Fire does not wait. Neither should we.
The recent fires outside of Wenatchee are a good reminder to us all. Wildfire does not wait for August or even July. Wildfire is a natural part of our ecosystem in Eastern Washington (both in timbered areas and in sagebrush) and it can occur anytime there is no snow on the ground. Fire is as much a part of our landscape as the Columbia River. And like those who settled this valley, we must adapt our way of life to fit the environment in which we live.
Adaptation should be nothing new to us in the west. Generations before us came here to thrive. Their unconquerable pioneer spirit, present in all of us who live here, is one of the very best parts of our community. It connects us to our neighbors and those same connections make us resilient. If a neighbor is ill, 10 others take food and offer comfort. If a fire displaces a family, the community is there to provide shelter and support. Resilience is a beautiful thing, it allows us to stand when we should be on our knees.
But we must not wait to adapt to our environment or to develop the connections that make us resilient. Fire does not wait. Mudslides do not wait. Emergencies, in general, do not wait. So it is up to us to prepare and we must do it now.
Create defensible space around your property, prune branches that would allow fire to touch your home and clear your gutters. Move firewood at least 30 feet from your home and remove the stuff stored under your deck. Make a plan to evacuate your family in the event of an emergency and develop a kit to take with you. Talk to your neighbors about making their property defensible; our neighborhoods are safer if we all work together. This is certainly a case where the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.
Resources are available if you are in need of assistance. Cascadia Conservation District is offering free home assessments through June 15, the Washington State Department of Natural Resources and Natural Resource Conservation Service have cost-share programs available to landowners. The American Red Cross and ready.gov have websites full of information on emergency preparedness and both www.firewise.org and www.fireadapted.org offer a wealth of information as well. People searching for more information can also contact the Chumstick Wildfire Stewardship Coalition.
Part of living in the west is learning to live with the cards we are dealt. It is no different with respect to wildfire. We can, and must, change our perspective to include wildfire as a part of our landscape. For those of us living in eastern Washington, that means we must recognize fire is both possible and probable. We must also recognize that by being prepared we can make a difference. But please don’t wait. The fire won’t.
Annie Schmidt is director of the Chumstick Wildfire Stewardship Coalition.