(Appeared in print as "Only You Can Prepare for Wildland Fires")
“Only you can prevent wildfires,” our old friend Smokey Bear has advised the public for almost 70years. While that simple mitigation message has done much for raising awareness in the wildland-urban interface to the dangers of wildfires and ways to avoid them, we still have a long way to go in all three parts of the wildland arena: fire-adaptive communities, resilient landscapes and suppression.
But that does not mean things are not moving forward. I just returned from the IAFC’s WUI conference in Reno, Nev., and I was very impressed with what I saw. The collection of dedicated and intelligent individuals gathered there to work on solutions for the issues of fire in our forests and urban-interface areas was amazing, and the topics they are working on are even more so. From the experiences of the greater Reno area and the fires that they experienced just a few months before, to the vendors displaying their wears, to the hard work of the IAFC’s Wildland Fire Policy Committee, the show was an unmitigated success.
I was happy to be able to take part in the WFPC meeting as they worked on issues such as the National Cohesive Strategy; the upcoming Quadrennial Fuels Review; fire-adaptive communities; the need to recognize the knowledge and experience of our structural firefighters, in order to help them obtain certification in the wildland arena; air tankers; and the ever present question of “who pays?” The WFPC is one of our hardest working committees and represents the local government fire service — chiefs like you — with our federal, state and tribal partners.
I can’t stress that last part enough. As a member of the fire service, I have been involved with the education, mitigation and response to fires in the urban interface for a large part of my career. What has become evident to me is that no one group or agency can solve WUI-related issues on their own. Without the relationships we have with organizations such as the Forest Service, the Department of the Interior, the National Association of State Foresters, the NFPA and its Firewise Communities program, and the Western Governors Association, just to name a few, we could not be moving the mountains — no pun intended — we collectively are to address these important issues.
I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that, in addition to all of the policy work the Ready, Set, Go!. RSG! leverages the great work of programs such as Firewise and Living with Fire to spread the message to residents that they need to take personal responsibility for themselves and their property, pay attention when fires start and evacuate when told to by local officials. Now entering its second year — with almost 400fire departments taking part so far — RSG! provides resources, tools and guidance to help fire departments create wildland-fire public-education programs in their communities. Funded by our federal partners, RSG! is open to all fire departments and I encourage you to go to http://www.wildlandfirersg.org/ to get more information and sign up for this important program.is doing, we also are leading a national WUI public-education program entitled
We will have fires this year, both the ones that need to occur in order to have a healthy ecosystem, and the ones that unnecessarily destroy lives and property. Unfortunately this year looks like it may be a tough wildland-fire season; a mild winter and in most communities an unusually light fire season last year point to challenges this year. Now add in the cuts in federal dollars and the loss of firefighters in almost all of our local communities, and our ability to respond in force to these fires may be disastrous, especially for those in the WUI.
As leaders at the local level, it’s up to you to take stock of what you are doing in your communities to make them fire adaptive and to be ready to fight fire when needed. It’s up to you to evaluate how you can improve your efforts. It’s up to you to make a difference in the WUI.