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Please help us to set some fires!

Smiling neighbors saluting the camera

Photo by Scott Anderson

 

The 2021 Wildfire Advent Calendar has been brought to you by Creative Crisis Leadership, a fledgling nonprofit organization with an award-winning new approach to community disaster preparation and a mission to prepare people to be unprepared.

Now it’s your turn.

We need your support to set fire to five communities before May 31, 2021.

OK, not literally. Although, we want them to feel and think like a wildfire really is threatening their homes.

You see, we believe that the best way to learn something is to practice. So we create fun and engaging immersive learning experiences that throw a small group of strangers and neighbors into an (imagined) disaster. They get to discover what they need, and are capable of, before they are faced with the real thing.

Watch this video to see how our approach works.

With your help, we can pilot our new wildfire learning experience in five communities in Northern California. Once we know it produces the right learning outcomes, we’ll work with different community-based organizations so that they can set (imagined) fires under many more communities.

Please donate now to help us to set our first five fires!

Your greatest asset

“I think the key to my, our experience is, the fact that we were a very, very tight knit community helped immensely.”

— JD, 2020 CZU Lightening Complex Fire survivor

We often hear from people that those around them were what helped most in getting through a disaster. Friends and family out of the area may provide emotional and financial support. But neighbors and other members of the local community offer the understanding of a shared experience, the vision of local knowledge, and the power of collective action.

The importance of social connections for disaster recovery is borne out by research. Daniel Aldrich, a professor at Northeastern University, has studied why some communities fare better than others in disaster. His conclusion?

“… resilience – the ability to recover from shocks, including natural disasters – comes from our connections to others, and not from physical infrastructure or disaster kits.”

— Daniel Aldrich, Recovering from disasters: Social networks matter more than bottled water and batteries

Studying several very large catastrophes, Dr. Aldrich and colleagues found that communities with more “horizontal ties” — relationships between individuals that are approximately symmetric in mutual standing and obligation — had lower mortality rates.

At the level of whole cities, however, “vertical ties”— relationships where “one member has greater power, authority, knowledge or wisdom” — are more important. Cities with stronger vertical ties recovered more quickly, particularly when these ties were with decision-makers outside the area.

Horizontal and vertical ties are both forms of “social capital” — the human relationships that give an individual access to greater resources than they themselves have. As Aldrich has found, social capital is more important to community resilience than “physical capital” — tools, structures, and materials.

That makes sense: Social connections offer not only emotional and practical benefits, but it’s more likely that the resources needed are available somewhere in the social network than that any one individual or household will have everything. So it is more valuable to know someone who knows someone, than it is to try to have everything that might be needed.

But, do you actually have to know someone who knows someone?

In one sense, yes. You want people nearby who know you, and will rush to your aid, should you need it. In another sense, no. While it is, of course, easier and more powerful to have a social network in place before you need it, a versatile second-best is to be able to build one in the moment.

This gets us into the third type of capital that is key to community resilience, “human capital” — the skills and knowledge of individuals. In this case, the confidence it takes to approach strangers, and the social skills it takes to forge a connection with them.

Sound scary?

Get over it! Practice talking to strangers. Start with small talk — it really works! Practice responsive listening — listening for what people need you to hear, not just the words they say. And, a great place to start?

Get to know your neighbors!

 


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When in doubt, throw it out!

Industrial area in back of Lower 9th Ward, Photo from Infrogmation

 

Yesterday, we talked about some specific tips and tricks that will help you prepare to evacuate. What about some fun facts around lesser known wildfire evacuation tips and tricks, though?

First, let’s talk about refrigerators, Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. (Slight spoilers ahead).

Image from Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull

 

In the beginning moments of the movie “Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull,” Indiana survives a nuclear blast by hiding in an old refrigerator lined with lead.

The contents of your refrigerator may not need to survive a nuclear blast, but what happens when you need to leave your home unexpectedly, perhaps after recently grocery shopping?

Chances are, your food may not do quite as well as Indiana did.

According to the FDA, an unopened refrigerator will keep food cold for about 4 hours after losing power. A full freezer may hold temperatures for up to 48 hours.

Imagine leaving your home for 4 weeks.

In 2016, the Fort McMurray wildfire prompted the mandatory evacuation of the entire community, leading to quite the unpleasant surprise for those residents fortunate enough to have a home to return to. After a month of no electricity, insurance companies were advising residents to not even open their refrigerators, for fear of toxic contamination.

Photo taken by Terry Reith | CBC Network News Alberta, Canada

 

It’s very possible that power has been off for weeks, and then restored before you’ve ever made it home. How can you be sure that your food is safe?

  • If you have time before evacuating, discard your perishable food items from your refrigerator and freezer.
  • If this isn’t practical, place a few ice cubes in a bowl or bag in your freezer before you leave. If the temperature drops enough to melt the ice, you’ll know that the food is unlikely to be safe, regardless of whether it’s frozen again.

