17 Ways We Grew: Community Wildfire Resilience Lessons from 2017

By: Allison Jolley

Topic: Fuels treatment / Prescribed fire Learning networks Planning Resilience Wildfire Wildfire recovery

Type: Success Story / Lessons Learned

2017 has been a big year. Natural disasters, including wildfires, struck numerous communities. Technology evolved in novel ways. A total solar eclipse occurred. Bitcoin became the talk of the town. Fidget spinners went viral and out of style.

By New Year’s Eve, FAC Net will have published 100 blogs in 2017, each one offering a combination of insight, resources, stories and sometimes even humor. Our authors flooded your inboxes with so much wisdom that your biggest challenge may very well have been making time to read it all. In case you’ve missed a blog, or a few (dozen), here are 17 community wildfire resilience takeaways from the last year. Why 17? Because we’re about to say goodbye to 2017, of course!

1. We need to make sure everybody gets a seat at the community wildfire resilience table.

Last summer, Wendy Fulks and Maria Estrada wrote, Who’s Missing? Thinking about Wildfire Resilience through an Equity and Inclusion Lens. In their post, they outlined how and why FAC Net emphasizes equity and inclusion. Check out their post for inspiration on how to better include vulnerable populations in your fire adaptation work.

FEMA employee explaining a written resource to a resident

Click on the image above to learn about how and why FAC Net emphasizes equity and inclusion. Photo by Andrea Boohe, Federal Emergency Management Agency

2. Human history is fire history.

Reader-favorite and author of our Science Tuesday series, Lenya Quinn-Davidson, educated us on the last four centuries of fire history in the West, emphasizing that each of the historical fire regimes are linked to patterns of human activity.

3. Sometimes, seeing is believing.

Liz Davy’s post, Best Way to Get a Resident’s Attention: Burn Down Their Home (Through a Wildfire Simulation, Of Course), recounted a successful community outreach workshop. Let’s put it this way, when you show someone a simulation of their house burning down, they start paying attention.

A sample Simtable, which is a three-dimensional display made of sand that runs wildfire simulations

Island Park Sustainable Fire Community used a Simtable modeling exercise to motivate and engage local residents; click on the image above to learn more. Modification of photo by Simtable

4. Utah’s statewide fire policy is changing wildfire economics, and people from across the country are interested in it.

To learn about the ins and outs of Utah’s new wildfire policy, take a look at this two-part series. In her first post, Jennifer Hansen outlines the key principles behind the policy. And based on popular demand, she also authored a second post that explains how this policy came into existence.

5. Fire adaptation work requires investing in local coordinators.

“Helping a community live more safely with wildfire” … talk about an ambitious objective! Where do you start, and what does that job even look like? Over the past year, we spent the day with some of our members to find out what advancing fire adaptation actually entails. Hear their stories. (Only four posts are linked below, but type “Day in the Life” into our website’s search bar to pull up the rest.)

Nametag reading, "Hi, my name is Pam Wilson (Almost Retired) Executive Director FireWise of Southwest Colorado Durango, CO, 9 years working with FireWise of Southwest Colorado, 9 years working on FAC Ed Keith's nametag: County forester, Deschutes County, Oregon. 5 years working with Deschutes County, 13 years working on FAC
Nametag reading "Hi, my name is Porfirio Chavarria, Wildland-Urban Interface Specialist, Santa Fe Fire Department, New Mexico. 12 years with Santa Fe Fire Department, 12 years working on FAC" Nametag reading "Hi, my name is Alison Lerch. Fire Adapted Communities Coordinator, Ashland Fire & Rescue, 2 years 2/ Ashland Fire and Rescue, 10 years working on FAC
6. Planning pays off. And we have five ways you can start.

We collected four examples of how planning ahead, whether that involved fuels treatments, team building or outreach, generated success during the 2017 wildfire season.

Sold on planning, but not sure where to start? We also rounded up our top five resources related to planning for wildfire.

7. There are loads of prescribed fire outreach materials out there, and partners are working to organize it.

Hopefully you heard about the national prescribed fire outreach assessment that occurred earlier this year; maybe you even participated in it. In Jennifer Fawcett’s Prescribed Fire Outreach Assessment — The Verdict Is In, Jennifer highlighted some of the prescribed fire outreach resources available and discussed what her team plans to do next.

