Editor’s note: We need everyone to be involved in community fire adaptation efforts. Young people are making incredible strides to innovate, educate, and increase awareness in the movement for living better with fire. In this blog, high school students Niranjana Sankar and Lauren Kim of the Bay Area in California share their work to organize and encourage engagement in wildfire prevention. All photos are used with permission from those photographed and can be credited to Wildfire Awareness Initiative.

Wildfire Awareness Initiative, or WAI for short, is a teenage-led 501c3 nonprofit dedicated to spreading awareness regarding wildfire safety and prevention. We utilize community events, research articles, social media, and webinars to share our message with people of all ages and backgrounds. 

2023 Earth Day Fair at Monta Vista High School.


Following the disastrous Santa Clara Unit (SCU) Lightning Complex wildfires of 2020 in the Bay Area, Niranjana Sankar and Lauren Kim witnessed firsthand how unprepared their community was. Friends were told to evacuate their homes, however, they were unsure what to pack. As a result, they decided to found WAI, the Wildfire Awareness Initiative, to spread awareness about wildfire prevention, serving not only as a resource center for wildfire information but also taking active measures to prepare their community. Since then the organization has grown to a team of roughly 20 high schoolers from the Bay Area and is sponsored by Santa Clara County (SCC) FireSafe Council. Across social media platforms, mainly Instagram, WAI has gained a following of 2000+ people.

Two people in red t-shirts stand in a parking lot outside behind a large posterboard.
WAI representatives at a 2024 Farmers Market Booth.

Our Research Posts

Our main method of transmitting information is through Instagram and YouTube. WAI’s research team compiles data from various sources online regarding the most pressing wildfire and climate change news, then creates succinct Instagram posts to convey the information to the public straightforwardly. Our creative media team works on longer YouTube videos that address the same content, but dive deeper.

Our Events

Outside of posting on social media, our team hosts online and in-person events. During 2021 and 2022, we hosted three webinars with guest speakers regarding topics of wildfire prevention, family safety, and using AI to predict wildfire behavior. Some of the webinars included STEM workshops or fun activities with prizes for the participants. Each webinar was designated for a specific age group to reflect their interests and capabilities.

In the past couple of years, our team has transitioned towards in-person events, where we have focused on teaching the next generation. Last fall, we taught Boy Scout troops and local elementary schools about wildfire prevention and camping trips. At each event, we held a fun Kahoot, an online quizzing activity, with prizes to engage the students. Seeing their engagement and competitiveness in the activity was the most rewarding and highlighted their reception of our work. We’ve also presented at city events and forums for older audiences such as the Cupertino Public Safety Forum in the fall for the past few years. At each event, we talk about the wildfire problem and address key prevention techniques each household can implement. We pass out flyers and little goody bags at our booth.

2024 Cupertino Public Safety Commission Forum.

Collaboration is also a major focus of our work. We’ve worked with the Santa Clara Fire Department to assemble disaster kits and educational materials for 400 local elementary schools each fall for the past three years. Moreover, we’ve volunteered at Santa Clara County’s Community Wildfire Protection Plan meetings, Los Altos Wildfire Preparedness Day events, and more. Our team loves to help out local cities and provide insights as a teen-led initiative to the issue.

Learn more about us on our Instagram: @waiforchange, YouTube channel, and our website.

We would love to connect with individuals who have been affected by wildfires to feature on our Instagram and videos.