Photo Caption: Whether you’re talking about wildfire or prescribed fire, your words matter. Check out these resources and tips before your next outreach effort. In this photo, Yosemite National Park’s chief of fire and aviation, Kelly Martin, is explaining the ecological and community safety benefits of prescribed fire. Notice the homes along the right side of the photo. Photo by Yosemite National Park

1. Speak with more than words. 

A graphic illustration of the cycle of before, during and after wildfire fire adaptation efforts

The Washington State Fire Adapted Communities Learning Network has developed some amazing visual aids regarding fire adapted communities (FAC) in recent years. The image to the left does a great job communicating the diversity of FAC regarding time, people and practice.

And, they’ve released a version without a logo (below), in case others want to use it! Please credit the Washington State Fire Adapted Communities Learning Network when using it, though.

Before, during and after the fire graphic without any logos

Click on the graphic above to open it in a new tab, and then save it to your device. Please remember to credit the Washington State Fire Adapted Communities Learning Network when using this image.

If you’re talking about FAC on your website or during a presentation, consider embedding the video below as well. It unpacks FAC and was also made by the Washington State Fire Adapted Communities Learning Network. A Spanish version is available as well (see #3 for more thoughts and resources regarding translating FAC materials).

2. Get organized.

If you’re talking about prescribed fire specifically, I can’t recommend Jenifer Bunty’s latest FAC Net blog enough. In Talking about Lighting Fire Near Recently Burned Communities: Communications at the Southern Blue Ridge TREX, Jenifer provides five succinct how-to’s applicable to anyone working on prescribed fire outreach. Think planning, photos and people. Get insight into the prescribed fire training that was covered by nine different media outlets!

Screenshot of Facebook comment and response: "Hey! These are great questions. The Pinnacle Mountain Fire (in 2016) burned about 2/3 of Table Rock State Park. The South Carolina Forestry Commission made a plan to set controlled burns in the areas that were not burned by the fire to help reduce fuels like dead wood. The plot they planned to burn today will protect an old Civilian Conservation Corps structure that could be threatened by wildfire. Controlled burns have been shown by research to be a really effective tool to help support native plants and prevent erosion. They burn at a very low intensity and don't typically go down to the soil."

“I remember a moment when I sat with three other members of our team, each of us from a different agency or organization, trying to carefully respond to a single Facebook comment. The commenter asked why we were burning when a wildfire had just come through two years ago. This may seem like overkill, but we’ve all seen how quickly a single comment can end up being viewed by thousands. Check out the comment and our reply above.” -Jenifer Bunty | Click on the image above to read the rest of Jenifer’s insights regarding social and traditional media outreach during prescribed fires.

Bonus: Be sure to check out Jenifer’s specific editorial calendaring and photo organization advice.

3. Communicate in the language(s) your audience speaks.

A surprising number of FAC resources, including those related to essential human safety matters like evacuation, are only available in English. In a country where about one in five people speak a language other than English at home, this is problematic. But we need more than word-for-word translations. As Maria Estrada puts it in Six Great Wildfire Adaptation Resources in Spanish: It’s About More than Word-for-Word Translations, “An accurate translation requires much more than a word-for-word conversion from one language to another. It requires thoughtful and respectful attention to the people you are trying to engage.” In that same post, Maria shares an annotated list of wildfire adaptation resources in Spanish that are clear, succinct and take audiences into consideration. If you have well translated FAC resources, please share them in the comments section below.

4. Use the Right Words

You know fire, but how good are you at talking about it? If I asked you to fill in the blank below with the phrase that you think residents would best understand, what would you say?

“Your neighborhood has  ___________­­­­­­­­­.”

Heavy fuel loading? Serious issues? A lot of flammable vegetation?

FAC Net recommends keeping it simple and going with the latter. Take this quiz and download the resource at the end for more fire messaging tips.

More on Prescribed Fire Outreach

With spring in full swing (in most areas), we’re seeing lots of controlled burns occurring across the country. Whether you’re the one doing the outreach for a burn or running the drip torch, make sure your team knows about these best practices.

5. Know where your audience really stands. In many areas, social license to burn is higher than you may think.

6. Meet them on “their” turf. Despite the point above, you still may encounter some opposition. Communicating Amidst Controversy: The Fire Learning Trail [An Interview with Jen Bunty] tells a story of how a podcast, strategic social media and a few interpretive signs have radically changed the prescribed fire conversation in the southern Appalachians.

Visitor reading a Fire Learning Trail interpretive sign

A visitor reads a sign at the first stop of The Fire Learning Trail. Credit: Jenifer Bunty, Consortium of Appalachian Fire Managers and Scientists. Click on the image above to learn more about the communication techniques employed on what is now the extremely successful “Fire Learning Trail.”

Bonus: This post also discusses the initiation and evolution of the hashtag “#goodfire” on social media. A must-read for all fire and communication practitioners, alike!

7. Be deliberate. The Cascadia Conservation District, the Chumstick Wildfire Stewardship Coalition and the Okanogan Conservation District developed a thorough prescribed fire outreach strategy in recent years. Learn more about their efforts by checking out Telling the “Good Fire” Story: Two Communities’ Prescribed Fire Outreach Efforts.

8. Access what’s already been created. In 2017, we published a collection of prescribed fire outreach materials in Prescribed Fire Outreach Assessment — The Verdict Is In. From fact sheets, to videos for newbies, to webinar archives, this post provides a comprehensive list of resources and more context. (These resources were collected as part of an assessment project, which is discussed at the beginning of the blog linked above.)

9. Brush up on your vocab.

Picture of a dictionary, with the following text imposed: "Ever feel like you need a dictionary to make sense of all of those wildfire terms?"Sometimes, nothing beats an old-fashioned dictionary. Check out Your Wildfire Terminology Dictionary (Well, A Blog Post Version of a Dictionary, at Least) to brush up on your fire vocabulary.

What works for you?

When it comes to FAC, what phrasing, materials and visuals work best in your community? Tell us about it in the comments section below.


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