blog banner showing wildfire scene with title Responding to Disaster Risk: Understanding the Wildland Fire & Atmospheric River Cycle

We got lucky last year in California. It was a strangely quiet wildfire season. 

But let’s talk about that luck, the wildfire cycle, and the atmospheric rivers we are experiencing right now.

Disaster Risk: You can’t take one year and say that’s a trend

We cannot become complacent during our lucky years, but must instead pick up with prevention activities right where we left off last year.

graph showing CA wildfire season in 2022

I love this graph – you can see that the number of fires is basically the same, if not slightly more, but the acreage is way less because they were able to catch ’em so fast.


And that… is a very vicious cycle because we don’t use fire in a preventative way. 

What’s gonna happen with rain? 

In California, a state that sprawls across 104m acres, far more work is needed. The threats of this year already loom large.

As wildland fire and atmospheric river cycles increasingly put our wildland-urban interface at risk of catastrophic disasters, it is important to take the necessary precautions now to protect ourselves from potential threats. It’s a two-pronged approach: wildland fuels must be managed through progressive land management practices in order to decrease fuel load and reduce the likelihood of wildland fires. Additionally, as extreme flooding caused by atmospheric rivers increase in frequency, communities must also look for ways to enhance preparedness efforts when responding to risks.

It’s devastating to communities and the amount of infrastructure, personal property damage, and community buildings lost because of flooding is tremendous.

Here’s the scary part -no lie – it happens pretty frequently and we aren’t ready for it.

Rain equals things growing and if we have a hot summer, hot equals things drying out and that means that there will be more fuel. And we’re back to our very vicious cycle, once again.

Let’s talk disaster preparedness. We can do more to help people be better prepared for these kinds of disasters, whether they are caused by floods, fires, or whatever may come our way. With a little bit of action now, we can make a huge difference in how resilient our communities will be this wildfire season and beyond.

Learning how to live with fires

In the wildlands of the western U.S., an age-old climate pattern of wildland fire, atmospheric rivers, and flooding is being ramped up by global warming. Though conditions that foster mega-fires remain, experts offer a glimmer of filled hope—Californians are adapting to living with wildland fire and preparing for the challenges. Fuel reduction initiatives are being designed, and communities have come to understand that reducing risk requires long-term investments in preparedness and smart infrastructure. Fire has been part of Western economies since before all was tamed by settlers; indeed, wildland fire holds a rightful place in our understanding of what makes it unique — Californians will rise to meet this challenge and continue on as they have done so many times before.

Community preparedness may have played an important role in ensuring less destruction. The agency completed 290,000 defensible space inspections last year, ensuring homes are more equipped to survive fire risks, which they say also helps residents learn resilience. California’s 600th site earned certification from Firewise USA – a program that provides a framework for neighbors to organize and practice fire safety.

And of course, you know we have to give it to CalFire for the source of the data

The disaster risk takeaway?

California is taking the right steps, but there’s still a lot of work to be done. The key is making sure that the state’s communities are ready for when (not if) the next wave of floods and fires comes our way. So let’s get prepared! After all, an ounce of disaster preparedness is worth a pound of cure.

In other words, it pays to be ready. So let’s get informed and empower ourselves with the knowledge and skills we need to weather disaster– both literally and metaphorically speaking! There’s no time like the present for disaster preparedness. Let’s do this!

So, here’s the bottom line: disaster preparedness starts now– and the best way to prepare for a disaster is to be informed about what it looks like and what you can do to make sure your home and family are safe when disaster strikes. It’s time to get armed with knowledge, so let’s get started.

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