What the Silver Tsunami Means for FAC and Why You Need to Partner with Assisted Living Facilities

By: Allison Jolley

Topic: Communications / Outreach Evacuation outreach/planning Wildfire

Type: Essay

There are no children on the list of dead from the Camp Fire. No teenagers or even young adults have been identified as victims of the disaster. The 46 named victims so far were, on average, 71 years old. The youngest was 39;* the oldest 95. Many had physical disabilities and couldn’t flee. Some refused to leave, unable to see, hear or smell the impending danger, or lacking the cognitive abilities to acknowledge it.

-Jill Tucker, Michael Cabanatuan and Ashley McBride; San Francisco Gate’s Tragic but Familiar Narrative in Camp Fire: Most Victims were Older, Disabled

Among the dozen people identified by Sonoma and Napa county officials as of late Thursday, the average age of those who died was 79. The youngest victim was 57, the oldest 100.

-Alene Tchekmedyian and Esmeralda Bermudez, California Firestorm Takes Deadly Toll on Elderly; Average Age of Victims Identified so Far is 79, Los Angeles Times

When I read things like that, when I hear first responders talking about the elderly couples that couldn’t make it out in time, I immediately think of my grandparents and ask, how can we do better?

To take things a step further, though, did you know that in 40 years, the number of adults over 65 years old (“older adults”) living in the U.S. will likely have doubled? We currently have about 49.2 million older adults in the U.S., and by 2060, experts predict that we’ll have 94.7 million (PDF, 408KB). Some people call this trend the Silver Tsunami. As fun as a good alliteration is, this trend has, and is having, awful implications on wildfire survival rates.

We’re already losing older adults to wildfire, and as that number doubles in the decades to come, I ask myself again, how can our fire adaptation efforts better serve our parents, our grandparents, and even ourselves as we too age?

Everyone working on FAC should read Chief Michael D’Orazi’s story about how his mother’s assisting living home made evacuation preparations the night before the Camp Fire started. Their foresight to secure transportation and prepare residents during a Red Flag warning (so before the fire had even started, let alone before evacuation orders were in place) saved lives.

One of FAC Net’s mottos about fire adaptation is that resilient communities must include everyone, and every type of expertise. If you aren’t already connected with the assisted living facilities and caregivers in your community, reach out. What are their evacuation procedures? When was the last time they conducted a drill? How did it go? Do they have the resources to make evacuation preparations each time there’s an active Red Flag warning?

Firsthand Accounts: How To Prepare Your Community For a Wildfire Evacuation is packed with resources and best practices regarding wildfire evacuation, so be sure to share that with your new partners, too.

*An updated fatalities list published after the San Francisco Gate’s article indicated that the youngest Camp Fire victim was 36. In total, the 2017 Sonoma/Napa wildfires killed 44 people; the youngest victim was 14.

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