Kitchen Table Activism: Community Wildfire Preparation

Background: Kitchen Table Activism (KTA) is a monthly activity by the Rural Organizing Project. The idea is that small actions can lead to powerful collective results when groups of people gather to complete the same action across the state of Oregon. ROP works to keep each KTA easily achievable so that groups with other projects or groups with limited immediate energy can still complete the KTA each month.

What is the activity?

Communities across Oregon are bracing for wildfire season and the displacement of people and livestock, as well as the destruction of homes and livelihoods that so many have experienced. In the midst of the fear and grief as the summer approaches, rural Oregonians continue doing the best we can to care for each other as we have so many times before. Last year, alongside the devastation of fire and smoke season, we also saw incredible examples around the state of neighbors helping neighbors and communities taking care of their most vulnerable members. County fairgrounds out of the path of the fires offered temporary shelter for people and animals. Community groups came together and cooked warm meals, provided emergency supplies and showed up to care for livestock. Many human dignity groups who jumped into action are still going strong, helping others survive the aftermath. This month’s activity is to make a plan for responding to this year’s fire season rooted in community collaboration. We know not everyone has cell service to receive emergency alerts or can afford to stockpile food and water, so we’ve put together some questions groups can ask themselves and their local officials to assist in planning a response that takes our neighbors into account. What is your community doing to prepare? What conversations or resources are you finding useful? We’d love to share them out! Let us know by emailing your local organizer or

Why this activity?

This summer is off to an extremely warm, dry start with widespread drought across not only Oregon but much of the West. Many communities are gearing up for another summer of fires and smoke. Even if you live in an area where wildfire is not a concern, you may still have to deal with the dangers of smoke and can prepare to support those fleeing fire zones. There are so many examples of rural communities showing up for each other in crisis, but when the fear sets in, how do we help our communities not fall into an “every person for themselves” mentality? While many people are choosing to show up for each other regardless of religion, race, or political beliefs, we’ve also seen that some paramilitaries, militias and other Far Right groups take advantage of the environment of chaos and fear to assert themselves. Scapegoating and conspiracy theories also feed off of chaotic situations, and the blame game certainly doesn’t help us make it out alright, either. The fires are part of a broader system of crises that have been harming our communities for a long time–poverty, racism, climate change, and a lack of investment by the state in our rural communities to weather these storms. As we work to get through this time, we’re also building power through strengthening community bonds based on the principle of “everyone in, no one out” and forging networks that will help us fight for what we need to have thriving and healthy communities for the long run. 

How to complete the Activity:

  1. Get together with your human dignity group. Think about inviting others in the community you know who are already doing wildfire preparation or might be interested in working with you.
  2. Talk through fire responses that have happened before in your community:
    • What is already in place? 
    • What went well? 
    • Who tried what and what did they learn? 
    • Who was most impacted? Who fell through the cracks? 
    • If you aren’t sure, who in your community could answer these questions? 
    • Make sure to think through communication systems, evacuation plans, and access to food, water and shelter for people and livestock.
  3. Based on what’s happened before, what could be built or improved upon for next time?
    • Who else in the community could you be meeting and collaborating with? 
    • What skills does your group have that might help fill the gaps you identified? Make sure to be realistic about what your group can offer in a crisis that may also be affecting your group members directly!
    • Are there local agencies or groups who will respond but might need volunteers? Is there a food pantry that needs stocking up or people to deliver food to vulnerable community members who can’t get to the location? Where can unhoused people go to escape the smoke? Will farmworkers have access to respirators or other protective gear? If people are forced to evacuate, where can they go and what will happen when they arrive? 
    • Does your group already have a phone tree or another way to communicate in crisis? Here’s a phone tree template you can download and use! 
    • In Yamhill County, at the start of the pandemic, organizers with Progressive Yamhill posted these bilingual paper flyers around their neighborhoods to both build up a list of contact information as well as assess what people need and what they have to offer each other when going door to door wasn’t an option. This could also be a great way to engage your neighbors around wildfire preparation. 

Let us know what you learn and how your plans shape up! We’d love to share stories about how people take action this fire season over ROPnet as well as on the radio. Reach out to your local organizer or email to share what you’re doing or get support from ROP in making your plan! Interested in helping to capture and create media about your local wildfire response for Rural Roots Rising and the radio? It can be as simple as recording what is happening on your phone! Let us know and we’ll help make a plan that works for you.