8. Think assets, not deficits, first.

Last June, Jana Carp told us about community-based asset mapping and encouraged FAC practitioners to focus on assets rather than deficiencies. Learn more about this approach in her post, Community Magic: Community-Based Asset Mapping Establishes New Connections for Fire Adaptation.

9. If you’re trying to instigate behavior change, work on recognizing when you have “enough” and don’t forget to look forward.

In How Practicing “Enough” and Looking Ahead Can Support Social Innovation, Michelle Medley-Daniel walked readers through giving scarcity-thinking the boot and creating space for what she calls “abundance thinking.”

Abundance thinking is not about denying reality. It is about questioning the origins of a limitation. 

10. We don’t just burn; there’s always a bigger picture.

Earlier this month, we presented seven spins on controlled burning. In addition to getting more #goodfire on the ground, each burn we covered had at least one other objective. Whether it was advancing cultural values, creating job training opportunities, or strengthening partnerships, each burn achieved something special.

11. Communities need a point of entry. The Fire Adapted Communities Self-Assessment Tool can help.

The FAC Self-Assessment Tool (FAC SAT) helps communities understand where they are in their fire adaptation journey, and identify priorities and potential actions. This year, we found out that a range of organizations from around the country are downloading and using the FAC SAT, including non-profits, fire departments, state governments and emergency management offices. The majority of people using the tool are cross-walking it with another planning tool, like a Community Wildfire Protection Plan, an All-Hazards Mitigation Plan, or a County Emergency Operations Plan. So, don’t let investments in other community planning processes stop you from checking out the FAC SAT. Read more about the FAC SAT.

FAC Sat button with house, person and form icons

Click on the image above to download the Fire Adapted Communities Self-Assessment Tool.

12. It’s time to talk about failure.

Earlier this year, we launched the Fantastic Failure Blog Series to catalyze honest reflection about FAC projects that go wrong. So far, we’ve heard about a fuels reduction project that went astray and an overly ambitious multi-jurisdictional forest restoration project. These authors pushed through a challenging process to write these posts, both of which received loads of positive feedback. If you’d like to participate in the series, contact me. If you’re a bit uneasy about the idea, read the examples above, as they may give you some motivation to step out of your comfort zone and start talking about failure.

13. Community wildfire planning isn’t just about the short term. We need to be thinking long term as well.

Did you know that “40 percent of businesses do not reopen after a disaster, and another 25 percent fail within one year” (Tristan Allen, Washington Emergency Management Division)? Learn how community planners in the Pacific Northwest took a pro-active approach to long-term recovery planning.

14. Sometimes, you just need a cartoon to explain what you’re talking about.

Have you met Fire Adapted Fred?! If you’re struggling to explain what a fire adapted community actually is, Fire Adapted Fred might just become your new best friend. Take a look, share and use! Be sure to give the Washington Fire Adapted Communities Learning Network credit for this video.

Living with Wildfire: Everytown, USA

New 5-Minute Video! What is a Fire Adapted Community? Meet Fred and Find Out. Video created by the Washington Fire Adapted Communities Learning Network.

Posted by Fire Adapted Communities Learning Network on Monday, October 23, 2017

15. Just when you thought you knew it all, Lenya did it again (i.e., she taught us something else we didn’t know about fire).

In her top performing blog post of 2017, Science Tuesday: Toasted Ticks, Lenya took the reader from the Great Plains to the Ozarks to southwest Georgia as she unpacked the science of how prescribed fire impacts tick populations.

Blacklegged tick on a leaf

Click on the image above to read Lenya’s Toasted Ticks. Modification of photo by Lennart Tange shared via Flickr Creative Commons

16. This work relies on community wildfire resilience practitioners sharing their experiences.

We all have stories to tell. We all have lessons learned. (Speaking of lessons, check out this great post by Jeremy Bailey: 15 Lessons Learned from 10 Years of Cooperative Burning.) Whether it’s a success or a fantastic failure, if you have a story that you think other wildfire resilience practitioners could learn from, contact me to explore the possibility of authoring a FAC Net blog.

17. Every community’s wildfire adaptation journey is unique. Together, we are creating a more resilient future.

Ready to learn more? Subscribe to receive updates each time a new FAC Net blog is published.

A big thanks to all of our blog authors, members and partners for sharing their invaluable expertise with the network this year. Wishing you and yours a Happy New Year!

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