Too often we refer to wildfire-prone communities as being the problem. If they were only located somewhere else that didn’t burn then we wouldn’t have such disasters, right? But when you stop and think about it, there are so many places around the planet that can or will burn, where would we go? Perhaps Antarctica could become prime real estate...
In all seriousness, I think it’s important to acknowledge that we will continue to see people living in areas that are prone to grass, brush, and forest fires. Period. However, we know the tools to help communities become fire-adapted and it is more productive to focus on improving safety and protecting lives and property in these communities. Recent conversations with international organizations have encouraged me that this community-minded approach is also gaining momentum around the globe.
Last month, for instance, NFPA coordinated a meeting with folks from Firewise Africa, the South African organization CapeNature, Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, the UK Chief Fire Officers Association, and the Canadian Partners in Protection Association. The agenda focused on common mitigation goals and potential ways to promote community based fire management across continents. This conversation was just the beginning of what promises to be a productive working group that will engage and support future collaboration on wildfire mitigation and outreach.
I also had the opportunity to attend two separate conferences in Canada in November – the Canadian Institute of Forestry’s Rocky Mountain technical workshop in Edmonton, Alberta and Partners in Protection Annual General Meeting in Winnipeg, Manitoba. My fellow presenters highlighted examples from communities around Canada, including the mitigation steps that the Peavine Metis Settlement (Alberta) has taken to find local solutions to address wildfire risk within this aboriginal community. Partners in Protection is also steadfastly developing a FireSmart community recognition program that promotes voluntary homeowner and neighborhood action. This program will be very similar to the Firewise Communities/USA® Recognition Program, and NFPA is supporting Partners in Protection in this process.
These recent conversations, presentations, and meetings remind me to re-frame the discussion. Instead of looking from the outside on how I, as a technical practitioner, can fix the problem for other people, the real question remains focused on how can we support communities to collaborate and create solutions from within? For more inspiration, check out our Firewise success stories, as well as Firewise community stories developed in South Africa.