While wildfires are a natural part of California’s landscape, they have increased in size eightfold since the 1970s. The annual burned area has grown by nearly 500%, and this year saw the biggest fire season ever recorded in California’s modern history. Over 4.2 million acres have burned and over 10,000 structures have been damaged or destroyed. The California Governor declared a state of emergency on August 18, and this was later upgraded to a federal disaster declaration in October.
Spurred to act by 2020’s intense and widespread wildfires in the western United States, All Hands and Hearts began exploring ways to leverage our volunteer model and project management expertise to assist affected communities. Our Disaster Assessment Response Team (DART) conducted on-the-ground assessments of impacted areas and has determined that a year-round program, designed to recover, mitigate impact and respond to wildfires, would be the most impactful course of action in California. We have partnered with CalOES (California Governor’s Office of Emergency Services) who have helped us to identify and connect with vulnerable communities in need of assistance.
In early 2021, All Hands and Hearts will launch a pilot wildfire program in Paradise in Butte County, California. Alongside local partners, we will focus on recovery activities, including internal home rebuilds and fire mitigation projects. Fire mitigation projects may include fuel breaks and the creation of defensible spaces by felling and removing trees.
This pilot program will also build further capacity in our organization through a sawyer training program, increasing the number of sawyers that we can deploy for future disasters.