Your refrigerator is only one place you might not think when it comes to wildfire safety and evacuation.

Here are a few other wildfire evacuation tips:

  • Before leaving, place a ladder at the corner of your house. Unlike Santa Claus, your local fire department doesn’t have a sled with flying reindeer to easily get onto your roof!
  • Are you an avid grilling enthusiast? Don’t forget that your pellets, briquets or propane tanks are a source of fuel for wildfires. Move them away from the defensible zone of your house. Better yet, take them with you!
  • Don’t leave sprinklers or water running. While you may think it will provide short-term protection for your belongings, it can reduce water pressure for local firefighters and actually increase fire danger! Leaving out a hose is ok though!

Do you have a favorite wildfire safety tip you’d like to share? Comment below with your suggestions!


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Getting Ready to Evacuate

Wildfire Evacuation Route Sign (Sold by Smart Signs)

 

“The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The second best time is now.”

While the history of this phrase is unknown, it still holds true. Now, we’re not here to talk about planting trees (although that also helps with wildfire recovery), but rather being prepared to be prepared.

As humans continue to move into the “wildland-urban interface” — where human habitation meets wildland vegetation — the danger of wildfire will only increase. Cal Fire states that, “In California, wildfires aren’t a question of if, but only a question of when”.

Just like planting a tree, if you haven’t started growing your fire evacuation plan before now, today is the best time to start.

Get Ready

Before wildfire strikes, take a few moments to prepare yourself and your family!

  • Make a Wildfire Action Plan for yourself and your family. Checklists are great for this! Ensure that everyone knows where a designated meet up location is outside the fire zone. Do you have multiple escape routes planned to your destination? Do you have a communication plan yet?
  • Prepare an emergency supply kit for each member of your family. Having a “go” bag will help ensure your family members have the supplies they need.
  • Find out what emergency resources are available in your community and write them down. Do they have emergency contact numbers or an alerting system? Sign-up before disaster strikes!

Get Set

Ok, wildfire is coming. There’s a chance you might have to evacuate, so what happens next?

  • Be informed! Tune into a local reputable source of information and know what the wildfire risk is to you and your community. What level of evacuation warning is present? Do you know what your neighbors’ plans are? Do they have infirmities, children or pets they might need help with?
  • If you haven’t started already, prepare an emergency supply kit for each member of your family. It’s never too late to start preparing. If you’ve already made your kits, now is a great time to refresh and make sure you’ve got all the supplies you’ll need.

Mind your P’s! The United States Forest Service and Cal Fire has this guidance for evacuation preparedness:

  • A plan for persons and pets in your family
  • Papers, phone numbers, and important documents
  • Personal computers, tablets, phones, etc. Be charged and ready to go!
  • Prescriptions, medications, eyeglasses, etc.
  • Photographs, and other irreplaceable memorabilia
  • Plastic (your credit cards, debit cards, etc.)

Go

When the time comes to leave (or even before), it’s time to put all of your planning into action. The most important thing is always your own safety.

  • Do not hesitate to evacuate early! Critical road infrastructure can become quickly congested, leading to dangerous situations. By leaving early or when advised, you can help everyone else to evacuate safely as well!
  • Make sure you’ve got your emergency kit or supply bag in your vehicle!
  • If time permits, cover up to protect against flying embers or debris. By wearing long-sleeved shirts and pants, hats and even goggles, you can help build a layer to protect yourself.

By being better prepared, you’re making your community safer for everyone!


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Wildfires run faster

Photo by sporlab on Unsplash

 

Remember the wildfire in Bambi? Where Bambi and all other the animals are running for their lives from the wildfire? The fire that was started by an unattended campfire? The scary thing is, this scenario is both realistic — animals try to outrun a wildfire — and unrealistic — it’s unlikely that so many of them make it.

You see, wildfires can run faster.

How fast, exactly, depends on three factors:

  • Fuel — What’s burning, how dry it is, how much there is, and how dense it is.
  • Weather — How windy it is, how hot the air is, and how humid it is.
  • Topography — How hilly the terrain is, how steep it is, and how contours run.

The numbers commonly cited as the typical maximum “forward rate of spread” (FROS) are

  • 6.7 mph (10.8 kph) in forests
  • 14 mph (22 kph) in grasslands

As in the movie, Bambi may be able to make it out. White-tailed deer can run up to 30 mph (48.2 kph). Presumably, that is on level grasslands, not in a forest.

But humans are unlikely to fare as well. The average completion time for a 10K footrace is 1 hour. That’s an average speed of 6.2 mph. So, if you are on the fast side of the average, you might outrun the fire. IF the fire is burning through a forest, AND you’re running on a typical 10K route, that is, reasonably flat, with good footing and no obstructions.

Your best bet is not to be there in the first place. Humans cause 90% of wildfires. Do your part to keep from starting one. If you are in a fire zone, get out as quickly as you can.

But, if you are a backcountry camper, here are some tips for surviving should you find yourself in a bad situation.

 


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