Carlie Murphy presenting at a neighborhood block party in Kings Beach in 2019. Photo courtesy of the Tahoe Network.

Listening to My Neighbors First: A Day in the Life of Carlie Murphy

By: Carlie Murphy

Topic: Communications / Outreach Watershed protection / management

Type: Interview

This month, FAC Net connected with one of our new members, Carlie Murphy, coordinator of the Tahoe Network of Fire Adapted Communities, to learn more about her integral, on-the-ground work with community members across the Tahoe basin. Carlie also chairs Tahoe’s Fire Public Information Team and through that is in charge of crafting and launching numerous public advertising campaigns focused on preparedness and forest health. We were excited to learn more about Carlie’s work with homeowners and community members and understand a bit more about the positive change she is bringing to the Tahoe region. Enjoy a ‘day in the life’ with Carlie!

FAC Net: First thing’s first. Tell us a little bit about yourself and your role in fire adaptation work.

Woman stands in front of trees with clipboard in hand.

Carlie Murphy presenting at a neighborhood block party in Kings Beach in 2019. Photo courtesy of the Tahoe Network.

Carlie: I’m Carlie Murphy and I coordinate the Tahoe Network of Fire Adapted Communities (Tahoe Network), which is a program of the Tahoe Fire and Fuels Team that’s housed out of the Tahoe Resource Conservation District. My main role is working with neighborhood leaders and numerous partners, including local fire districts and public land management agencies, to bring services and assistance to neighborhoods to help them prepare for wildfire.

I’m also chair of Tahoe’s Fire Public Information Team (Fire PIT), which is comprised of public information officers throughout Tahoe tasked with creating and maintaining cohesive messaging around prevention, preparedness and forest health. As chair of the Fire PIT, I’m managing advertising campaigns, media requests and ensuring that all partners have what they need to support agreed-upon Tahoe Basin-wide messaging.

When I’m not working, I spend my time skiing, mountain biking, backpacking and hot springing throughout the Western U.S. with my husband. We live by the motto of “work hard, play hard” and when it’s time to “play hard,” we turn off work and get after it. We’re anxiously awaiting the time when we can safely travel internationally again so we can apply our COVID-19 goal of learning Spanish in South America and deepen our language skills. ¡No podemos esperar!

Man and woman with backpacks stand at the top of a mountain vista

Carlie Murphy (right) and her husband Kelby backpacking in the Desolation Wilderness in 2020. Photo courtesy of Victoria Ortiz.

FAC Net: What led you to begin working on fire adaptation issues? How did you get into this work?

Carlie: I wouldn’t say I found this work, but rather it found me. I moved to Tahoe after graduating from the University of Utah in 2016 with degrees in Urban Ecology, Environmental and Sustainability Studies and Geography and was struggling to find a job in the environmental field. After a couple of years, the Tahoe Resource Conservation District took a chance on me and I was hired to build the Tahoe Network. Since day one, I have thoroughly enjoyed working in this field and feel extremely fortunate to have found such challenging work that directly impacts people’s lives.

FAC Net: Where might your job take you on a typical day?

Carlie: In 2020, my job is taking me from my bed, to my home office and to my couch all within my 500 square foot house. Although I’m not physically going to many places this year, virtually I’m “zooming” between meetings with neighborhood leaders, fire districts and other partners who keep the Tahoe Network thriving. Pre-2020 shutdowns, I spent most of my time in the community, planning events with neighborhood leaders or meeting with partners to discuss projects like the Wildfire Home Retrofit Guide and establishing annual work plans with local fire districts to ensure we meet our collaborative grant deliverables. This year has brought many challenges, but our team has found new and exciting ways to adapt to the times and we haven’t missed a beat.

Woman wearing a mask in the back of her car

Carlie Murphy delivers resources to neighborhood leaders throughout Lake Tahoe to help keep up momentum in neighborhoods during COVID-19. Photo courtesy of Carlie Murphy.

FAC Net: Tell us about a person who has influenced your fire adaptation and community resilience work.

