By Zack Darby
While the long, dry summer days have been enjoyable, the looming threat of fire season has been present in Whitefish. As average temperatures in Montana increase and summers become longer, officials are predicting more intense fire seasons than ever before, with this year slated to be a particularly bad one. The Whitefish Climate Action Plan has outlined ways to mitigate community risks in the face of increasing climatic variability.
If you are like me, growing up on the east coast, then you likely have no idea what fire season is, how to prepare for it, or the dangers of large fires. I had a lot to learn….and as it turns out, so do many others. One of the best tools we have is to educate members of the public on how to prepare for fire season. In making the correct preparations, we can make our homes fire resistant and decrease the damage to our property and ourselves. To accomplish this goal, the City of Whitefish partnered with Climate Smart Glacier Country, Firesafe Flathead, and the Montana DNRC. In an attempt to make the content concise and easily digestible we decided to create three short video clips that could be shared on social media and the appropriate websites.
My introduction to the spotlight was asking questions to our onsite fire experts. This was an easy role to play, as I genuinely know very little about the topic. At the end of the filming day, we demonstrated a pile burn, which as the name implies, is when you reduce your fuel sources by safely burning slash piles on your property. As if I had not learned enough, I then got to try my hand at the video editing process! While this was initially frustrating, once I learned the software the process became much easier. Through this project, I was able to collaborate with some great people, learn a lot about fire safety, and try my hand at both the filming and editing. It is our hope that people will watch these short educational videos and be inspired to prepare their own homes for this year’s fire season.
As I reflect on my service, I realize I had a very shallow understanding of what sustainability and resilience really are. When I thought of building fire resilience, auxiliary water sources, air filters, and investing in better fire equipment were my first thoughts. While these are valid options, I am realizing that resilience begins at the individual level, empowering community members to plan and to adapt to challenges that may arise. If we can create a strong, aware community, this could be the first step toward resilience. Through our educational films I am hoping we can reach community members to help mitigate damage during increasingly intense fire seasons.
As we find ourselves in the midst of a pandemic, this has been the ultimate test of human adaptability, courage, and strength. I am confident that if we can overcome this, then we can apply that same determination and strength to face our changing climate. Small projects from my service, such as this one, have helped me deepen my understanding of climate action, and provided me with valuable skills that were previously outside my skillset. I hope these projects can help others as much as they have helped me! Until next time…