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Current Events and Issues

Preventing Outdoor Activities From Turning Into Wildfire Disasters

Posted: June 8, 2021

As the weather warms, more people than ever will be spending time recreating outdoors. And, as public land use increases, so does the potential for accidental wildfire ignitions.

Local community fire departments have an important role in wildfire prevention and prevention messaging.

Most wildfires are caused by humans

Did you know that almost 90% of wildfires in the United States are human caused according to the Insurance Information Institute's statistics?

The importance of reducing human-caused wildfires

Wildfires do not stay within artificial boundaries, and a wildfire burning in a natural area can quickly spread to areas where people live. According to Verisk's Wildfire Risk Analysis, 4.5 million homes in the U.S are at risk of wildfire loss. Even more worrying, according to CAL FIRE, 5 of the top 29 largest wildfires in California occurred in 2020.

The role of first responders

Because wildfires happen year round and are increasing in size and intensity, it is important for fire service personnel to ensure that residents in their district are aware that wildfires can be caused by accidents or careless acts, as well as provide information about how to help prevent human-caused wildfire ignitions.

1. Tailor ready-made messaging for your community while also respecting their needs, values and perspectives.

Get to know who lives in your jurisdiction with tools like citydata.com and by participating in public meetings with local groups, which can help you get to know your community. Making a connection with people will help you get to know their needs, values and perspectives. This will assist you in tailoring clear and honest messages that can encourage them to partner with you in wildfire prevention efforts. This partnership can be very effective in reducing wildfire ignitions, and ultimately, wildfire-related loss.

There are many resources available with ready-made messages that you can grab and use on your social media channels, such as U.S. Fire Administration's (USFA's) social media cards, the U.S. Forest Service Be Outdoor Safe Campaign, Smokey Bear materials, and CAL Fire's One Less Spark Campaign. The Bureau of Indian Affairs also has information on juvenile fire setting and more.

2. Inform residents how careless acts can cause wildfires.

Look at your department's local National Fire Incident Reporting System records, or other data sources available locally, for outdoors fire data, and determine the most frequently occurring human-caused fires in your area. Tailor social media and other educational events to increase prevention awareness to first address these ignition causes.

Some ways people can cause wildfires include parking vehicles on vegetation, debris burning, unattended campfires, using mowing or other equipment improperly outdoors, poorly maintained tires and chains from towed vehicles sparking vegetation fires along roadways, and more. Focus your main prevention education outreach efforts on the outdoor fire ignition causes that most frequently occur in your community.

3. Make residents aware of increased risk due to weather conditions.

The National Weather Service Red Flag Warning site has information about wildfire weather that can increase risk of ignition. These conditions include extreme heat, decreased moisture in local vegetation due to drought and other factors, and increased wind.

Share Red Flag information with your community through public service announcements, local flyers, news media channels, your department's Facebook page and other social media channels. Heightened awareness of activities to avoid during these conditions, and at certain times of the day when it is warmest, can help reduce unwanted wildfires.

Ways to Reach People With Wildfire Prevention Messaging

  1. Participate in community meetings, such as faith-based groups, grange meetings, youth groups like 4-H, Boys & Girls Clubs, homeowner's associations, senior centers and more.
  2. Share information in e-news or newsletters from libraries, associations, etc., or apps like Nextdoor.
  3. Share information on social media channels like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, TikTok, etc.
  4. Explore free messaging options on local public radio or television channels and some gas station electronic messaging boards.
  5. Share information through local schools, including local universities.
  6. Post information on local physical bulletin boards (like at the local library).
  7. Collaborate with local park or other land managers to host an outdoor presentation or fun interactive activity in a park or outdoor setting.
  8. Participate in an event with a recreational vehicle club or at a campsite.
  9. Host an open house utilizing large banners with wildfire prevention messaging.

By working together, fire departments and residents can make their communities safer from wildfire-related loss.

With climate change contributing to more extreme fire behavior, good prevention partnership building with the local fire department and community can help reduce wildfire-related loss. Research has shown, “pro-active communication before and during the fire facilitates more flexible fire management during the fire. PDF1 Good prevention messaging can:

  • Reduce loss of human life and property.
  • Reduce negative impact to the environment.
  • Reduce the cost of suppression.
  • Build good working partnerships.

1Community-Agency Interaction and Fire Management (nwcg.gov) PDF

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