Wildfire Community Preparedness Day 2023

Happy wildfire community preparedness day!

Have you ever looked at your calendar and noticed there’s a holiday that you’ve never heard of before? Sure, there are the ones that are quite well-known, but every once in a while you see something like “Clean Your Room Day” on May 11th and realize you’ve done nothing to mentally prepare for that. And you might either have a lot more questions about why this day was established, or just choose to ignore it altogether. 

Today is one of those days that is brand new to me. Thankfully, it’s a lot more exciting than cleaning my room, so it piqued my interest and inspired me to share. May 6th is National Wildfire Community Preparedness Day in the US and Canada.

Founded by the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), Wildfire Community Preparedness Day started in 2014 as a national initiative to encourage participation in projects that reduce wildfire risk in vulnerable communities. I love this idea, though I would argue that it should be celebrated everyday! Nonetheless, let’s appreciate today by discussing what makes wildfire resilience so important. I’ll provide some concrete examples of successful wildfire preparedness initiatives and conclude with some suggested resources and ideas for you to take advantage of.

Here’s a question to start us off: What does wildfire community preparedness mean to me? 

I wish we could discuss this together, but for now, I’ll just provide my own personal examples. I’m a GrizzlyCorps Fellow working at the Community Alliance with Family Farmers (CAFF) to expand the capacity of their new Wildfire Resilience Program. GrizzlyCorps is an AmeriCorps program specially focused on climate-smart agriculture and wildfire resilience based out of UC Berkeley’s Center for Law, Energy, and the Environment. While I came into this work with little experience in agriculture or fire, an eagerness to learn has definitely helped me fill in that gap. I’ve learned that, today and always, wildfire preparedness and community resilience are inseparable!

Coming into this work has been humbling, to say the least. There’s so much that most folks would miss unless they were out working in and managing the land themselves. Today, I’m proud of how far I’ve come in understanding these topics, but none of it would have been possible without the relationships I’ve built. Truly, the key to my growing understanding of fire is the co-learning I’ve experienced in wildfire-conscious communities.

Huddling at a Siskiyou County Pile Burning Workshop

For this reason, I love how the title of today’s holiday emphasizes that. It’s not just Wildfire Preparedness Day, but Wildfire Community Preparedness Day. Community is an integral part of the equation here. This comes as no surprise to those who have stewarded the land since pre-colonial times. The fact that fire has a history of being an Indigenous cultural practice that’s a critical part of tending all life speaks to the natural way in which fire brings us together.

Let me provide some examples I’ve seen of folks working with their communities to prepare for wildfires. I’ve witnessed the formation of (or progress toward) multiple Prescribed Burn Associations (PBAs) throughout my months of service. 

“Prescribed Burn Associations (PBAs) are community based, mutual aid networks that help private landowners put “good fire” back on the land.”

PBAs are about community members gathering under the common goal to reduce wildfire risk by appreciating fire. It’s what Prescribed Fire Training Exchanges (TREX) are about, too. In the Butte County TREX I attended in October 2022, we learned about everything from fire behavior to leadership skills and how to work in collaboration with a fire squad. Among the instructors were Andrea Bustos and Jose Luis Duce from the Watershed Research and Training Center, who incorporated some of the most effective leadership and cooperation training I’ve seen to date.

Butte County TREX participants filling a water tank. credit: Michael Steinberg
Cheetah Tchudi showing workshop attendees his oyster mushroom cultivation system. credit: Michael Berlin

I’ve also had the pleasure of learning from farmer Cheetah Tchudi at Turkey Tail Farms in Oroville, which recovered from the devastating 2018 Camp Fire by using a form of fungal bioremediation to address toxic ash and persistent organic pollutants. Since then, Cheetah has been an open advocate for wildfire preparedness and resilience, hosting workshops that bring together members of his community to share in peer-to-peer learning and storytelling.

Peer-to-peer learning and relationship building is encouraged in other workshops I’ve attended, such as at the annual EcoFarm and Small Farm Conferences. I had the opportunity to support two sessions at these conferences: “Produciendo Alimento durante la Temporada de Incendios Forestales” (in English, “Producing food/crops during Wildfire Season”), and the Farming Through Wildfire Season Workbook. Ana Galvis, an educator with the Organic Seed Alliance, presented some key considerations for wildfire preparedness for a Spanish-speaking audience. Among the plethora of useful advice and tools that were shared, there was also discussion about organizing your family and farmworkers to be prepared in case of any disaster; making sure you have communication strategies and contingency plans established. This presentation also honors how critical it is that our wildfire communities expand to include members of non-English speaking communities, who continue to prepare despite a lack of access to wildfire resources.

The common thread in all of these examples: community. Wildfire preparedness is about coming together to share experiences and grow together. The more we build these relationships, the more we strengthen our resolve in an increasingly unpredictable climate.

So, what are some things you can do this Wildfire Community Preparedness Day to get prepared? 

While daily farm tasks are already time consuming, it can be hard to decide what small, actionable steps to take with your current work capacity. Here are some options to consider:

I hope this list doesn’t seem too daunting, especially now that you’ve officially done at least 1 thing to celebrate today: read this article! Trust me, it counts. You’re already pretty good at this!

In the spirit of wildfire preparedness and community, focus on friends and family! Remember that fire can bring us together in so many ways. For me, today will be about reflecting on all of the amazing relationships and lessons I’ve had over my service term thus far. And tomorrow will be about continuing with a commitment to lifelong learning.

credit: Michael Steinberg