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Southern California has seen fire season start early with large wildfires consuming tremendous amounts of acreage. Temperatures have been in the triple digits and humidity is at an all-time high, similar to the conditions found in Arizona during the Yarnell Hill Fire, which claimed the lives of 19 firefighters. I recently took a walk through the woods near my house and found that the forests are in bad shape. The duff (vegetation on the forest floor), which usually has some moisture in it this time of year, is bone dry.

 

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Duff in Cleveland National Forest, San Diego, CA.

Conditions, conditions, conditions

All three recent fires in California and Arizona - the Yarnell Hill Fire, the Chariot Fire and Mountain Fire - have shared similar weather conditions that have contributed to large scale devastation. The impact from triple digit temperatures, shifting wind conditions and low humidity has created dangerous situations for residents, first responders and firefighters alike. For those of us in the country’s southwest region, this has meant a very difficult fire season.

According to CAL Fire, the Mountain Fire, which started Monday west of Palm Springs, has scorched over 22,000 acres and destroyed three mobile homes, three residences in Bonita Vista, one commercial building in Palm Springs, 11 outbuildings and 4-6 vehicles. The fire is only 12 miles from where the 2006 Esperanza Fire claimed the lives of five U.S. Forest Service firefighters. Over 6,000 residents have already been evacuated and with more than 2,000 firefighting personnel, 228 fire engines, 10 air tankers, 17 helicopters, 15 bulldozers, and 21 water tenders responding, the costs of fighting this fire and the loss to residents in this vacation area, are increasing with the fire only 15% contained.

Wildfire can be personal

 I looked toward the area where the Mountain Fire is burning from where I live in Mount Laguna, which was recently scorched by the Chariot Fire, and my heart went out to the residents who now have to evacuate.  I know first-hand how hard it is to close the door behind you as you are leaving in advance of the fire front, knowing that the brave firefighters are going to be working hard behind you to try to save your home. I felt better knowing that I had given my home and the firefighters a better chance to safely protect my home by doing the defensible space work necessary to give my home a fighting chance to survive. The Firewise Communities Program provided me with the steps I needed … it has a great webpage you can refer to as you work to make your home safer. Take a look and start working around your home today!

It is a terrifying feeling to have to leave your home during a wildfire, but I felt more confident of the outcome because I had prepared in advance.  My home stands because we, as a community, had taken steps to prepare, and because of the heroic efforts of our firefighters. 

 

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The plume of smoke from the Ildywild Fire, visible in the center of the photograph. Taken from Mount Laguna, with a view of the burnt trees from the Chariot Fire.

Resources are available

Where do I start you ask? And what resources are availabe to me? Start with your home first and move your way out to your neighborhood and then to your community. The Firewise program offers a homeowner checklist and web page devoted to creating defensible space that can help get you started around your home. There’s also a page dedicated to talking points that can help you and your neighbors start a dialogue about wildfire safety and mitigation projects.  But it doesn’t stop there … there are also ways you can partner with other residents in your area to create a more fire adapted community. It’s all about learning your role and what you can do as a homeowner, civic leader, planner or landscaper, business owner or firefighter. Find out more when you visit theFire Adapted Communities website.

During this high fire season, it’s everyone’s responsibility to prepare for wildfire. Tell us about the projects you’re working and you may just inspire others to do the same!

Authored by: David R. Godwin, FAC Amabassador

 Access to local fire science is now easier than ever!

With most professionals, including natural resource managers and wildland fire specialists, time is a very limited commodity.  After meetings, paperwork, fieldwork and all of those unscheduled pop-up projects, often little time or energy remains for keeping up with the latest fire science research.  In spite of this common limitation, resource managers and wildland fire specialists at many levels are often expected to base their management decisions on the latest published scientific evidence.

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An experimental prescribed fire in a mechanically treated pine flatwoods forest in the Osceola National Forest in north Florida.  This research site was part of a fuel treatment efficacy workshop and field tour hosted by the Southern Fire Exchange consortium in 2011.  

Photo Credit: David R. Godwin

In 2010, after recognizing the need for improved adoption of recent fire science research, the federally funded U.S. Joint Fire Science Program began the nationwide Knowledge Exchange Consortia project.  The Knowledge Exchange Consortia is comprised of fourteen unique regional consortiums that represent nearly all of the major wildland fire fuel types and ecosystems found across the U.S.  In addition to improving access to and adoption of the latest in wildland fire science, each consortium is also tasked with increasing communication and collaboration between the scientific research community and natural resource professionals and wildland fire managers.  While the individual consortiums vary in organizational structure, staffing, and product development, all are mandated to be unbiased brokers of wildland fire science

For resource managers and wildland fire specialists, the Joint Fire Science Knowledge Exchange Consortia program is designed to make access to the latest regionally applicable wildland fire science easier and faster.  Consortiums have hosted free webinars by federal and university researchers, organized field tours and workshops of experimental forests and demonstration sites, developed short informational videos showcasing research syntheses, and published factsheets that translate lengthy scientific journal articles into useful and relevant summaries.  Because the individual consortiums are comprised of local scientists, experts, and managers, each program is designed to provide the latest regionallyapplicable wildland fire science that addresses the specific needs and questions of the local resource managers and wildland fire specialists.

To help make your community more fire adapted, improve your management decisions, and find timesaving access to the latest fire science for your region, connect with your local Joint Fire Science Knowledge Exchange consortium.

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