In the March/April NFPA Journal Wildfire column, I explore how NFPA can balance the elimination of fire risk with the reality of wildland fire ecology. Recent fires in Gaitlinburg, Tennessee, provide a context, and importantly, a call to action for assistance.
Almost every other NFPA risk-reduction effort, from public education campaigns to the vast majority of NFPA codes and standards, seek the complete elimination of fire from the safety equation. Yet, in the case of wildfire, our wildfire risk reduction strategies have to acknowledge that fire must exist, to some extent, as a critical part of a healthy, natural land management process. How to control that and what to protect becomes the focus.
In writing the column, I was also stuck by the difficulty of writing a reflective, arguably academic piece about what was a human tragedy. The role of a writer, if I may call myself that, is to find “the story” from an event to relay reflection and hopefully, lessons learned. It’s easy to forget in this pursuit, that 14 people died and have family and friends searching for a higher meaning to what occurred.
Just as I closed the column, I encourage you here as well to visit MountainTough.org, the relief organization established by Sevier County and the cities of Gatlinburg, Pigeon Forge and Sevierville, Tennessee. It assists those who need help and those who want to help. Their recovery can be the best example of our collective advocacy and a beneficial lesson learned for all.