By Jane Vick
Though wildfires are often traumatic, catastrophic events, they are not new, nor are they unnatural.
In fact, wildfires have an intimate relationship with the earth’s landscape, and some forest ecosystems in their natural state actually depend on wildfire. Climate change, however, has increased the severity of wildfires in Marin and the surrounding counties to a significant degree, making the need to understand and prepare for the potential of a wildfire more critical than ever.
Enter Fire Safe Marin, a nonprofit founded in the aftermath of the Oakland Hills Fire in 1991 to promote fire safety and fire awareness. Fire Safe Marin offers a wide variety of programs and resources which not only encourage fire mitigation and reduction of fuel loads and hazards, but also foster collaborative community action to achieve optimal preparation in the case of a fire. Things like vegetation reduction projects, senior citizen assistance projects, evacuation plans and technical tips for reducing property losses due to a wildfire are all in Fire Safe Marin’s retinue of community-oriented services.
Fire Safe Marin, among other things, works with the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) to build what they call Firewise communities, under the NFPA’s Firewise USA program. A Firewise community—of which Marin currently boasts 77—holds evacuation drills, has regular meetings to share information and plan events, promotes wildfire education and has a knowledge of the specific needs of each of their neighborhood residents in the event of an evacuation. For example, if a neighbor is differently-abled, or older, a Firewise community knows where that person lives, and has a plan in place to assist them in the event of an evacuation. The goal of a Firewise community is to leave no individual unprotected in the event of a wildfire.
Fire Safe Marin has four main pillars upon which it informs and educates: Prepare Yourself, Harden Your Home, Create a Fire-Smart Yard and Ready Your Community. Each of these pillars acts as a supportive foundation upon which an individual, family and community can stand in addressing the reality of fires in Marin County, and feel they’ve done their part in reducing potential damage to their personal and community belongings. Firesafe Marin works unceasingly, going from door to door, continuing to educate and inform residents about the realities they face and their myriad preparation options.
In the course of this tireless work, and increased need for fire prevention plans, the thought occurred to the Firewise USA liaison for fire safe Marin, Araan Harris, that there might be a better way to engage the community in learning about wildfires and fire prevention—a more fun, dynamic way. Enter The Ember Stomp, Marin County’s first ever annual wildfire prevention and preparedness festival. Scheduled for May 28—May is Wildfire Preparedness Month—at the Marin Center Fairgrounds Island in San Rafael, Ember Stomp promises to be an exceptional and informative event.
Though Harris’ official title with Fire Safe Marin is Firewise USA liaison, he is also known and operates as a wildfire preventionist, specializing in the “unbuilding” of wildfires, and in the reduction of flammable material. Harris worked for a long time as a defensible space inspector, going door to door talking to people about ways to get involved in fire prevention. He loved the community interaction, but found knocking on doors and telling people what to do tedious and lacking a sense of invitation and artfulness. So he began to consider alternate, effective methods of informing the community that included them in a more hands-on way. Over time, the concept of The Ember Stomp was born, with a fair amount of poetry and artfulness involved.
The name itself, Ember Stomp, came from Harris, who appreciates stomping as a powerful act with a dance-like quality, and who knows all too well that windblown embers are one of the main ways that wildfires spread through a community. Harris’ goal is to inform and encourage citizens to stomp out wildfires, both in an artful, joyful way at the festival—which will include ample opportunity for revelry and education—and in a very real way at their homes and within their communities.
There is a certain Druidic, or Pagan quality to The Ember Stomp—like an ancient Rite of Spring ritual or a Winter Solstice celebration honoring the heavy darkness of the season. In Ember Stomp, there is a sense of harmonious equilibrium with environmental realities, a respect for the significance of wildfire that invites a celebration of the options as a community and the opportunity to relate and manage wildfire rather than being overwhelmed and consumed by it. Ember Stomp is very much a festival geared towards furthering environmental fluency and stewardship in a playful, lasting way. As the best educators know, a brain in a state of play is exceptionally receptive to receiving and retaining information and experience.
At the Ember Stomp, young, old, families and individuals can expect a bevy of options. There will be goats and sheep—natural wildfire prevention agents—wildfire experts and a diverse line up of food trucks, including El Yucateco—serving up Yucatecan-style food, panuchos, cochinita, poc chuc salbutes tortas and tacos—and Chef Igor “Iggy” in his Borsch Mobile, a Ukrainian food truck serving European comfort food with California flavors.
Expect activities, including a model house demo in an interactive demo home—provided by Carey Hagglund Condy Realtors—and a fire safe garden in a full garden bed, set up for maximum prevention. James Chan, a kid magician, will be performing; fire fables will be told by Irish storyteller Mia Mcfarland; and games galore will be played.
Music will also be provided, by three different performers— youth band Los Cenzontles Jóvenes—from nonprofit Los Cenzontles, a music academy, hub for Latino artists, and community space for youth and families—will be playing joyful Mexican music. Sacramento-based Element Brass Band, known for their energetic and lively performances that make dancing irresistible, will be sending the sweet sounds of trumpet through the festival, and an intimate solo performance will be given by Marty O’Reilly, who’s folky-sounding, blues-inspired music will warm hearts and set feet stomping.
This is the beginning of what Fire Safe Marin hopes to establish as an annual event for the residents of Marin County, as the community acknowledges the reality of annual wildfires. Come laugh, eat, listen and learn the best ways to be ready for a wildfire.
For more information on this free event, visit www.firesafemarin.org