My World's on Fire

By Colleen Hagerty

Here we go again


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My World's on Fire
Here we go again
By Colleen Hagerty • Issue #45 • View online
Thanks for reading my World’s on Fire, a weekly newsletter about disasters from journalist Colleen Hagerty. If you found this dispatch interesting, I hope you’ll subscribe!

A little different than my usual work from home setup
A little different than my usual work from home setup
After some time off that looked a lot like the above photo, I’m excited to be back in your inboxes – and with that long-promised new look, too! A huge thanks to all who support me on Patreon for funding this move and allowing me to really invest time into making it happen. Nothing about your experience as a subscriber should really change except you’ll receive emails from a new address and the comment section on each post is gone. Of course, you can always find me on social media to discuss the dispatch of the week, send me a message, or scroll down to see one of the new ideas I have to interact as a community. The former My World’s on Fire site will remain live for now as I migrate over all my old posts, but it will not be updated.
Now, where were we...
Before I logged off for a bit, I had two disaster-related features published. The first is a look at the recovery efforts in Paradise, California going on three years since the Camp Fire destroyed the majority of the town’s infrastructure. I wanted to highlight the various ways the town is trying to prepare for future fires while acknowledging the challenge of prioritizing safety without pricing former residents out of rebuilding. (Note: Patreon subscribers got a deeper look into my ongoing reporting in this area while this newsletter was on hiatus).
As Paradise Rebuilds, It’s Also Preparing for the Next Fire | Sierra Club
And the second piece is one I previewed in this newsletter a few weeks back, asking for your contributions. You all certainly delivered! I spoke with around a dozen professionals in the emergency management field about burnout in the field, and I was incredibly struck by the responses. “For a very long time, there was no backup for me,” one emergency management director told me. “So if I went down, that was pretty much the city’s COVID response.”
Emergency-management professionals are burning out after handling record-breaking disasters for a year straight
Another one of the experts I spoke with for that article was Jim Whittington, a retired incident management team member in Oregon. At the end of our call, he took some time to speak with me more generally about reporting on wildland firefighting, offering up some perspective he believes is often missing in the media. It got me thinking more about other context that might useful in this type of coverage, so I posed a question on Twitter…
Colleen Hagerty
Calling all fire, hurricane & disaster experts! I want to do a newsletter addressing misconceptions you often see in coverage/conversations around these events as we head into high seasons. If any come to mind, my DMs are open!
And I received some very thoughtful responses! I wanted to share some of those points with you as we enter the official hurricane and wildfire seasons, as I think it’s helpful for journalists and news consumers alike to understand how experts view this sort of coverage.
  • Consider wildfire complexity: Whittington talked about the “growing complexity” of the fires we see these days, which require a different approach than firefighters took in previous decades. “We’ve learned through painful experience that it is a safety risk to do some of the things we used to do,” he explained, “So we’ve had to change the way we fight fire in both strategy and tactics, because of these conditions that are not only more severe but also last longer and create opportunities for large fire growth very quickly.” In particular, he urged caution when considering political discourse around firefighting. “Just be very cognizant of political spin on our firefighter strategy from those who don’t understand firefighter strategy,” Whittington said.
  • Forget the fancy names: Dr. Hamza Alshargabi, a doctor and emergency manager who is also featured in the above article on burnout, addressed the “usage of non-standard sensational words” to describe storms. “There is no such a thing as ‘super storm,’ ‘mega cyclone,’ ‘hyper hurricane!’” he wrote to me on Twitter. He also suggested checking out this clip from Last Week Tonight to learn more about the National Weather Service and the critical role it plays.
  • For fires, factor in the ‘before:’ Meaning – think about mitigation efforts, not just response. “Suppression on large fires doesn’t achieve much! The work really has to be done before the fire starts!” Michael Gollner, an Assistant Professor in Mechanical Engineering at University of California, Berkeley, told me in a message. Gollner added that while there has been increasing investment in mitigation practices (such as prescribed fires), it’s still at “a low level compared to what is needed to make an impact and lower the cost of fire suppression and losses, which is becoming enormous.”
  • Be wary of stereotypes: Dr. Ashleigh Rushton, a scholar specializing in gender and disasters, identified some overgeneralizations she often sees in her areas of expertise. For starters: “women aren’t always vulnerable” and “men sometimes struggle,” she said. She also addressed the depiction of communities as “helpless” in the face of disaster, particularly poorer ones, countering that communities can have “amazing capacities to help themselves.” But when they do require help, she noted that it is rarely distributed equally, with marginalized groups often getting excluded in disaster response and recovery initiatives.
  • And a few more tweets:
Clara Decerbo
@colleenhagerty One of the big ones I see every year is that high winds are the biggest risk instead of water (surge/rain related flooding)
Kevin Blanchard // DRR Dynamics
WOW, ok... so many:

- #NoNaturalDisasters obvs.
- Gender isn't just about women. 'Masculine' stereotypes = additional vulnerabilities for men & boys.
- 1 in 100 yr event doesn't mean that.
- 'Community resilience' as a term is v. problematic

OK, needs to be multiple tweets
Click the blue bird on Kevin Blanchard’s tweet for his full thread!
Trying to better contextualize and address misconceptions around disasters has definitely been a recurring feature in this newsletter, like this one on zombie fires, this one on the concept of climate migrants, and this one on the numbers you see in the news. I’d love to keep editions like this coming – let me know if there are any areas in particular you’d like me to focus on next!
Join the club
I think it could be fun to start an informal book club or virtual movie viewing party to better connect with you all (and connect you with each other). If that sounds interesting to you, sign up here!
As always...
thank you for reading and subscribing to My World’s on Fire. It means the world to me when you share it on social media like Joe Lowry did (required reading? Too kind!):
Now, here’s a little something for reading to the end.
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