Thursday, December 22, 2016


A helicopter drops water on flames as they approach a home in the Santa Cruz Mountains in California, in September 2016. 
 Photo: Josh Edelson/AFP  

Imagine a fire breaks out near a community at the edge of woods adjoining a forested wildland. Firefighters stand by, monitoring its progress. Flames creep along the ground, blazing up in small, sudden explosions that take out young trees and shrubs. Eventually – after days, weeks or months – the fire burns itself out. But no houses are destroyed and ecosystems are left revitalized.

It's not a fantasy.  Kimiko Barrett, a research and policy analyst for Headwaters Economics, says it's possible to reduce the risks of natural fire by focusing on landscaping, building materials and where to locate subdivisions.  She refers to the results as "firetopia" - where communities live safely with wildfire on the landscape.  Very Cohesive Strategy. 

In the article, New Strategies for Communities in the Wildfire-Prone West, author Jane Braxton Little references Barrett's belief that "we can create fire-adapted communities by exploring alternative, more cost-effective and collaborative approaches that reduce wildfire risks."

Headwaters Economics launched the Community Planning Assistance for Wildfire (CPAW) effort in 2014 to determine what a fire-resilient community looked like.  Starting in Summit County, Colorado and expanding to include 13 communities in nine states, the CPAW program provides expertise and research and uses a collaborative process, gathering together homeowners, land management agencies and city/county planners to identify the steps each can take to reduce community wildfire risk. 

The tools range from local actions, taken by city and county governments, to administrative solutions, enacted by the federal government, to legislative actions, which can be taken only by Congress. The focus is on the wildland-urban interface (WUI) - undeveloped lands near towns and cities, and where some choose to live.  

The vision of the Cohesive Strategy is to safely and effectively extinguish fire when needed; use fire where allowable; manage our natural resources; and, as a Nation, live with wildland fire.  These efforts are great demonstrations of the range of methods and approaches to helping communities become more adapted and resilient. 

Click here for two great examples from the West and Little's article.  

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