Lessons from a Wildfire

posted in: Community, Mindfulness | 0

It’s Fire Season in the Central Sierra. Until about ten years ago or so, Fire Season never used to be a thing. Now, it takes it’s place alongside the calendar seasons and tourist season. It’s everyone’s least favorite season, and it seems to be getting longer.

Fire crews are still fighting to contain the latest fire near us, the Oak Fire, 15 miles or so from our home. It has burned about 20,000 acres as of this writing, and has taken many homes and other structures with it. Friends have been evacuated, some losing homes or land. The Oak Fire comes on the heals of the Washburn fire, which burned nearly 5,000 acres in Yosemite, for a time threatening our precious grove of 2,000 year old giant Sequoias.

We live in a beautiful area of the world, just outside of Yosemite National Park’s southern entrance. With the privilege of living here comes certain concessions. For instance, after having been evacuated once and on evacuation warning a couple times in the past few years, we now have our evacuation kit ready and waiting by the front door. We leave it there from somewhere around July to October, depending on the weather.

California has seen a huge increase in the number of fires and the number of acres burned in the past few years. In 2020 alone, in nearly 10,000 blazes, over 4 million acres were burned. This increase is a result of many factors. Climate change means less rain and higher temperatures, and where ever you stand on the causes of climate change, the fact remains that these issues do exist – temperatures have increased and rain has decreased.

In the past, wildfire management meant fire suppression. Science now knows that allowing naturally occurring fires in the wilderness take their course is and important part of maintaining the natural ecosystem, a cleaning up if you will. Fire suppression created an environment that provided more undergrowth to fuel larger, hotter, more destructive blazes.

It’s interesting to note that a whopping 85 – 90% of fires are human caused. With more humans enjoying and living in our forests, it stands to reason that there are more fires.

All of this and more, leads to a perfect firestorm, if you will, of conditions that create what we’re seeing today. It’s destructive to all living things and creates fear and uncertainty. But catastrophic events like a wildfire also have much to teach us:

Let Go
For the most part, Tim and I have learned to live with the threat of forest fire. We prepare as best we can. We pay higher insurance rates, get our evacuation kits ready, create a fuel-free defensible space in a wide area around our home. And then we’re able to let go. I mean, sure the concern is there, but we don’t let fear take up residence.

Change is constant
There is perhaps no greater example of impermanence than wildfire. Permanence is security. We often try to avoid change, but change is inevitable. What’s more, it’s happening all around us in every moment. We like to think we have everything under control, and there is a predictable course of events. Change can make us insecure. But without change, without surprises, we miss out on the full spectrum of the human experience – joy/sorrow, calm/chaos, peace/fear. For you see, we can’t have one without the other.

Nature is resilient
In some of the burn out areas from previous fires, you can already witness renewal. New growth is forming out of the ashes, and while we will not see it return to its previous state, recovery is taking place.

Our needs are few
When we put our evacuation kits together, we had to decide what is really important to us. We got it down to just two bins, and the cats. If we have plenty of warning, we might also grab some meaningful artwork. In are bins are mostly old family photos that cannot be replaced, and a few important papers like passports, etc. The rest is just stuff that can be replaced. Again, let it go.

Community is Important
During every fire, I’m always blown away by the outpouring of love and support from our communities. Neighbor helping neighbor, strangers offering their homes for anyone displaced and their land for animals in need, new GoFundMe pages popping up all over, it’s a sight to behold.

First responders are heroes
I can’t say enough about the efforts of firefighters and other first responders. They work incredibly long hours in the absolute worst conditions, taking time away from their family and risking their lives every day. When our family’s home was right in fires path a few years ago, a firefighter was stationed at the home with the sole purpose of saving that one house. The fire came within feet, and the structure itself was undamaged. I don’t know what they get paid, but I can tell you it’s not enough. Next chance you get, thank a first responder. And while I sometimes get frustrated with our power company, those men and women work equally long hours to restore our power.

You don’t have to wait for a wildfire or other catastrophe to embrace the lessons they teach us. Through meditation and introspection, you can prepare yourself for whatever life gives you. Like nature, you can be more resilient.

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