What Can We Do in the Face of Wildfires?

We’re facing the worst season of wildfires in BC’s history. Nearly two million hectares have burned across the province, and fires continue to rage as we approach the end of summer. Fire response has never been more critical. 

Many residents feel overwhelmed by the extensive damage and the action needed. You might be wondering what you, as one person, can do against the significance of BC’s wildfires. 

The answer? More than you might think. There is hope, and you can take tangible actions to help protect your family, home, and neighbourhood. 

Consulting the Experts

FireSmart BC recently connected with Daniel Berlant, the Acting State Fire Marshal and Deputy Director of Community Wildfire Preparedness and Mitigation at the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (CAL FIRE), to learn what his organization is doing to address the increasing threat of wildfires and how residents can participate. 

“We can’t respond our way out of this wildfire crisis,” Berlant says. “Prevention, mitigation, preparedness, these are all things that my team and myself are all really focused on.” With over 120 years of history tackling California’s wildfires, CAL FIRE has a wealth of knowledge and insights—nearly all of which are directly connected to FireSmart BC’s mitigation efforts and drive home the essential component of preparation. 

“It’s really important to not become overwhelmed,” Berlant says. “You can’t change the temperature or shorten the length of summer months, but there are measurable steps that even a homeowner can take to truly increase the chances of their home and their family surviving a wildfire.”

Steps for Residents

For residents, these steps are proactive. If you have not yet been impacted by wildfires, now is the time to act. Some of the steps you can take to prepare for wildfire include monitoring the current wildfire situation, creating a detailed evacuation plan, preparing your property, and monitoring current evacuation alerts and orders. It’s essential to be aware of the danger and work towards solutions before they can become a crisis. 

Some of the immediate work you can do to make your home more FireSmart includes:

  • Clean out everything from under your deck.
  • Clean and maintain your gutters and roof.
  • Keep grass watered and cut below 10 centimetres, as well as regularly removing weeds.
  • Relocate all propane tanks, firewood piles, and other combustible materials to at least 10 m away from your home and other structures (sheds, outbuildings, etc.). 
  • Prune trees so there are no branches within 2 meters of the ground. 
  • Clear or reduce your garden of highly flammable plants
  • Have a wildfire evacuation plan.

“These things you do at home truly do make a difference,” Berlant says. “We’ve been seeing that fire after fire. The fuel breaks, defensible space, and similar actions were key factors in reducing the size and destruction of wildfires, and reducing fatalities.”

The Danger of Complacency

A significant challenge that firefighters face is a lack of urgency from residents. When you’ve heard the same message about wildfire risk over and over, but never had your home threatened, it can be easy to start believing it won’t truly impact you and tune out the wildfire mitigation efforts. This is dangerous. 

“If people become over-conditioned to wildfires in their area, they may become complacent and not take action,” Berlant says. “We have to make sure that we don’t lose public awareness and public participation because of how many fires we’re getting.” 

Wildfires are bigger and more dangerous than ever, and even if you’ve never been impacted before, you need to prepare for the possibility. “Even if you live in a place that hasn’t historically been impacted by wildfires, like an urban area,” Berlant says, “wildfires are starting to impact more and more places where they never have before.” 

Anyone can be impacted, so everyone needs to prepare. 

Community Support and Involvement 

While governmental and provincial fire organizations bring significant resources to the table, local residents and organizations can make truly significant change in their communities. Fire mitigation isn’t just about extinguishing flames—it involves land management, creating defensible spaces, education, and fostering a culture of preparedness. Local communities understand their unique vulnerabilities, and by working together with fire mitigation organizations like FireSmart BC, they can create strategies that suit their specific needs.

Berlant explains what he’s doing in California: “We’re working shoulder to shoulder with our tribal leaders, with our federal partners, with our local Fire Safe councils, and together, we’re taking that initiative. Building trust and building relationships is really what’s helping us be strategic in what we’re doing. And not being wasteful, but really truly being efficient because we’re working together.”

FireSmart BC is working to create a province where firefighters, local authorities, community groups, and residents come together to share insights and resources. This collective approach provides a comprehensive response that minimizes vulnerabilities and maximizes the chances of effectively mitigating wildfires. “We’re all learning from each other, doing things together, on the same path and guiding each other,” Berlant says. It’s not merely about resources, but about channeling collective expertise and commitment to protect our homes and landscapes.

As a resident, sharing knowledge about fire safety, evacuation plans, and preparedness strategies transforms each neighbour into an informed protector. “Just because it’s happening constantly doesn’t mean that you’re helpless,” Berlant says. If you’re passionate about protecting your community against wildfire, consider becoming a fire representative with FireSmart. 

Partnerships Springboard Progress

Berlant’s emphasis on partnerships is a recognition of the reality that fire mitigation is a challenge that requires diverse expertise, resources, and perspectives. “Collaboration amongst levels of government, but also incorporating Indigenous and community based organizations—that’s how to be successful.”

Events like the Wildfire Training and Resiliency Summit are an opportunity for leaders in fire mitigation like Berlant to meet, share ideas, insights, experiences, and data, resulting in solutions that are both effective and sustainable. Organizations like CAL FIRE can share their long history of fighting fires with newer organizations, and together, we can create new strategies to protect our homes. 

“We’ve experienced these devastating, destructive fires, and we’ve learned from them,” Berlant says. “We’ve passed new ordinances, passed new requirements from fires that we’ve had two decades ago. But the climate changes continue, so we have more fires, and we learn from them, and then we make more investments in suppression resources.”

A partnership-centric mindset shifts the focus from who is taking the lead to what can be achieved together. “It doesn’t matter who gets the credit,” Berlant says. “It doesn’t matter who is doing the work. It matters that we are unified in doing it together, and that we’re meeting the needs and objectives of the community.” 

We are not alone in facing the wildfire challenge; we are part of a community, a region, and a world that is coming together to protect our lands. 

Looking Forward

“We’re not going to be able to prevent every wildfire—that’s just not possible,” Berlant says. “But if we can reduce the severity of wildfires, through partnerships, mitigations, and response—that’s going to make a measurable change in the dial to keep these beautiful lands we live in.”

We have the power to reduce the severity of wildfires and protect our beautiful province. Even small, measurable actions at the resident level can make a significant difference. Fuel breaks, defensible spaces, and other preventive measures have proven effective time and again in curbing wildfire destruction. “Wildfires are not this giant global thing that we as an individual can’t change, because we can,” Berlant explains. “It starts at home. It starts where you live.” 

In the face of escalating wildfire threats, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed. But we’re working on this together. The measures you take matter, and they contribute to a safer, more resilient future for everyone.For additional resources, explore Daniel Berlant’s CAL Fire website and tips on preparing for wildfire. FireSmart has put together our own suggestions on wildfire preparation to help you mitigate risk wherever your home is located.

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