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Wildfire Challenges

It seems that some of the same issues are being raised in inquiries about wildfire all around the world (or at least around the English-speaking world). A recent report on fires in British Columbia says that two of the biggest issues are communication with the public and coordination among firefighting agencies. Meanwhile, hearings about the Canberra wildfires last year are raising complaints that residents weren't well-informed about the danger. The California fires, meanwhile, are being blamed in part on poor coordination among fire agencies, for example with some firefighters being deluged with so much data that they couldn't process it all and had to rely on their instincts.

That these are major issues shouldn't be a surprise, given that the fires in question occurred in the urban-wildland intermix area. People in this area have less "local knowledge" of their environment, given that they're often recent arrivals to their subdivisions and work in city offices rather than on the land. Therefore they're more dependent on the government and media to supply them with necessary information, and to serve a coordinating role by selecting and enforcing a fire policy (for example, during the California fires many people felt entitled to an exemption from evacuation orders and wanted to go home before fire officials felt their area was safe). The urban-wildland location presents a coordination problem because it mixes two styles of firefighting and fire management. Total suppression is necessary and feasible in the dense built environment of the city, whereas some burning is necessary and feasible on "natural" land. Suburban areas are built-up enough to make it unfeasible (or at least incredibly risky) to burn, while being "natural" enough to make it unfeasible (or at least incredibly risky) to attempt to not burn.

On a related note, it says something about my tendency to look at California through the lens of fire that, after reading the 11th paragraph of this article, I thought "what kind of idiot homeowners' association would mandate shake roofs?" Oh yeah, people have other values than fire safety. (Even so, making the option of fire-resistant roofing available to everyone seems eminently sensible to me.)


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