Working with many neighborhoods and cities through the years, there were times when I wondered why some areas seemed so well prepared for wildfire and some were not. Most unprepared people are aware of their risk and some even know actions they need to take to reduce their risk of loss but did not really do much collaboratively as groups or individually to take steps necessary to help make themselves safer if there was a wildfire event. Although we can acknowledge that it is ultimately our responsibility to help make things safer for ourselves and our loved ones, sometimes this notion does not address the fact that there are vulnerable populations who may need extra support or people who have difficulty engaging in wildfire safety work because of a barrier of some sort.
An interesting case study recently written by Dr. Crystal A. Kolden and Carol Henson takes a look at a success story about wildfire safety efforts made by the Montecito, California fire department and local residents before the Thomas Fire and how they overcame barriers to wildfire mitigation efforts. Through the use of geospatial data, recorded interviews and other program documentation, it explored the plan the community made and the actions they took to reduce their losses during the 2017 Thomas Fire.
Some of the steps they took have been emulated by other communities I have connected with in the past, including:
- The local fire department conducted outreach and educational events focusing on getting to know each neighborhood's needs and helping each find specific solutions to meet those needs. They realized from these conversations that members of their community had a financial barrier. To overcome this hurdle to action, they created a community-wide chipping program as a solution to help residents, especially those with financial needs, get rid of debris removed from on and around the home.
- The fire department also took time to get to know where people who had physical or language barriers would need extra help during an evacuation. In wildfire events, these populations can suffer the greatest loss. Simple actions taken in advance of a wildfire event can make a difference.
- The community and fire department worked together to build a bond of trust, which enabled them to work together on wildfire safety project work. A similar positive relationship enabled Falls Creek, Colorado to have a positive outcome during the 416 Fire.
- They provided materials in the different languages spoken by residents in the community to overcome language barriers to adopting wildfire preparedness. NFPA® has no-cost Spanish language brochures to help your community overcome this barrier.
The case study also revealed that they should have better planned for and taken steps to mitigate the effects of flooding after the fire, which is where the community experienced the greatest losses. However, the paper further discussed that their efforts to make the city safer helped reduce the losses by the community overall. I have seen first-hand where communities who have worked hard together have created safer communities where residents have developed a bond of trust.
Picture of a family working on a wildfire safety project submitted by Steve Lawry of Holly Knoll Homeowner's Association in Great Falls, Virginia.