Last year, 2015, saw the largest areas burned by wildfires and forest fires in a decade. Over 8,800,000 acres of forest and land were burned by fires, which was the most area burned since 2006. As far as the number of fires, there were well over 40,000 fires that were recorded. Over 1,000 homes were lost to wildfires in 2015, displacing their owners. Given the extensive drought across the West Coast and the ongoing impact of climate change, 2015 could have a been a lot worse than it was, and preparedness, education, and human intervention are largely responsible for keeping the number of homes lost to a minimum. While many firefighters and other emergency responders such a FEMA, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, and the U.S. Forest Service, as well as the Bureau of Land Management and other federal agencies tied to land use, wildlife preservation, and fire suppression, have access to portable facilities, such as fabric structures, and training to minimize the risk of secondary losses, many homeowners are not as well prepared.
So far in 2016, sixteen large fires have burned more than 97,000 acres in seven Western states, including Alaska. Of those fires, only one is currently considered “contained.” As June winds to a close, spring rains disappear, leaving areas like California, western Nevada, and southern Idaho at higher than average risk of severe wildfires. Other than investing in full coverage fire insurance and ensuring that they receive updates about fires in their region, what can homeowners do to minimize the risk of displacement and financial devastation due to fire?
For first responders and those who homes have been destroyed or evacuated, portable shelters and fabric structures make a lot of sense. The average homeowner will be at the mercy of their homeowner’s insurance company and fire insurance company when they are evacuated from their home due to imminent threat from a fire or because their home has been burned. Hotels, motels, and other short-term housing nearby is likely to be overflowing with people who are in the same situation. Portable shelters allow homeowners who have been displaced to access safe, private shelter in the days immediately following a fire-related housing crisis.
Having a rapidly deployable shelter that can be set up in under ten minutes, that is easily transported in a bag can make all the difference in the world. While it would be ideal for all homeowners to possess these portable shelters in case of fire-related emergencies, in reality, these fabric structures are often provided by first responder agencies. Those first responders can include medical personnel and FEMA employees, as well as firefighters and Hotshot crews, who work tirelessly at fire suppression, as well as at evacuation and search and rescue missions for those trapped by rapidly spreading wildfires.
These first responders often make use of fabric structures, both at worksites as portable supply centers and offices, and as temporary housing while they are working in the field. Given the proximity of the fires, anything that can not be quickly put together and taken apart and moved easily makes little sense and could endanger those who are trying to help save others from these devastating fires. They may also employ large, reusable containers to house larger, more sophisticated shelter facilities, or even trailer facilities both for their worksites and for housing those displaced by fire. Agencies, such as FEMA, such have sufficient portable shelters available for rapid deployment across the Western United States, where risk of displacement due to wildfires is growing nearly every year. Thankfully, with proper preparedness and interagency cooperation, lives and homes lost can be minimized and displacement and homelessness due to fire loss can be kept as brief as possible.