Inter Tribal Long Term Recovery Foundation works with community to work on wildfire safety projects
by Audrey Cooney, NFPA Public Affairs Intern
Community members in Valley Center, California, had their Wildfire Community Preparedness Day event in the Lipay Nation of Santa Ysabel. This rural Indian reservation, situated on the slopes of the Volcano Mountains in San Diego County, has previously been affected by wildfires-- the Cedar Fire in 2003 and the Witch Creek Fire in 2007 devastated many San Diego reservations and forced many of their residents to evacuate. The reservation’s rural location means that it frequently lacks the resources to deal with wildfires that urban areas would take for granted. Following the Witch Creek Fire, several tribes came together to create the Inter Tribal Long Term Recovery Foundation, meant as a way for tribal governments to be proactive in community disaster preparedness and resiliency. Members of the foundation’s preparedness program also participated in the day’s activities.
For Wildfire Community Preparedness Day, members of AmeriCorps and over 20 volunteers from the American Red Cross and California State University’s San Marcos campus worked at clearing away vegetation from around three homes in the reservation. Volunteers received training and used tools to clear brush and vegetation and cut tree limbs around homes. This created a buffer zone, called defensible space, which allows a fire to pass through without spreading to the home. By creating these defensible spaces, they greatly increased the chances of the homes surviving a wildfire. In event of a wildfire, this space would also provide residents more time to evacuate during a disaster and create a safer space for first responders to work while fighting fires.
For the most part, residents of the homes that received defensible spaces were tribal elders who would have been physically unable to do the work themselves. Along with making these homes safer from wildfires, the project allowed the volunteers to engage with members of the surrounding community. AmeriCorps members regularly create defensible space for tribal members throughout the reservation, and there will be similar volunteer events in the coming weeks.