Fire threat is real


To the Editor:

I arrived on Martha’s Vineyard in early February. As I drove to my home in Oak Bluffs, I was shocked by the amount of underbrush and dead trees hanging in the yards and parks. I was aware of the fact that we had a lot of issues with cleanups after the last few nor’easters, but I was not aware of the extent of the damage.

As a nurse concerned with the health of the public I serve, and as a steering committee member of the Alliance of Nurses for Healthy Environments, I was determined to move to action. I met with several community organizations, and heard the same rhetoric. It was a bit depressing. I love the Vineyard, I have been coming here since I was 6 months old.

During an event at the Hebrew Center, a wonderful woman sitting next to me began to chat with me, and invited me to join a fire coalition being sponsored by the Hebrew Center, through the Social Justice Committee. I was delighted to join this group of strong women and men. I am also delighted to be inviting the community to become involved and educated about “Fire Prevention and Readiness.” 

During the past few months we have watched as numerous states have been ravaged by fire. Our group of very concerned citizens on the Vineyard have decided to move forward in order to raise awareness, educate, and take action to address the real and potential issue of fire hazards. 

The Dukes County Multi-Jurisdictional Hazard Mitigation Plan Update of 2015 cites wildfire hazard and impacts from climate change as the two chief areas of greatest concern. Our down-Island towns were assigned Hazard Indexes between 8 and 10, on a scale of 10. Vulnerability to wildfire is determined by proximity of development to forested lands and fuel type. Much of Martha’s Vineyard is potentially vulnerable, and there is no wildfire management plan outside of the State Forest. There is great concern among fire chiefs related to the amount of deadwood that has been accumulating on conservation lands, personal property, and in the State Forest as a result of recent severe storms and drought.

This forum will be a discussion of how one can personally prepare for a fire, fire prevention, forest and land management, creating defensible spaces, evacuation, alerts, and emergency services. It will feature Dr. Barbara Sattler, a professor at USF and an environmental health expert in the national and international arenas. She has developed and teaches an immersion course about fires. The curriculum was gleaned from her meetings with community members, fire chiefs, fire victims, religious leaders, and professionals involved in post-fire mental health services. 

As community members and local and state officials, your input is of great value. It would be beneficial to share your concerns and ideas about what support is needed from towns, state, and local government.

The Island of Martha’s Vineyard has unequaled value as an important asset to the state of Massachusetts, and this must be considered as part of this conversation.

I urge you to attend “FIRE! The Danger that Confronts Us,” an educational forum on the risks and preventive action we can take to mitigate our vulnerability. Presenters, Q and A. Nov. 20, 6:30 to 8:30, Martha’s Vineyard Hebrew Center, 130 Center St., Vineyard Haven.


Mary Jane M. Williams, Ph.D., R.N.

Oak Bluffs