Preparing for Increased Wildfire Challenges

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Across the country – and around the world – our communities are experiencing the devastating effects of climate change in events like intensified wildfires. In some areas of the Unites States, wildfires occur year-round and are no longer seasonal events. Other regions that were never impacted by large wildfires like Maui, Hawaii and Gatlinburg, Tennessee, have suffered devastating losses. The East Coast was impacted by dangerous smoke from the massive 2023 Canadian wildfires, which caused schools across the region to cancel outdoor events.

Changing global climate and weather patterns contributes to changing wildfire behavior. One example of this is the significant rainfall in California that caused increased vegetation growth. This could lead to more severe wildfires in upcoming seasons. Other weather-related conditions, such as prolonged drought and higher temperatures, have also contributed to an increase in the severity of wildfires. 

Additional contributing factors that have contributed to increased risk include:

  • Scarce firefighting resources.
  • Past fire suppression practices.
  • Communities increasingly being built in fire prone areas.

The financial impact of these wildfires is staggering. According to the National Institute of Standards Technology report “The Costs and Losses of Wildfires,” they can cost anywhere between $71.1 billion to $347.8 billion. The cost to rebuild homes, commercial properties and infrastructure is also increasing. 

Wildfire is not a government problem, rather it is a national challenge. It will take a Whole Community Approach including everyone working together to create communities that are more resilient in wildfire prone areas. The recent Wildland Fire and Mitigation and Management Commission report shared that “federal agencies alone should not – and in fact, cannot – effectively address a challenge of this magnitude. The whole of society must be involved. This requires meaningful shared decision-making with a range of entities – Tribal Nation, state and local governments; residents; non-governmental organizations; private industry; the research community; and others – at every level.” 

Just as wildfires can occur anywhere, fire adapted communities can be created anywhere to help protect residents in wildfire-prone areas from loss and develop necessary collaborative relationships to increase overall resilience and capacity to respond. Communities that become more fire adapted fare much better, and recover more quickly, from wildfire. 

Implementing wildfire safety strategies like those identified in the National Cohesive Strategy and NIST’s Home Mitigation Methodology (HMM) can start with simple solutions that can be implemented widely like hosting community cleanup days. These efforts can be adopted by communities with little or no resources and are an important first step. 

Our communities must grow and work together to protect every potential part of structures and parcels that could become a point of entry for embers or flames. We can do that by addressing factors that can influence the fire spread, including the landscape around homes and home construction of roofs and windows and attachments such as decks and fences, outbuildings and more. An ember ignition of a single home can start a catastrophic chain of events that may result in neighborhood destruction.

To protect yourself, pets and property from wildfire you can:

  • Check your home’s roof and the roofs of outbuildings for areas where leaves, pine needles and other materials can build up and burn.
  • Regularly clean leaves, pine needles and anything that can burn from gutters.
  • Seal gaps around windows, doors and eaves with caulk.
  • Remove anything that can burn from underneath decks.
  • Plan and practice how to evacuate early.
  • Check with local officials to make sure your wildfire safety enhancements meet required codes and standards. 

The U.S. Fire Administration and FEMA provide information, tools, resources, and connections to help communities get started and grow in their ability to become more resilient. Visit the U.S. Fire Administration to learn more about how we all can work together to improve wildfire safety and be a part of protecting those we love, our homes, businesses and the natural environments around us. 

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