Like many areas in Washington State, the Yakima Valley contains many areas that have high to extreme wildfire risk. Our demographically diverse lands span from heavily forested vegetation to sage brush and grasslands. Our agricultural community with our desert hot summers add a significant amount of challenges in the event of a wildfire. It is these specific factors that make people like me, in the fire prevention field, hesitant to even speak those three little words: ”The Big One.”
Not to be misleading; our valley has experienced some effects of wildfire. That bold, mandarin-colored sun, the smell of smoke and hazy horizon, road closures, and, unfortunately, homes lost to wildfire over the years. Yet, we have never had the massive wildfire impact in our county like we’ve seen in surrounding counties, especially over the last half decade. For that, believe me, we are very grateful. In local conversation, some call that luck–others say it’s just a matter of time. Regardless of why we haven’t had “The Big One,” it begs us to be ready for when our beloved time or luck runs out.
To us this means we have a lot of work to do and possibly very little time to do it. Thanks to determined efforts by partners over many years, we are starting to see expanding community support. As a member of the Washington Fire Adapted Communities Learning Network we have learned from communities in our state that have had “The Big One” (or worse, more than one). This has allowed us to see the wildfire risk at its peak, and sometimes in its ugliest form. It has motivated people, agencies, neighbors, and elected officials to weave together and form partnerships. Engaging each of these community roles is a critical component of becoming a resilient Fire Adapted Community. The focus is shifting from the usual expectation of suppression to prevention, preparation and community responsibility.
Andrea Ely and Todd Hotell of the Yakima County Fire Marshal’s Office show off the Wildfire Community Preparedness Month Proclamation for 2016.
In Yakima County, the neighborhood level is just as important as the executive level, we have made a point to keep those that support wildfire resiliency informed as much as possible. The Yakima County Board of Commissioners supported the Yakima Valley Fire Adapted Communities Coalition prior to last year’s fire season with support and approval of a county-wide Community Wildfire Preparedness Plan. During last year’s record breaking wildfire season, the commissioners passed a specific resolution emphasizing enforcement of the county-wide burn ban. This year, the commissioners are engaged in support of wildfire preparedness again. On Tuesday, May 3, 2016 the Board of Yakima County Commissioners signed a proclamation for May to officially be named “Wildfire Community Preparedness Month.” Our goal was to make sure that our elected officials, like our communities, understood that wildfire resiliency is not just one month of preparation, but truly a year round effort. We have invaluable support forming from the ground up, and the top down.
As many of us know, depending on luck could be an expensive risk. Time, however, in this case is free–and on our side for now. These are both priceless opportunities that we can’t afford to pass up. We will continue to take as much luck as we can, but since we have the time now–we might as well buy them both. During Wildfire Preparedness Month, the Yakima Valley Fire Adapted Communities Coalition will be hosting wildland fire preparedness day events at four different locations. We will be working with businesses in the Highway 410/12 corridor to start the discussion of business resiliency, and we will be working with the local Master Gardeners to develop a discussion on plant selection and fire risk reduction.