Who we are

Wildfire Breakthrough is a new, non-profit organization established to persuade private industry and/or government to form a Public-Private Partnership to commit to an intensive research and development effort to find a scientific solution to wildfires such that society can stop a wildfire when it is necessary to do so. The issue is global, but initially we are focusing on the USA as it is the best place to organize around this global challenge due to the expertise, technology and scientific assets that are available inside and outside of government.

Gareth Wokes

Gareth Wokes is applying his proven business acumen to inspire and guide researchers to make the planet a better, safer place, one wildfire at a time.  

In 1989, Gareth was visiting Yellowstone National Park with his family. While there, he witnessed first hand, the devastation caused by a wildfire the previous year. He asked locally about what had happened and was astonished to hear that the fire had never been stopped. It had burned for months and was only finally extinguished that year when the winter snows arrived. 

That was the point at which Gareth had a sudden realization that despite all our technology and scientific innovation, no solution to wildfires had (or has since) been found. He and his family have a home in Florida, and he is now committed to helping find a solution to the wildfire problem to preserve the beauty of forests and woodland and to protect lives and livelihoods as well as property. 

Gareth comes to the wildfire battle with extensive C-suite executive positions in the U.S. and the U.K. From 2005 to 2015, Gareth was executive chairman of The Logic Group, which under his leadership became a global leader in credit card processing, overseeing over 3 billion transactions per year. 

Exiting the business after selling it to Barclays Bank, Gareth turned his corporate management skills to wildfires, an environmental arena which he believes can be turned from crisis to solution through concerted leadership and additional government and industry research.

JAMES LEE WITT

Wildfire Breakthrough is led by James Lee Witt, disaster management expert and director of FEMA from 1993 to 2001. Witt’s eight-year term in office saw approximately 348 presidentially-declared disaster areas in more than 6,500 counties in all 50 states and the U.S. territories.

MORRIE GOODMAN

Morrie is an award-winning public relations and crisis communications counselor and journalist. He advises global corporations, foreign governments, and federal and state agencies on all aspects of public affairs. As Director of Communications, he played a key role in helping transform the image of FEMA to one of the most respected agencies in federal government. He also served as Associate Administrator at NASA and Press Secretary at the U.S. Department of Commerce.

Andrew Downing

Drawing on more than three decades at the corporate board level, Andrew has turned a sharp eye on the state of the global environment and thought about how wildfires endanger our collective future.

Andrew’s daughter and granddaughters reside in Perth, Australia which is a high risk area for wildfires. Andrew’s brother also lives there and when they were almost evacuated due to wildfires, he realized the very real and personal dangers wildfires represent. At that point, he committed to trying to find a solution and joined forces with former colleague, Gareth Wokes, to set up Wildfire Breakthrough. 

Andrew brings to the wildfire fight extensive C-suite experience, particularly in the IT sector. His responsibilities have included senior Finance and Operational roles, covering the U.K., Europe, and International territories. He spent 25 years with the Fujitsu Group, including 3 years as CFO in the U.S. Most recently, he managed all the operations of a private equity backed IT business in the payments sector, The Logic Group, and then subsequently took an active part in selling the company to Barclays Bank. Andrew today applies his IT and corporate leadership knowhow to grow research and funding for finding wildfire breakthroughs.

JULIE ANBENDER

Julie brings extensive experience in leading industry-sponsored coalitions working to address public service needs, from the insurance industry’s efforts to promote hurricane preparedness to Microsoft’s initiative to build digital literacy skills. She has served at senior levels of federal and state government, having managed public affairs departments for the U.S. Justice Department, INS, and the Governor’s Office of Florida. She was the day-to-day lead of the public affairs division at the Glover Park Group, Chief of Staff to the President of PBS, and a Director at Burson-Marsteller, before co-founding Ward Circle Strategies.

DAVID AYLWARD

David has 40 years of experience in public policy, information technology, communications, global health, and finance in both the public and private sectors. He founded and led the 100 organization COMCARE Emergency Response Alliance. He is an expert in creating multi-stakeholder initiatives to cause innovation and change.

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Our plan

Wildfire Breakthrough has two primary, ongoing workstreams: