The fire season has ended. I know fire professionals in the state who prefer to say that it never really ends, but when the rain and snow comes we feel like the main threat is over.
An extended period of dry winds off the desert could change that, but barring that, we won’t worry about wildfire until next spring and summer. The main fire threat now is from improperly disposed of hot ash from fireplaces and wood stoves.
Looking back on 2012, I would say our fire season went very well. We had fires of course, we always do, but those around us were controlled quickly by our fire agencies. We had some days of smoke drifting up from a fire burning in Sage, but it did not threaten the mountain communities.
It was not, unfortunately, a good year for Colorado and Northern California, who had some very large and destructive fires.
To some degree we were lucky. We didn’t have prolonged desert winds on top of drought. But some of our good fortune was our own doing. People were careful about the use of fire, and most did fine jobs fire abating their properties. We should be proud of what people have done to reduce dangerous fuels around their homes.
Getting into the habit of fire abating one’s property has often seemed to me analogous to public health issues like quitting smoking or losing weight. They all involve changes to personal behaviors that can improve one’s life but also affect the community.
Many of us moved up here and had to go through a process of learning to do this, which involved a change in our way of thinking about the risk of fire.
A widely used model of change has us think about this process in five stages (Prochaska and DiClemente, 1984). The first stage, called Precontemplation, describes us when we are not considering change and don’t think there is a problem. (“I don’t have to do anything to my property — I love the natural look.”)
The second stage, Contemplation, is when we begin to see a problem, and start to weigh the pros and cons of change. (“I guess this really is fire country. Maybe I should do more to make the house safer. I could get rid of some needles.”)
The third stage, Preparation, describes us when we decide to take action and begin with small steps. (“This weekend I will rake those needles away from the house” or, “I am going to talk to my neighbor about who they use to clean their property.”)
The fourth stage, Action, is when we are implementing a specific plan. (“Every spring I am going to make sure my property is in compliance with the ‘defensible space’ code, and make sure it stays that way until winter.”)
The fifth stage is Maintenance, where we strive to sustain the actions we have taken. (“I like the way the property looks and it feels safer. I am going to keep doing this.”)
On this last note of maintenance, we should consider that climate change will not exactly work in our favor regarding fire risk. 2013 will probably be one of the hottest years ever recorded, so we need to maintain our good fire safe behavior.
So we did well this year. Now we can start thinking about what we will do for the next one.