The combination of climate change and population growth in the western United States has brought on a seismic shift in the way we view wildfire. Once thought to be mostly contained to forested mountain landscapes during the summer months we have learned fire is not limited to or contained within natural areas but can move with ferocious ease through highly populated areas at any time.
While there are numerous steps individuals and communities can, and should, take to create defensible space around their homes, that fact is sometimes it is the homes themselves that become the fuel that feeds a wildfire. Under the right conditions, wildfires can move through communities so quickly firefighters are left powerless to stop them.
Could this happen to me?
The 2021 Marshall Fire in Boulder County made it clear that we are at the dawn of a new era and must be prepared for year-round wildfire. Nothing can be left to chance. Everything from the planning of new communities, such as the location and arrangements of homes and the materials they are made out of, to detailed evacuation strategies must be accounted for in advance of development.
Everyone in Colorado who watched the tragic and unfathomable events unfold in Louisville last December asked themselves, “Could this happen to our town and to my neighborhood?”. The answer is a sobering “Yes.”
What can be done in the face of this new reality?
There are many existing programs, such as Fire Adapted Communities, Community Wildfire Protection Plans and Firewise, that help communities take individual and collective steps to protect themselves. These plans work to protect people, property, and natural resources, by emphasizing forest fire readiness and fire-resistant community design (Perfect Mind 2017). As vital as these plans are, they are not failsafe. It is critical that individuals prepare for the possibility of evacuation during a wildfire. The team at Fire Safe Marin has created a comprehensive Evacuation Guide to help people understand when they should evacuate, how to prepare, where to go and how to get to safety.
Where should I start?
The most important thing you can do today is make sure you are signed up to receive emergency alerts and evacuation notifications from your local county by phone, text and email. If you live in Larimer County Colorado, learn what to do before, during and after a wildfire and how to get signed up to receive emergency notifications in our blog, Wildfire Resources for Larimer County.
In the dawn of this new era, take time now to prepare. In the face of an emergency, having an evacuation plan and being ready at a moment’s notice, any time of year, could very well save your life and the lives of those you love.