Thank you to all who joined us for the screening of the new documentary “Elemental” this week. If you missed it, here’s a little insight on what we discovered.
The United States sees an average of 72 thousand fires each year. While that number has remained fairly steady, the destruction caused by these fires has increased dramatically in recent history. There is a common misconception that both the problem and the answers to coexisting with wildfires lie within the forests. So many of our fire preparation efforts go towards forest management projects such as clear cutting, thinning and vegetation removal. What we have seen is that regardless of how many resources we put into forest management, in the end there is little to no proof that any of it will make a difference when it comes to saving homes. The types of fires that are causing the mass destruction of our communities are not necessarily traveling from treetop to treetop, but rather being driven by wind. Wind driven fires allow embers to travel much further distances in very little time, and those embers are each capable of starting their own new blaze. A clear-cut barrier around your home does nothing to protect against a stray ember landing on your roof.
So where are our efforts better spent? We can’t do much to control fire, or predict where it will hit next, but we can prepare for it. The work we can put in that has the most potential to make a difference is hardening our homes and businesses and preparing our communities to withstand fire conditions.
What is home hardening? Hardening your home or business is about taking steps to prepare both the land and structures for the possibility of fire. The level of hardening is largely up to the individual putting in the work, and while it is simpler to address many of the areas in which homes can be hardened during new construction, there are ways to update and protect older buildings as well. Simply clearing out flammable clutter from around your home or the property around your park or campground is a great place to start, as well as keeping gutters clean or opting for alternatives to the traditional gutter system such as French drains, or grading. Some other steps which can get more involved, consist of staying away from wood and traditional shingles when choosing or replacing a roof, covering exposed vents, and selecting double-paned windows.
Expenses can add up quickly when any type of construction or remodeling come into the picture, but with the amount spent on forest management and fighting the large blazes each year, it would make sense for some of that funding to be redirected towards hardening our communities and lowering their risk to begin with. The question is, how do we make that happen?
We need to spread awareness of our options and advocate to make home hardening a more accessible and affordable solution. Fire is a part of nature, and we should be treating it that same way we treat other potential natural disasters, by preparing to the best of our abilities. If the state were to repurpose funds and offer grants or tax credits for those putting in the work to harden their structures, more property owners would have the ability to do so, lessening the risk for everyone. With a set of basic standards that could be implemented and improved odds against potential losses, we could also work to redirect the narrative of insurance coverage availability in the state.
While the documentary covered so much insightful information, our biggest takeaway was that we do not need to live in fear of wildfires, when we can in fact adapt and coexist with them. We hope that this is a path we can continue to pursue and share with our communities. Thank you to Ralph Bloemers and the Elemental team for bringing us and our members along for your journey.
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