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We Didn't Start The Fire

“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.

On a cold night, a warm fire is a good thing. On a hot, dry summer day, fire has the capacity to 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 a hotter and drier than in 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 and communities being destroyed by raging wildfires that swept through areas faster than the firefighting crews could contain them.

In 2021, California saw a total of 2,569,009 acres burned in 39 distinct wildfires: consuming over 4,000 square miles. That is the entire size of Los Angeles County, and more than the total areas of Yosemite, Joshua Tree and Sequoia National Parks combined. These fires resulted in 22 non-fatal injuries and 3 deaths.

While the causes range from natural or unknown, to human-caused--it does not mean that HOAs should live in fear about whether it is unpreventable or uncontrollable, but instead garner the resources they have, and establish a plan for prevention and preparedness.

Here are a few things you can do—and questions you should ask—about the impact to your Association:

1. Evaluate Your Community’s Risk—If you are living in a condo over the water your Association’s risk of wildfire will be different than that of one that borders a forested area or overgrown neighboring parcels. Check with the landscaper about vegetation management and seek 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 BBQ grills on patios are three things that are examples of increase fire risk in an Association. Q: If you walked through your community right now, how many risks can you identify?

2. 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 has abundant resources for public education about wildfire risks and the Firewise USA® program, which will assist your community in understanding how to prepare for and reduce the risk of wildfire in your community. Q: What resources does your community use to inform its residents?

3. Develop a Plan—It’s best to have two ways to evacuate your community, and hopefully all the residents know exactly where they are and how to access them. Be sure this information is included in the welcome packet for new owners moving into the Association. Encourage all owners to be prepared for 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 first-aid kit including hygiene items and emergency fire blankets. Don’t forget your pets’ needs, too. Q: At what point should you evacuate when a wildfire is near your home?

4. 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; and seek ways the Association can reduce the projected risk through environmental design and proactive vegetation management. Additionally, be sure that the owners in your community understand their responsibility to carry their own coverage for personal possessions along with relocation and living expenses if their home/unit is lost in a wildfire. Q: Do you have your insurance information easily accessible in the event of emergency evacuation?

Although this information may seem obvious—because it is—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 is still a very human endeavor, indeed. “Alexa, play The Sound of Sunshine.”

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