Wildfire Preparedness in the age of Social Distancing: Steps you can take to mitigate the risks before the fire happens
by Tyler Gilbert, Forest Stewards Guild - Gravitas Peak Wildland Fire Module
At this point, every part of the world has experienced some level of effects from the novel coronavirus (COVID-19). While events like concerts and conferences are being cancelled left and right, it’s important to remember that wildfire season will not be cancelled, even in the time of a global pandemic. Emergency response will likely not be as durable as it has been in years past, due to a myriad of cascading effects COVID-19 has placed on Emergency Responders. Nevertheless, there is something that can be done to help improve your homes’ resilience to wildfire and spark community-wide resilience, while still maintaining social distancing practices.
Starting at home
Look around your house, do you have adequate defensible space? Removing flammable materials from the exterior of, and from the immediate 100’ area encompassing the home is a huge first step in mitigating the risk of losing your home to wildfire. Don’t forget about commonly missed areas like clogged gutters and debris-covered rooftops. Additionally, plant native species around your home by doing diligent research regarding what native plants are found in your area. Do not rely on the tags on plants at box-stores that read “native,” as native plants will differ from location to location.
Moving outward from your home, it is also important to remember what kind of large-scale land management activities you are capable of doing on your land. Consulting a land management professional to help guide you through the process of producing a management plan is a great first step in working towards a plan of resilience for your property. Land management plans look into the health and vitality of your property long-term, and can be goal-specific with recommendations tailor made to improve your properties’ fate against a destructive wildfire.
You can use the Forest Steward Guild’s Home Hazard Assessment workbook and worksheet to identify specific risks to your home and then work on mitigating those risks.
Community Involvement in an Era of Social Distancing
It is extremely impactful to remember that there is a great deal of work that can start at home. Working on a community-level protection plan from the comfort of one’s home has never been so easy. Organized teleconferencing or online townhall meetings featuring a professional in the field of forestry or land management can have huge impacts without the implicit risks of large gatherings during this time. Contact a subject matter expert, such as a representative from your local United States Forest Service office, to learn more about community-level projects you and your neighbors can safely participate in. Doing so is sure to improve the community’s literacy about pre-existing programs designed to help improve wildfire resilience.
- Sign up to receive local emergency alerts.
- Set up a neighborhood text tree that lets you send an email via text. This allows for rapid and detailed sharing of emergency information in your neighborhood.
- Prepare your home as much as you can for wildfire. While maintaining social distancing, help neighbors that may require additional support.
- Being prepared for a disaster means being ready before it happens. Prepare an evacuation kit or go bag.
Wildfire Preparation and Information
- Strategies for Resilience: Make the Most of National Wildfire Community Preparedness Day While Practicing Social Distancing, handout adapted from the NFPA toolkit and Fire Adapted Colorado Newsletter.
- What Does Fire Season Look Like Amidst the Covid-19 Pandemic? Concerns, Perspectives, And Ideas from The Field, document by US Forest Service, Human Performance & Innovation and Organizational Learning.
- Fighting wildfires during a pandemic, article from Wildfire Today
- 2020 National Fire Season Themes, National Interagency Fire Center (NIFC) document outlining 2020 fire season outlook with special consideration to pandemic.
- The 2020 Fire Year: Managing risk in a pandemic, Letter from the Chief of the United States Forest Service (USFS).
- How the Coronavirus Could Hurt Our Ability to Fight Wildfires, Podcast available through Google Podcasts; Interview with Kendra Pierre-Louis, a reporter on the New York Times.
General Information on COVID-19
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
- World Health Organization
- Coronavirus: Number of infections, dead, and recovered
- Genomic epidemiology of novel coronavirus (hCoV-19)
- Google Earth Engine map of COVID-19 spread over time
- Model predicting the last day each state can act before hospitals will be overwhelmed
- Curated scientific literature on COVID-19
- Infected people without symptoms may be driving the spread of coronavirus more than we realized
- What does the coronavirus mean for the US health care system? Some simple math offers alarming answers