After years of tough lessons, spanish-speaking communities rise to get wildfire information fast and in their language
By Miguel Otárola
Fire crews and government officials who respond to wildfires that threaten communities are tasked with making sure all residents are safe and spared from their destructive paths.
In Colorado’s Eagle and Garfield counties, that lesson was hard-learned.
Incident management teams had no multilingual members, information was not translated into Spanish and emergency response lacked cultural sensitivity for a community often victimized by immigration enforcement, according to county officials and nonprofit leaders.
Latino nonprofits are working to make sure Spanish-speaking people in Colorado get information about wildfires right away and in a language they understand. For them, it’s a matter of “life and death,” said Jasmin Ramirez, a program coordinator of Voces Unidas de las Montañas, a nonprofit based in Garfield County.
County governments aren’t the only groups that share information about a fire. That task can be split among local, county, state and federal agencies depending on the location of the fire and what services are affected.
Velasco is preparing for the upcoming wildfire season by taking FEMA classes offered to public information officers. In Eagle County, Lovgren hopes to one day see more bilingual staff focused on sharing information about wildfire mitigation and preparedness.