Boise State team partners with stakeholders to teach residents wildfire resilience

Panorama of fire devastation
Panorama of Table Rock foothills fire. Photo by Leo A. Geis,
Idaho Airships, Inc.

A single floating ember can travel a mile to ignite a wildfire. Fortunately, knowledge travels even farther and faster. That’s why a team led by Brittany Brand, a geoscience associate professor and director of the Hazard and Climate Resilience Consortium, is educating Boise residents about wildfire risk and resilience in a series of public workshops.

“Wildfires are a natural, important process in our ecosystem. The problem is when we build within the wildfire zone, as we have in the Boise foothills,” Brand said. “This problem is compounded by impacts of climate change. We’re getting more frequent fires and longer fire seasons, which, combined with the fact that more than 80 percent of fires are human caused, is leading to more wildfire disasters.”

Each workshop offers broad context and information about wildfires, helps participants to develop wildfire resiliency plans to protect their personal property, and gives them the tools to recognize ignition sources and mitigate risk in advance.

The team has found that the workshops had a profound impact on participants.

Prior to the start of the workshop, participants were asked to rank their ability to protect their family and property from the threat of wildfire on a scale from 1 (not at all) to 5 (very great extent). Only 41 percent of participants felt capable of protecting their family and homes from the threat of wildfire.

After the workshop, another survey showed that the number of participants who felt capable of protecting their homes rose to 74 percent.

“Our goals are to help the residents understand their hazards and personalize the risk. We help them develop positive attitudes, because research shows that when they have positive attitudes toward the effectiveness of taking action, then they’re more likely to do it,” said Brand.

The team includes Brand, Carson MacPherson-Krutsky, a geosciences doctoral candidate, and Cera Windham, an undergraduate research student in the environmental studies program. The team worked in collaboration with many local stakeholders, including the Boise Fire Department, Idaho FireWise and the Fire Adapted Communities Learning Network.

Jerry McAdams, a senior Captain and Certified Wildfire Mitigation Specialist (CWMS), with the Boise Fire Department, said “Wildfire is everyone’s fight! We need community collaborations, that span across the spectrum of stakeholders, to more effectively mitigate wildfire risk, engaging with groups and individuals that don’t have a clear understanding of the threat that wildfires, and other natural disasters, pose to themselves and their community. The Boise State Hazard & Climate Resiliency Consortium is a unique partnership that extends throughout and beyond the borders of Bronco Blue. Resilient and fire-adapted communities rely on these important partnerships.”

The team created a video with McAdams for the workshops, which can be viewed below.

Brett Van Paepeghem of Idaho Firewise also spoke of the importance of these collaborative workshops in magnifying the efforts and impact of community players.

“Given that we (Idaho Firewise) only have three employees it is very challenging to reach as many people as possible regarding issues of living safely with wildfire here in Idaho. We are thrilled that the HCRC and specifically the Wildfire Education Module are collaborating with the Boise Fire Department and Idaho Firewise on this very important issue,”Van Paepeghem.

To read more about how Boise State’s Hazard and Climate Resilience Consortium is using active learning to prepare the community to face hazards, visit: https://www.boisestate.edu/research-hcrc/highlighted-research/active-learning-strategies-wildfire-awareness/