It's been less than a year since California's "worst wildfires" and wildland firefighters, fire agencies, and safety advocates are all experiencing a major case of deja vu. As someone who has written continuously for years about what we all need to do to prepare for wildfires, reading the news feels like a nightmare from which I cannot seem to wake up. Conditions throughout most of the western United States are hot, dry and windy, the perfect recipe to create large and dangerous wildfires from any ignition. The federal government mapping counts 90 active fires as of today (July 30, 2018).
For the fourth time in the last decade, the federal agencies that respond to wildfire are at a "preparedness level 5" - 2 weeks earlier than last year. This level allows for more aid from states and even other countries to suppress wildfires. For those people very familiar with the wildfire problem, it is not as if current events are completely surprising. In spite of media interviews where people continue to talk about "unprecedented" events and conditions that have injured and killed firefighters and residents, forced thousands to evacuate and burned hundreds of structures in each incident, it has only been weeks and months since sources including the USDA Forest Service, CAL FIRE, the National Interagency Fire Center, the Governor of Arizona, and a U.S. Senator from Oregon have sounded the alarm about predicted conditions that spell high hazard from wildfire.
What will it take for all of us - not only firefighters, and not only elected officials - to start taking the warnings seriously? Why aren't we treating wildfire like the natural, inevitable, and often dangerous phenomenon that it is, and learning how to live with this hazard and prepare our homes and communities? What more can we, should we have done in places impacted by the Carr Fire and all the others? It is not acceptable to me - nor should it be to anyone - to witness repeated, heartbreaking destruction and the toll on human lives when we know there are things we all can be doing to reduce risk.
Safety advocates including staff of all of the agencies mentioned above, the California Fire Science Consortium, the Insurance Institute for Business & Home Safety, NFPA and many of our other colleagues and partners around the country and around the world have been tirelessly researching, messaging and reaching out with best practices, tips, tools and opportunities to take action - for years and years. If you are watching these fires and you aren't in immediate danger, NOW is the time to educate yourself and take practical, proven steps to protect your family and home from the risk of wildfire. Visit www.firewise.org and your state and local fire prevention websites to get the information you need today.