Personal Wildfire Mitigation

Reader Contribution by Bruce Mcelmurray
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As I sit here and write this we have a wildfire burning a few miles away to our east and more wildfires to the west and south of us. There are wildfires breaking out across our state along with several other western states. At last count I counted 15 wildfires in our state alone. We have personally performed all the wildfire preparation possible and consider ourselves in a much better position than those who have not done any work or are waiting until the last minute. Waiting until the last minute to do wildfire mitigation may just be too late. We have been working at it for years and to do it properly requires advance planning and preparation. When we had our wildfire audit the wildfire expert who did it is the very same person who is the wildfire behavior specialist that we saw on television explaining why the worst wildfire in state history continues to burn out of control and can’t be contained. He rated our homestead 10 points below excellent with the lower the score being better. Being a wildfire trainer for the U.S. Forest Service and crew leader as well as a wildfire behaviorist certainly makes us comfortable with his ‘exceeds excellent’ rating of our home and property. He made certain recommendations which we have since followed that further lower our score even more and increase the chance our home will survive and us too if we can‘t evacuate. 

As we look around our area we see many homes that have only done superficial wildfire mitigation work or none at all. When you choose to reside in a semi arid state and your biggest hazard is wildfire it seems to me that individually you need to do all you can to mitigate the hazard on your property for your own protection and for the safety of any firefighter that may have to defend your home against wildfire. Evacuation is clearly the first option but having a safe haven in case we are unable to evacuate is a solid back up plan. Having an expert tell us that our property rates better than excellent and that our emergency plan is top notch is reassuring. It is not all that complicated and there is an abundance of material available to guide the homesteader in doing it correctly. 

What is causing erratic weather patterns and the flooding in some areas, tornados in others and wildfires in our area?  I’m not an expert or even remotely knowledgeable on weather patterns but I strongly suspect there is more to climate change than many would admit. Those who do agree on climate change state that historic records reveal that there has been a slow warming trend over the past several  years and that CO2 emissions have increased dramatically, exacerbating or accelerating this warming trend. Then

there are others who say that is all nonsense and seem to rely on their not being any consensus among experts. As for myself what I recognize is that our weather patterns are highly volatile and far different than I remember when I was younger. I also believe it is a huge mistake to go expert shopping in order to find someone who supports your viewpoint and what your common sense tells you. We had a large aspen tree blow over last fall and I studied the tree rings which left no doubt that in the past 120 years we have experienced increasingly severe drought. These are tangible things I can see with my own eyes so I trust what I see. Is this all due to climate change? As earlier stated I’m not an expert and can only guess however the weight of  evidence and what I have personally observed would seem to indicate it is. That certainly makes more sense to me than just attributing it to plain bad luck or taking a contrary stand just to create controversy or cloud the issue.   

I can understand why people may feel helpless regarding global climate change and try to deny it is happening. It is a little overwhelming when viewed individually. What I can’t understand however is why people fail to do what is easily within their ability to mitigate their own circumstances. There is tremendous resilience in mother nature but that does not excuse people from doing what they can to protect themselves. In the case of a wildfire even the best protection may not be sufficient but it is far better than no protection or superficial protection. When the wildfire is bearing down on you is not the time to begin mitigation in my opinion. So as I sit here pondering the why’s of things that are far above my understanding I feel confident that we have taken proper measures for the maximum protection possible. As I catch an occasional whiff of smoke I am glad I started early to protect us as best possible. Starting now would certainly be too late if we were personally threatened by a wildfire.

For more on Bruce and Carol and their mountain lifestyle go to:, or if you are up to living with nature and can cope with the occasional wildfire hazard go