Photo Credit: Post-fire forest landscape. Photo courtesy of Canva Creative Commons.

Editors’ Note: This fire season has brought with it another year of record-breaking fires and too many losses. Many communities across the west are grappling with how to best recover from these large-scale fires. This blog shares a Wildfire Recovery graphic, created by FAC Net and FAC Net practitioners and it is designed to help communities see the breadth of wildfire recovery actions, whether they are working to piece their communities back together after a fire or are working now to prepare for recovery. This blog is the first in a two-part series. The second part will highlight examples throughout FAC Net of actions taken to help communities recover better from wildfire.

While this blog focuses on recovery, we would like to acknowledge that many communities are still actively fighting fire. Some communities have recently suffered significant losses. Our hearts are with those communities as they begin the recovery process.

The vision of National Cohesive Wildland Fire Management Strategy is clear: “To safely and effectively extinguish fire when needed; use fire where allowable; manage our natural resources; and as a nation, to live with wildland fire.”

The trouble is, living with wildland fire is neither simple nor easy. Too often, we have focused only on actions we can take in advance of wildland fire. What happens though, when those preparations are not enough? It is humbling to think that our best efforts to prepare our homes and communities in advance of fire may be inadequate. However, it isn’t admitting defeat to think about what comes after a wildfire. It doesn’t mean we have failed if we are actively preparing our landscape and communities to recover. And, when we have faced unimaginable losses from fire, recovery work is no longer optional.

The trouble with the word “recovery” in the context of wildfire is that it means different things to different people depending on a person’s job or perspective. Early discussions of what happens after a wildfire were previously focused almost exclusively on fire impacts to the landscape. This focus made sense, as many wildfire practitioners come from a land management background. Burned Area Emergency Response Teams – teams of resource professionals which evaluate the impacts of wildfire on federal land and recommend emergency treatments to help reduce damage to the landscape – are incredibly important to wildfire recovery. Yet, when we see entire communities with widespread home loss, business loss, life loss, and more our concept of recovery must be expanded.

FAC Net developed a fire recovery graphic (Figure 1) to identify and capture the wide diversity of community and landscape needs after wildfire and to provide a common framework for post-fire discussions. Informed by network members across the country, the FAC Net recovery graphic integrates experiential knowledge from diverse communities, ecosystems and perspectives. This graphic, by practitioners and for practitioners, enables communities to start planning for locally-led fire recovery in advance of the fire. Visually similar to FAC Net’s fire adapted communities graphic, this fire recovery graphic helps explore the diversity of social, economic, life and landscape needs and considerations after wildfire and provides a starting point for planning and adaptation action. It can help to identify who needs to be ‘at the table’ when developing a wildfire recovery strategy.

Figure 1. New Wildfire Recovery Graphic!

The inner ring (teal circle) contains broad elements of post-fire recovery actions. These elements demonstrate the breadth of activities that can occur after a wildfire. The outer ring provides examples of some (but not all) of the activities and services which may occur in each broad element. This graphic isn’t designed to imply that any one organization should (or even could) undertake all of these activities. Rather, the graphic is designed to show the variety of actions and extent of community impacts that can occur after a wildfire.

Figure 2. The right side of the graphic is organized chronologically, note the fire occurs between “Planning & Preparedness” and “Emergency Management”.

The right half of the inner ring is organized chronologically (Figure 2). The left half of the inner ring (Figure 3) is organized topically. This blended framework of chronological and topical focus enables a more comprehensive approach to what happens after a wildfire.

Figure 3. The left side of the graphic is organized topically.

As with many graphics and models, there are limitations. Lines between elements have been drawn while, in reality, these lines are quite blurry and nuanced. The dividing point where risk assessment stops and life safety begins, for example, is a little hazy. It is important to recognize these distinctions aren’t set in stone. Along the same lines, we would invite those who use this graphic to remember that it is often the transitions between elements or phases of recovery which can be most challenging.

The intent of this graphic is not to provide a “how-to” guide to recovery. If you are looking for detailed information on how recovery organizations can function after disaster, FEMA’s National Disaster Recovery Framework is a good starting place. Rather, we recognize that there has often been a gap between community wildfire practitioners and the full spectrum of recovery work. It is that gap that we are hoping to address with this graphic. Recovery is extremely multi-faceted, unique to each community, and includes both social and environmental systems. Recovery is as much about the land as it is about the people and communities who live upon the land.

Broadening our post-fire conversation to include social and community elements is likely to mean forging new partnerships. Non-traditional partners such as public health practitioners, social service organizations, and utility companies all have a stake in wildfire recovery. Expanding our understanding of what happens after wildfire to include these partners enables a more connected, cohesive and effective approach to wildfire resilience. By creating a graphic framework that enables more of the community to see itself in recovery, we hope to create a pathway that fosters more partnerships and cultivates more meaningful collaborations.

No phase of fire (before, during, or after) asks more of us than the post-fire phase. Understanding the task before us, in all of its depth and breadth, is one positive step toward a greater more holistic recovery and the ultimate goal of living better with wildland fire.

For those wishing to make use of the Wildfire Recovery graphic, a PowerPoint with notes, a Facilitators Guide and all graphics can be found here.

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