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January 18, 2013 Previous day Next day

During the discovery process of researching how to effectively connect with youth about the topics of wildfire safety, prevention and mitigation; Firewise Program staff knew the target audience had to become a large piece of the project and they implemented the don’t do anything about me, without me, concept discussed in yesteryday's blog. 

Connecting with middle and high school students through six wildfire community conversation workshops produced input that was consistent and forthright - and participants voiced what needed to be incorporated to make it impactful.  Attendees adamantly stressed that wildfire safety messages need to be delivered by peers who'd been personally impacted by a wildfire; and if possible include an entire family to make the messages even stronger.  They felt it's important to learn from real people that can make the topic relatable – not actors, celebrities, government officials or politicians. Firefighters were another acceptable delivery mechanism for wildfire messages; but they felt if a teacher was used in that role, they prefer it be one that was (you guessed it) also impacted by a wildfire. Who they want to hear from was loud and clear, but they also want the information to be realistic; not scary, but definitely honest and straightforward.

They believe human-to-human information sharing is much more effective than advertisements in any form. One group adamantly stressed that, “if you want us to pay attention – the messages need to get our attention!”

This demographic expects and demands information that's real without any sugar-coating.  They want to know what's at stake and what they could lose.  Pets and animals of all kinds are very important to them and they want to know how wildfire could impact them.

They might be entrenched in texting, email and Facebook, but the teens we talked with said their most common source of wildfire information is traditional media sources; and tied for the second most frequent source of information was parents and school, followed by the Internet. 

School may have been cited as a common source for information; but the majority of participants said extremely limited information was shared with them at school before or after the fire in their communities; even though all the fires that impacted attendees occurred during months that school was in session.  

The full report on our conversations with youth includes in-depth information on how they want to be reached and the topics they prioritize as important.  In our next blog, we examine the results of a questionnaire distributed to teachers in four communities that recently experienced a wildfire. Diego City Fire Department Fire Prevention Supervisor Eddie Villavicencio graciously met with me to discuss how San Diego neighborhoods can work toward being recognized as Firewise Communities.  We discussed the importance of residents taking responsibility for making their homes and neighborhoods safer with the support of the San Diego City Fire inspectors who go door to door working with residents.  It was a unique experience to be talking about wildfires among the San Diego City Skyscrapers but who would have thought that a wildfire would destroy homes within a city limits.  So wherever you live make sure that you have protected perhaps one of the biggest investments of your lifetime, your home!

It is important to note, that during the 2003 Cedar Fire in San Diego, California over 300 homes were lost in Scripps Ranch.  The map below shows where some homes were destroyed in this neighborhood.  These homes were located within the City of San Diego’s City Limits.

Image 1: Scripps Ranch aerial imagery where red dot represent homes that were destroyed.  Blue dots represent homes that were not burned. (Source: San Diego State University Department of Geography).

SD-2007_1Only four years later during the 2007 fires almost 500,000 San Diego residents were evacuated from 346,000 homes.   200,000 of those evacuated were within the San Diego City limits. This was the largest evacuation in the region’s history.  At the height of the fire, San Diego Fire-Rescue Department had 73 engines, 7 trucks and 420 people deployed.  According to the 2009 National Institute of  Standards and Technology (US Department of Commerce), “Case Study of a Community Affected by the Witch and Guejito Fires”, the neighborhood of Rancho Bernardo a community of 274 residences saw the complete destruction of 74 homes and 16 others were damaged.

As we make resolutions for change, residents in the city and rural areas abutting the wildland urban interface (WUI) can take action before the next years fire season to make changes to their home and surrounding landscape to make their property and families safer during a wildfire event.  There are many simple modifications that can be made to make your home safer such as:

  1. Cleaning gutters of leaves and debris.
  2. Moving woodpiles at least 30 feet away from homes.
  3. Make sure that the area under your deck is free of debris and vegetation.
  4. Make sure that fences and other attachments to the home are fire resistive.  Remember if it is attached to the house it is part of the house.
  5. Make sure that the area around the home itself is well watered especially within the first 30 feet.
  6. Remove all dead vegetation from around the home.  Rake up leaves and remove them.
  7. Trim back tree branches overhanging the roof.
  8. Check your vents to make sure that the screens are cleaned of debris and install ember resistive vents.
  9. Make sure that you have spark arrestors properly installed on your chimney.

For more firewise tips to keep your home safe check out the Firewise Toolkit

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