The West has experienced an incredibly wet winter season, with snow and rain in some areas of California reaching record levels. There is some concern that this weather has contributed to excessive growth of flash fuels — grasses, weeds and bushes — that can quickly dry out during the upcoming hot summer forecasted for most of the United States.
After a cold and wet winter, many people are now starting to spend additional time outdoors. “Human-caused” fires account for 87% of U.S. wildfires each year. The combination of more people spending more time outside, with a higher amount of easily ignitable flash fuels, can result in a potentially busier-than-normal fire season, threatening lives, property, watersheds and ecosystems.
Fire and emergency services personnel can promote wildfire prevention messaging in many ways to help everyone understand how they can reduce the number of unwanted wildfires.
Focus on ignition sources in your community
Start your outreach efforts by identifying the leading cause of unwanted wildfire ignitions in your community and do a first round of outreach highlighting that risk. For example:
- Debris burns
- Careless use of equipment such as mowers or tractors
- Careless recreational activities like riding motorbikes without spark arrestors
- Unattended campfires
- Chains from recreational vehicles sparking on the roadway
- Deliberate fire starts
The U.S. Fire Administration (USFA) has accurate, free resources and tools you can use to help with wildfire prevention outreach efforts. Many USFA resources, like social media cards and pictographs, use vivid graphics that are especially helpful with wildfire prevention messaging.
Know your audience
It’s important to know your audience and make messages relevant and simple to understand. Show people tangible ways they can participate in wildfire prevention. Be sensitive to your audience’s abilities and their needs, including cultural needs.
- If you are messaging to campers, focus on recreational activities.
- If you are messaging to rural residents, focus on agricultural and other equipment safety.
- If you are doing a program for a school, make sure content is age appropriate.
In all instances, be inclusive and help everyone understand that they can contribute to a wildfire safety solution.
Use the media to amplify your outreach
The USFA also provides tips for fire departments to engage with the media so that you can amplify your messages through television, radio, print, web and social media channels.
Host an open house
An open house at your station provides an opportunity for you to share a video, presentation or other educational resources with the community to promote your wildfire safety messages. Residents can also ask firefighters questions.
Prevent wildfire arson
Finally, create an arson tip line where people can report suspicious activity to help prevent unwanted wildfire ignitions. Work with a social services agency to develop firesetting intervention programs for children. You can also promote Arson Awareness Week (May 7-13, 2023) to foster understanding of, and prevent, youth firesetting. Youth firesetting intervention training is available through the National Fire Academy.