august 2013

BRIEFING: Farmers, baseball fans and firefighters all talk about the coming season.
This year, in our corner of Wyoming, the talk is of wet months and dry and a hope for a normal summer of thunderstorms. Yet, along with most of the West, we’re in long-term drought. Spring flushed green with hints of a normal fire season, yet the green up seems rushed, the morel hunting a bust. When I wondered aloud – we’re predicting a normal fire season, yet each day we’re drier – a colleague simply declared, “There is no normal.”
No normal? What we’ve known as normal is evolving, building extreme on extremes, moving northward, hotter, drier. In state after state, the worst fire season and worst fire of the prior sea- son is topped by the next. Yet, this new normal is evolving with some relationship to history. If only to remind us that today’s extra-normal requires our memory of what normal is (or was).
Don’t be surprised, but be prepared for surprise. We’ve heard this phrase enough that we’ve made it our jobs to manage the normal fires and the extreme events with a sim- ilar if broad selection of tools and organizational principles.
Building this issue of Wildfire, we found ourselves remembering a phrase from the Talking Heads’ Once in a Lifetime anthem to surprise. In your fire seasons, you might find yourself in a bust of early-season fires, but you arrange your strike team effectively – as we learn in our “After Action” column featuring a day in the life of an engine strike team in Southern California.
Or, you might find yourself applying wildfire ICS strategies when a hurricane’s gale fuels a conflagration – as we learn in a compelling study of the role of ICS in the FDNY’s response to Hurricane Sandy.
Or, you might need to manage fuels in Canada – to prevent an untimely return of landscape-scale fire that burned this part of Alberta 75 years ago. Or, you might find yourself investigating fire- mapping innovations in the Kimberley, in northwest Australia.
Surprise is an abrupt change from the normal. So, we prepare. In this issue, as in our fire seasons, you might find yourself exploring the many ways that luck favors the prepared mind.