Wildfires – Prevent & Prepare [May 2022 Community Associations Journal]
Wildfires – Prevent & Prepare
“Alexa, play a song about fire…” Three hours and fifty-two songs later, this playlist is still burning it up. From Adele to Led Zeppelin, practically every artist or band has recorded a song about fire. The theme is as ubiquitous as fire itself; both rhetorically and literally, fire permeates everything. This is what makes wildfire such a formidable foe. Wildfire prevention and preparation are essential for homeowner boards in associations and condominiums.
On a cold night, a warm fire is a good thing. On a hot, dry summer day, fire can destroy everything in its path and leave devastation behind. The duality of this element has created both fear and fascination. For the world in which we live now, the summers are hotter and drier than at any time in recently recorded history. In the Western states, this is particularly true.
Every season, we see news stories of suburban areas and sometimes entire towns being destroyed by raging wildfires. They sweep through areas faster than firefighting crews can contain them.
Summers are hotter and drier than at any time in recently recorded history.
In 2021, Washington State saw a total of 674,249 acres burned in wildfires; that’s just over 1,000 square miles. That is nearly half the size of all of King County, or about 73% of Olympic National Park. Only 12% of those were lightning-caused; the remaining 88% were human-caused.
This means associations do not need to live in fear that fires are unpreventable or uncontrollable. Association boards and owners can garner the resources they have, and establish feasible plans for prevention and preparedness.
In 2021, Washington State saw a total of 674,249 acres burned in wildfires; that’s just over 1,000 square miles.
There are quite are a few wildfire preventative measures you can take—and several questions you should ask—about the potential impact of wildfires on your association.
Washington’s Lush Green Turned to Smoking Ash — Landscape charred in the wake of a 2020 wildfire in Washington State.
Fire Leaves Little to be Salvaged — The leftover remnants of residential development destroyed in the fire.
Only 12% of those wildfires were lightning-caused; the remaining 88% were human-caused.
Wildfire Prevention and Preparation for Condominiums and Homeowners Associations
 Evaluate Your Community’s Risk
If you live in a condo over the water, your association’s risk of wildfire will be different from another that borders a forested area or overgrown neighboring parcels. Check with the landscaper about vegetation management and seek options for burn-resistant plants.
Check with the landscaper about vegetation management and options for burn-resistant plants.
Be sure to stay on top of regular maintenance and enforcement on items that place the association at increased risk of fire. Overgrown yards, open backyard fire-pits, and barbecue grills on patios are examples of increased fire risk in an association.
Question: If you walked through your community right now, how many wildfire risks can you identify?
 Educate Your Community
Too often, community residents think of wildfire as something that happens somewhere else, like an old-growth forest in the middle of nowhere. The National Fire Protection Association (NAFP) has abundant resources for public education about wildfire risks. Likewise, their Firewise USA program will assist your community in understanding how to prepare for and reduce the risk of wildfire in your community.
Question: What resources does your community use to inform its residents about wildfire risks and prevention?
 Develop a Plan
It’s best to have two ways to evacuate your community, and all the residents need to know exactly where they are and how to access them. Therefore, be sure this information is included in the welcome packet for new owners moving into the association.
Encourage all owners to be prepared for an evacuation by having a pre-packed ‘go bag’ that contains copies of important documents, emergency contact numbers, prescriptions and medications, emergency cash or credit card, and a first-aid kit including hygiene items and emergency fire blankets. In the same vein, don’t forget pets’ needs!
A ‘go bag’ contains copies of important documents, contact numbers, prescriptions and medications, emergency money, and a first-aid kit with hygiene items and emergency blankets.
Question: At what point should you evacuate if a wildfire is near your home?
 Review Your Insurance
Engage in a candid conversation with your insurance agent about wildfire coverage. Be sure you know if your rates are based on historical loss or projected risk. Furthermore, seek ways the association can reduce the projected risk through environmental design and proactive vegetation management.
Be sure you know if your insurance rates are based on historical loss or projected risk.
Shriveled and Melted by Intense Heat — The insulation is burned to the ground and distorted, a testament to the intensity of the heat that surged through this area.
Additionally, be sure that the owners in your community understand their responsibility to carry their own coverage for personal possessions along with relocation expenses if their home or unit is lost in a wildfire.
Question: Do you have your insurance information easily accessible for an emergency evacuation?
Reduce the projected risk through environmental design and proactive vegetation management.
A Human Imperative
Although this information may seem obvious, it does not make it any less important or valuable. In a world where you can ask your virtual device to do everything from playing music to having food delivered, fire preparedness and prevention are still human endeavors. “Alexa, play The Sound of Sunshine.”
Joy Steele is a Community Manager for HOA Organizers, Inc. and a member of the National Society of Newspaper Columnists, and Toastmasters. In her spare time, she enjoys pursuing creative endeavors and spending time with loved ones.