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Tuesday, June 28, 2011

No Respite for the Emergency Weary

This is the first workday I’ve spent at my desk since Friday, June 3. My desk calendar – a daily cartoon from The New Yorker – is still on that date. I had a three-day weekend on June 4-6, and when I came back into the office on June 7, the State Emergency Operations Center was activated in support of efforts to combat what would become the largest wildfire in state history.

The previous weekend, Memorial Day weekend, I was on call and covered the beginnings of that fire, which would be named the Wallow Fire. That was a busy weekend for me, but Ethan had me beat when he went on call and essentially worked all the June 4-5 weekend. By June 7, we were all stationed in the SEOC where we watched the footprint of the Wallow Fire grow larger and larger; during one phase of the disaster, the footprint of the fire looked like an actual footprint of a bear or a particularly heavy T-Rex. I thought it ironically fitting that this behemoth of a blaze would mark its territory in such a way.

Above: T-Rex footprint.

Above: Wallow Fire footprint on June 9, 2011

Sometimes I wonder how I would explain something like this to small kids. My own children are adults now, and our watershed emergency moment was on Sept. 11, 2001. In a way, that explanation was easy because the tragedy could easily be pinned on “bad people who want to hurt us.”

But something like a fire, even when caused by humans, is still a force of nature in many ways and thus can be uncontrollable. The Wallow Fire might not have been a conflagration if fuel moisture wasn’t depleted, and the humidity wasn’t in single digits, and the wind didn’t drive the flames from treetop to treetop. Any one of those factors could make a bad fire worse; all of them combined, plus the terrain, would logically lead to the disaster that the Wallow Fire became.

Photo courtesy
Jayson Coil, Sedona Fire District

Some Twitter friends of mine who are active in the emergency management and fire world have created a nifty website aimed directly at spreading the emergency preparedness message. It is a volunteer effort. The creators and contributors mostly have some public safety experience or a deep interest in the topic of preparedness, but they’re also just people who like to be prepared.

My buddy, Gina, blogged today about dealing with small children in the aftermath of a disaster. She relays the bittersweet image of a little girl literally picking up the pieces of her house in the days after tornadoes tore apart Joplin, Mo. last month. It could just as easily be the aftermath of an earthquake, or a tsunami, or a wildfire.

While Gina, Gary, Chris and the other folks I follow on Twitter don’t speak for a governmental emergency management agency as far as I can tell, their page proves that citizens can play an active part in their own preparedness, which really is at the core of every preparedness message put out by us here at AzEIN. In other words, we might not be able to vouch for the site itself but we sure love seeing folks take the message to heart.

The fire season isn’t over yet, not by a long shot. We will likely be tired of hearing the phrase “fire restrictions” before we hear the phrase “monsoon storms.” I think I can say that I’d be perfectly happy spending the next holiday weekend – July 4 – inside rather than watching fireworks. I’ve seen enough sparks for one summer.

Besides, we still have monsoon seasonand likely floods – to prepare for.

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