Carlie: There isn’t necessarily a single person who has influenced my work, but rather all of the neighborhood leaders I get to work with each day. This year has been especially difficult for neighborhood leaders because they aren’t able to host in-person neighborhood events like they typically do. One neighborhood leader who has been especially influential has figured out creative ways to engage with their neighbors, including canvassing with a mask on and creating a neighborhood committee to pursue a Firewise USA recognition. Despite a year of uncertainty, they were able to become a Firewise USA recognized site and haven’t stopped working to prepare their neighborhood for wildfire. Neighborhood leaders like this one inspire me to create a program that better serves the diverse communities of Tahoe. Their dedication to helping their neighbors prepare always amazes me and serves as a reminder to keep finding ways to make their “job” a little easier.

Group of people gathered in front of a screen

A room full of Tahoe Network Neighborhood Leaders learn how to engage with their neighborhoods during a neighborhood leader orientation in 2019. Photo courtesy of the Tahoe Network.

FAC Net: Describe a project you’ve been involved with that you’re particularly proud of.

Carlie: Myself, along with a team of home hardening experts, are about to wrap-up the Wildfire Home Retrofit Guide, which will be published in late 2020 through the University of Nevada Cooperative Extension. I’m extremely proud of this project because we were able to identify a gap in our resources and have created something that will be used to help homeowners implement home hardening techniques for many years to come. The piece of the project that I’m most proud of was our team’s ability to pull together a virtual workshop in July with over 200 people in attendance. With the lingering threat of Zoom-bombers we’re happy to report that the event went off without a hitch (big sigh of relief here). Stay tuned for the Wildfire Home Retrofit Guide and virtual workshops for practitioners like you coming in late 2020!

FAC Net: What advice do you have for other fire adaptation practitioners?

Carlie: My best advice is to listen to your community and figure out what you can do that will help them make an impact. I know you’re thinking about that one community member who shows up at everything and causes problems (and believe me, we all have those), but have you ever tried to actually listen to that person? Oftentimes I see practitioners doing work without consulting their communities and especially not listening to those members in our communities who are a little “complicated.” Although many practitioners do this work for a living, community members bring perspectives and ideas that are often overlooked and listening to them makes the work we do much more impactful.

Group of people gathered listening to a presentation

Carlie Murphy (left) listening to the concerns of the North Upper Truckee Neighborhood in South Lake Tahoe during an evacuation drill in 2019. Photo courtesy of the Tahoe Network.

FAC Net: Do you have a motto that guides you in your work?

Carlie: As cliché as it is, Gandhi’s quote “Be the change you wish to see in the world” guides much of my life. Between climate change, social justice issues and politics, the state of the world is beyond overwhelming. Gandhi’s quote always reminds me that no matter how overwhelming things are, there’s always something I can do to better the world. This is why I have chosen a career that directly impacts people and the environment. I hope that by me helping to change this one sliver of the world in Tahoe, I will contribute to a positive change for the world as a whole. Cliché, I know.

FAC Net: Tell us about an aspect of living with fire that you’d like to deepen your knowledge and understanding of. What are you curious about?

Carlie: I’m curious to learn more about what wildfire messaging is working throughout Tahoe and the U.S. as a whole. I’m often managing advertising campaigns and working with partners to create cohesive messaging but at the end of the day, we don’t always know if it’s working in the ways we intend it to. I know my work has a direct impact on those I meet and talk with and I know that overall the Tahoe community has more knowledge and power when it comes to wildfire preparedness from what we’re doing, but I would love to have a larger understanding of the greater impact of our work over a longer timescale.

FAC Net: Ten years from now, what do you hope you and your partners will have accomplished?

Carlie: Ten years from now, I hope myself and our partners have created a norm around what living with fire in Tahoe means. Living in a forest means living with fire and I hope that when people move to or visit Tahoe the first thing that comes to mind is that they are entering a space that deserves respect. I hope in ten years people understand the benefits and risks associated with living in and visiting a forested area and take personal responsibility for themselves, their families and their property.

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