Written on March 04, 2021
In recent years, the United States has suffered a relentless tally of losses due to wildfire, a trend that experts predict will only continue to grow. To significantly reduce risk to communities, the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) launched Outthink Wildfire™ - a new initiative aimed at significantly lowering community wildfire risk by 2050.
Allyson Watson’s family was forced to evacuate their home during one of the worst wildfire seasons in the history of southern California. She now uses her journey to bring awareness and education to wildfires across the United States.
Phoenix: Tell me about your survivor journey.
Allyson: My family was devastated by an arson set wildfire in 2003 while trying to evacuate our home. I was in two separate car accidents in the process, causing 2nd and 3rd-degree burns over 86% of my body. Sadly, during the 2nd car accident, my younger sister Ashleigh passed away. We also found out later that our home did not survive the fire.
Phoenix: What tools helped you emotionally recover from your injury? What would you want to share with others who are in a similar situation?
Allyson: My biggest help to my emotional recovery was my closest friends and family. My mom was an ER nurse, so she knew how to help with my physical injuries. My dad was in construction, so he was always coming up with innovative ideas for adapting things around my physical needs. And my friends did everything they could to help me return to normal life emotionally. Everyone was determined to get the full “me” back. And their efforts made me who I am today.
Phoenix: Why is wildfire prevention so important to you?
Allyson: I believe that wildfire prevention is important because these fires are becoming increasingly common. Population growth into the Wildland–urban interface (WUI), droughts, weather changes, even the bark beetle; all these things are causing an increased danger of a wildfire similar to what my family experienced. I don’t want anyone to go through what I did that day and watching the news; hearing the stories of families being devastated by wildfire (for example, the loss of life in the town of Paradise California), tears at my heart in a way that I cannot describe.
Phoenix: How do you and your family prepare for wildfires?
Allyson: Before the wildfire in 2003, our family practiced evacuation procedures, and kept our property (approximately two acres of land) clear of brush. We also had fire-resistant plant life growing near the edge of our home. After 2003, when we decided to rebuild our home, we continued keeping the property clear and continued practicing the evacuation procedures, but we also rebuilt our home using fire-resistant materials.
Phoenix: What would you want others to know about wildfires and prevention?
Allyson: The main thing I want others to know about wildfires and fire prevention is that nothing is more important than your life. Homes can be rebuilt; items replaced. It’s also important to know that smoke can choke your car engine, so early evacuation may be imperative for getting to safety, and not being trapped in your car. Have a plan in mind on how you want to evacuate, and then prepare a backup plan. But always remember, your life needs to come first. Your memories won’t matter if you can’t be there to enjoy them.
NFPA recently held a Facebook Live event to kick-off Outthink Wildfire™! The five fundamental tenets of Outthink Wildfire™ were shared during the event as well as featured remarks and a live Q&A session with a panel of experts, including Jim Pauley, President and CEO, NFPA; Roy Wright, President and CEO, Insurance Institute for Business & Home Safety (IBHS); Jeffrey D. Johnson, Fire Chief (Ret.), Chief Executive, Western Fire Chiefs Association; and Alison Alter, Austin District 10 City Council Member.