The Information Insurance Institute (III) says that as of Sept. 7 there have been 43,555 wildfires that have burned 5.1 million acres. Last year at this point, the tally was 41,051 and 4.7 million, respectively.
Two million of those acres this year have been in California, but the Golden State is not alone in going up in drought-enhanced flames. At that point, the III says, 10 states were reporting 78 large fires, including the Dixie Fire, which had immolated 960,641 acres as of Sept. 18 and was still going. That’s the second-largest ever. The largest was just last year.
Not to belabor the point, but wildfires are a fast-growing threat in much of the United States, disrupting and at times taking lives, destroying homes and businesses and the investment therein, and even flattening entire towns.
At the same time, climate change with its higher temperatures and severe drought, dwindling water supplies, and growing human populations in fire-prone areas, seems poised to only make the problem worse.
So, what’s a community to do?
Becoming a Firewise USA site
Besides turning to dowsers and praying for rain, you can consider pulling together in your community to become a Firewise USA site.
The Firewise USA program aims to engage homeowners in taking individual responsibility for the risk of wildfire to their homes and then guiding neighbors as a group to help each other live with wildfire by reducing or preventing losses.
The National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) launched the effort with 12 neighborhoods in 2002 and says it now has nearly 1,000 active member communities in 40 states. Check out the map here to see how widely they’re distributed.
The program -- which is now a collaboration of the NFPA, U.S. Forest Service, and National Association of State Foresters -- provides guidance on how to organize the effort. It also provides educational resources about such topics as creating an "immediate non-combustible zone" around your house.
As few as eight homes and a maximum of 2,500 can be identified as an individual Firewise site. The application process includes links to a 14-page community wildfire risk assessment and formally begins here.
The Millionacres bottom line
The NFPA is now going beyond the Firewise USA idea to create a new initiative called Outthink Wildfire that’s advocating broad policies for improving land practices and codes, including requiring homes and businesses in the wildland urban interface (WUI) to be more resistant to ignition from embers and flames.
Meanwhile, while becoming a Firewise site won’t lower your home insurance rates, it can help satisfy insurers who do their own assessments to ensure communities are doing what they can to prevent the kind of damage they have to pay for, so that’s a plus. And the biggest plus is the effects of joining together while taking individual action -- just ask Aesop.
With apologies to Smokey Bear: You can’t prevent forest fires. Not completely. But as Smokey’s website points out, you can take some proactive measures to help protect lives and property, including whole residential markets. Becoming a Firewise USA community might be a good start.