Central Resource Conservation and Development Council for future management of this effort.
- We've engaged a WA-FAC steering committee of Federal, state, private, and NGO organizations that provide member communities with greater access to resources as well as facilitating understanding and sharing across and within organization silos of excellence (just recently brought on State Commerce).
- We have ten communities across the state that are taking a diverse set of actions that is reducing their wildfire risk, and sharing those lessons learned with each other with various tools within the network as well as sharing outside the network with other communities, including policy makers.
It is exciting to see these results not only making a difference in communities, but also for how this work indirectly supports our lands work in creating more resilient forest conditions for wildlife, water, and people.
From one Fire Chief engaged in WA-FAC-LN said, “there was no way a year ago I would of signed onto a letter to the Governor encouraging him to sign a Prescribed Fire Pilot Bill and exclaiming how important controlled burning is as a part of the soultion," but how excited he was do so recently, to a Northeast Washington home owner association member at last week’s meeting making a statement to the group that “in Washington we need to learn to live with fire, that by engaging communities and supporting their efforts in reducing risk, it will allow land managers to manage a lot more fire for multiple objectives that will in turn make forests more resilient and communities safer."
Changes in culture are hard to measure, while we are far from community members taking actions to prepare for fire being as normal as preparing for an earthquake in San Francisco or living in a flood zone, we are trending in the right direction!
This is a testament to what can be done with a little vision, leadership and developing and working with a network of committed partners!
How communities are working to increase their resilience in the face of fire.
Written and Photographed by Mary Sutton Carruthers, Tapash Collaborative Coordinator and Reese Lolley, Eastern WA Forests Program Director
We are in the midst of what is now the largest wildfire season on record in Washington with forecasts of dry lightning potentially igniting new fires. All corners of our state are burning or have burned this summer. Most residents have felt the effects of smoke and many are reeling from the destruction of personal property, and most devastating of all is the tragic injury and loss of life of those bravely protecting what we value. Washingtonians are realizing that there is a collective and individual responsibility to increase the resiliency of our communities, forests, grasslands, and our ability to proactively live with wildfire.
This type of disaster resilience is built at the community scale and with that in mind, The Nature Conservancy and its partners has supported the establishment of Fire Adapted Communities both regionally and nationally. From a homeowner clearing out brush around their house and making exterior improvements to resist fire, to county residents and organizations coming together to create a Community Wildfire Protection Plan, to county governments and builders working together to make homes safer and less likely to burn, to businesses developing disaster resilience plans, to state, federal, and private organizations working together to achieve landscape scale forest restoration, Fire Adapted Communities assume responsibility for living in a wildfire prone landscape by taking pro-active steps towards increasing resiliency before, during, and after a fire. While firefighters have an immensely important and sometimes dangerous role, individuals and communities can take responsibly and make investments before fires that make wildfire response safer and more effective.
Fire Adapted Communities also incorporate many existing programs to help residents better prepare for wildfire including the National Fire Protection Association’s Firewise Communities program and the International Association of Fire Chiefs Ready, Set, Go! program.
The Washington Fire Adapted Communities Learning Network (WAFAC) was launched earlier this year and provides member communities with resources to engage with other WAFAC participants so that they can share information, resources and lessons learned. Learning networks connect and support people and organizations that are leaders in their communities, passionate problem solvers and want to share what makes a difference with the goal of accelerating existing and developing new approaches to preparing before, during and after wildfire. Currently, the communities in Washington include Okanogan, Chelan- Leavenworth, Yakima, Kittitas, San Juan, and Lincoln counties, as well as the Flowery Trails Community Association in Stevens County and the Seattle City Light-Skagit Hydroelectric Project in Whatcom County. These communities are educating residents on what they can do to prepare for the inevitable wildfire. They are reaching out to builders, home owners associations, county commissioners, businesses, and insurance companies to spark the discussion about how to collaborate to increase resiliency, and they are engaging landowners over best management practices following wildfires.
This year, we grieve for the lives lost in the act of protecting us from wildfires. We are in shock that north central Washington is leading again with an unprecedented amount of wildfire. Fire has touched us all, from the Idaho border to shrub-steppe lands around Moses Coulee to the San Juan’s to the outskirts of the Hoh Rainforest, and in many places and communities in-between. The importance of working to make these great places and landscapes more resilient and neighboring communities safer have never been more apparent. The Nature Conservancy is leading these efforts by supporting Fire Learning Network, Fire Adapted Communities, Washington Fire Adapted Communities Learning Network and through their membership in forest collaboratives working to increase the pace and scale of large watershed restoration, and through their support of the Wildfire Disaster Funding Act.
While current trends and climate science indicate that wildfire season is lengthening and acres burned will continue to grow in orders of magnitude compared to last century, there are actions we can take to increase our resilience and reduce the costs to people and nature living in a landscape that is on fire. Let’s not wait this time. Read more about two solutions we believe can provide relief from the worst of today’s megafires: through funding & improving management.