Nearly a year ago we came to Northern California’s wine country as it grappled with disaster. We bore witness to longtime partners and friends as they told their stories of devastation and tragedy. We saw the threat of the growing flames and felt for the anxieties of a community we’ve grown to love.
When the smoke finally cleared and the threat had passed we stood by and did what we could to help pick up the pieces, to help those friends and partners rebuild some semblance of their old lives, and to keep our continued presence as a pillar of support. For all the action we wanted to take and the heartache we felt for the community, throughout it all we found the best way to help was to listen. We listened to the stories of loss and the eyewitness accounts. We listened to stunned firefighters and first responders. We listened to the reports and investigations. And as we listened, we learned. As the cries of “new normal,” and “unprecedented destruction” got louder, we knew it was time to add our voice to the conversation and begin implementing the lessons that were taught.
We threw out everything we thought we knew about wildfire and started anew. Digging deep into academic studies on fire behavior. Listening to seminars, web conferences, and talks from fire experts. Researching the minutia in conditions that make our beloved wine country so susceptible to burn. We harnessed the power of technology. Utilizing our planet’s satellites, topographic and geospatial data, thermal imaging, and drones.
In the face of natural disaster it is easy to feel helpless. The destruction can overwhelm us, can make us feel powerless. But with each new eyewitness account, each article researched, and technological tool added to our arsenal we have gradually become less resigned to accept this “new normal.” Arming ourselves with knowledge and innovation we are able to more confidently predict areas of hazard and threat. We can read dry vegetation and fuel. We can recommend best practices to our friends and partners to help keep themselves and their properties safe.
Perhaps the greatest lesson learned was the resolve to not stand idly by. To not blindly, in the face of the omnipresence of the fires to accept the new status quo. To watch this newfound destruction and simply show up in its wake to help sift through the ashes. No, the real lesson is adaptability. If our world is changing. If the way we read, perceive, and tackle risk is changing then we must change along with it.
As we march headlong into another fire season we go in armed with knowledge and new and innovative tools at our disposal. We go in with prayers for the already affected communities and for all the courage of the greatest firefighters on the planet. As smoke already begins to gather thick and choking on the horizon we are prepared with all of our lessons learned and the undaunted tenacity to adapt with all of those lessons we have yet to learn.