Is there a way not to burn? Looking beyond individual solutions

California is still burning, as I write this. Last week’s middle-of-the-week post, inspired by the wildfires in the Western USA, was focused on ways that individual property-owners can mitigate their fire risk.

Santa Rosa, CA, Oct. 9, 2017: Photo by Gabrielle Lurie/San Francisco Chronicle/Polaris via ABC News.

But individuals are not always able to control their surroundings completely enough to take all those steps. Where are your 30- and 100-foot “zones of defensibility” when you live in an apartment building like the one in the photo above, or a densely-spaced neighborhood like the one in the photo below?

With apologies, I grabbed a screen-capture because I wanted to show the contrast in what had originally been published as an interactive graphic from ABC News. To see the original, please go to the article.  Keep scrolling!

Remember, the residents of this community sought out housing they could afford, in an attractive neighborhood that had been safe for years. Here is a mind-blowing, in-depth report by ABC’s Matt Guttman. He talks about the speed with which the fires advanced. He also gives some background on the neighborhood and the people who lived there.

ABC Breaking News | Latest News Videos

With a lovely climate and access to natural beauty all around, it was a desirable place to live, work, and retire. No one expected a wildfire to come through and make it a deathtrap.

But the wildfire did come, and when it did not everyone got out in time, despite  heroic efforts by first responders. Lots of things went wrong (Murphy’s Law strikes again), including with the alert systems.

Community planning is more important than we may think, in all kinds of ways–but disaster preparedness and mitigation is definitely one of them that I hope will get more attention as our environment grows more hazardous in this age of climate change.

Some of the principles I touched on in last week’s post can be scaled up to the community: not only the idea of zones of defensibility noted above, but also concepts such as the fire danger of developments on a slope, and community building codes.

Other considerations include ensuring that fire equipment can get to burning buildings, whether permeable paving designed to mitigate runoff can stand up to the weight of fire equipment, and many more. Sometimes even seemingly offbeat solutions can work really well, too. Consider wildfire mitigation via goat-power:

Simply not developing some areas because of their increased risk (see slopes, above), or to use as “fuel breaks requires community planners with the fortitude to stand up to the determined efforts of short-sighted, quick-money interests. Their offers can seem very attractive . . . until the disaster happens. Cool heads and long-term planning are going to matter more and more.

IMAGES: Many thanks to ABC News for the still photos from Santa Rosa, and also for the moving report by Matt Guttman from there. The still photo of the wildfire threatening houses is from Anchorage, Alaska’s web page about community planning for wildfire mitigation, and the goat video is courtesy of YouTube and Denver 7 “The Denver Channel” (ABC again!). Many thanks to all!

Visual thoughts on disasters

This is one of those days when pictures shout louder than words ever could.

Damage from Hurricane Harvey could require years of cleanup. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)
Western states in flames (KHQ-NBC Q6)
I think I recognize this road in San Juan, from my trip there in July! Good luck, my friends!! (Alvin Baez/Reuters)
A final thought.

For your consideration: Prayers for the victims, local first responders, volunteers, and trained disaster responders are always helpful (if you believe in their power, which I do). But don’t stop there!

America’s Charities Disaster Recovery Fund-Hurricane Harvey 

Wildfire relief efforts in Washington state 

Charity Navigator Hurricane Irma

The American Red Cross

ASPCA Disaster Response

IMAGES: Many thanks to The Washington ExaminerAP Photos, and photographer David J. Phillip for the photo of Freddi Ochoa in his Houston, TX front yard. I also appreciate the vivid map from KHQ in in Spokane, WA, showing all the fires wreaking havoc in the Northwestern US on the day before I wrote this post. I especially thank ABC News, photographer Alvin Baez, and Reuters, for the horrifying photo from San Juan, PR. And I appreciate ShareQuotes4You and meetville.com for the Mollie Marti quote.