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As part of National Preparedness Month on September 20 (primary date) or October 3 (secondary date), FEMA will be testing the National Emergency Warning System. This warning system test will include two parts, the Emergency Alert System (EAS), which broadcasts over radio and television and the Wireless Emergency Alert System (WEA) which are emergency messages sent by authorized government alerting authorities through your mobile carrier.

 

Since youth will also be receiving these messages, it is important that parents and guardians have conversations with them before September 20th to explain that this is a test and not a real emergency. Parents and guardians might want to also connect with them about developing plans for emergency situations if they are separated from their children say when they are at school or other function during an emergency. This picture of two teens and their aunt were working on a wildfire Prep Day project in Maine. They were raking and posed together with their aunt as they were taking a break

 

Talking to young people before something happens helps them better prepare. One preparedness activity is creating a “Go Bag” (a small evacuation bag or backpack with essentials) in case you have to evacuate during a wildfire or other natural disaster, so they won’t be as anxious and will feel more empowered about what they want to take with them in case they have to evacuate. Check out NFPA’s TakeAction ™ site for more information about how you can create your own “Go Bag”

 

These notices from WEA will look like text messages and will share information about the type and time of the alert and which agency is issuing the alert. There will be three types of alerts, Amber alerts, presidential messages, and extreme weather or threatening emergencies. According to the FEMA webpage, WEA messages will include a special tone and vibration, both repeated twice. For more information about this emergency warning test check out the FEMA webpage. Send questions you may have about this test to; FEMA-National-Test@fema.dhs.gov

 

 

Photo credits: Top - FEMA; Side - Faith Berry NFPA employee.

Pat Durland instructs ASIP class on wildfire safety and mitigation in Bangor Maine. Photo shows NFPA instructor in front of class with a slide on the screen.

Register now for NFPA's Assessing Structure Ignition Potential from Wildfire two-day training in Denver scheduled for October 4-5. This class will provide valuable skills and knowledge to help you in your wildfire safety mission.
Learn the science behind how homes ignite from wildfire. More importantly, find out the best ways to advise property owners about actions that will help prevent ignition and reduce the chances of home destruction during a brush or forest fire.


Discover what others have learned. According to one captain/paramedic, “I thought I wanted to learn about structure triage. What I got was a new mindset concerning how to approach wildland fire (operational) and people (social).” Another fire captain commented, “I am better prepared to assess WUI properties and communicate hazards to community members.”


Don't delay - register today and join your colleagues and expert instructor in Denver!

 

Photo credit: NFPA staff member

Photo by Faith Berry of burned landscape behind Durango, Colorado area home

This is National Preparedness Month and we are all reminded to take steps to be prepared for an emergency. But with all the hype do preparedness efforts really make a difference, you may be asking yourself.


Working with communities to implement project work with Wildfire Community Preparedness Day this last year, I connected with a Firewise USA® site leader Paulette Church in Durango, Colorado who was actively helping her community be better prepared for their greatest risk of loss from wildfire. Their community had been impacted by a wildfire in 2002, and it spurred them to be better prepared in case it happened again. That fire in 2002 consumed over 70,000 acres and 56 homes in the region.


Their community worked on a number of projects including a fuels reduction Prep Day project this year, and as Paulette shared with me they went from having a 10% initial involvement by residents in the community to almost 90%. Their community was again impacted by a wildfire this year but this time their efforts really made a difference. I went with a crew to film their story and was awestruck by how close the fire came to homes throughout their community. Paulette shared that they had made the work activities to increase their preparedness, fun to garner more engagement and support from the neighbors to participate in fuels reduction activities and it worked! They did not lose one home to the fire this time around due to their efforts which made it easier and safer for firefighters to do their jobs!


Even the Inciweb (incident report) mentioned; “In Division A, south of the fire, line construction continues, and firefighters have connected a line from 550 northwest into the rock face above Hermosa. Last night, the fire pushed into areas with structures. Crews engaged in active firefighting. No structures were damaged or lost, and no firefighters were injured. The work that the community has done to make this area “Firewise” contributed a great deal to firefighters’ ability to defend these homes. The Falls Creek and Lower Hermosa areas are set with hoses, pumps and sprinklers, and are prepared for the possibility of further active firefighting.”


The lesson learned from this incredible story of a community’s survival is that good preparedness efforts completed with neighbors working together with local agency partners can make a difference. What will your story be? Learn more about how you can better prepare your home and neighborhood for wildfire, visit Firewise USA® today!

The September/October NFPA Journal® is out and its Wildfire column asks how we create the local conversation needed for residents to understand their risk. Not surprisingly, Wildfire Community Preparedness Day is a good place to start.

 

For some backstory, I was in Vacarisses, Spain, visiting NFPA’s wildfire partner, the Pau Costa Foundation, this past May to see firsthand their work with communities at risk to wildfire. Their region is seeing former agricultural lands transition back to native landscapes and with that, a return of the natural fire ecology. While agriculture previously kept wildfire at bay, the Foundation is using Wildfire Community Preparedness Day as a tool to explain these changes and what wildfire now means for residents.

 

The Prep Day event in Vacarisses combined risk reduction educational messaging with local government promotion. The outreach was made stronger still by additional promotion of the day’s value by the regional council of governments and regional fire authority. All of this started a conversation about wildfire that was not discussed by residents before and got people talking about the positive role they can play in community risk reduction.

 

The value of using Prep Day to start the conversation in a community stuck with me and it didn’t take me long to find that same focus in many of the 2018 funding award submission descriptions. From a rural fire department in Oklahoma and a municipal fire department in California both connecting with their local at-risk residents for the first time, to communities connecting with overlooked populations, the goal for many – as one submitter shared – was to “keep the conversation going beyond our May 5th event.”

 

Learn more about the value of creating the conversation in this month’s NFPA Journal® Wildfire column.

 

Photo Credit: Lucian Deaton

The September NFPA Journal® highlights the findings of NFPA’s 2017 National Fire Experience Survey, which outlines that reporting year’s response numbers, fatalities, injuries, and property loss from fires across the United States.

 

2017 was unfortunately a major year for wildfires and that extent is made clear in the report. It explains, “NFPA estimates that the 1,319,500 fires to which the fire service responded in 2017 caused $23 billion in property damage, a very large increase over the $10.6 billion in 2016. It is worth noting that the $23 billion figure includes major wildfires in Northern California in 2017, which caused $10 billion in direct property damage.”

 

In effect, the wildfires that impacted California doubled the annual property loss figure. Overall for that year, wildfires accounted for 22% of response by fire departments.

 

The report also shares that approximately 3,400 civilian fire deaths were recorded, with over 14,670 people injured at responded fires.

 

These figures remind us what one burning ember can do. Learn what you can do to reduce your property’s exposure to embers and read more about the National Fire Experience Survey in the September NFPA Journal®.

 

Photo credit: National Interagency Fire Center (NIFC) public photo Library firefighters pulled 11 July 2017

NFPA’s wildfire division manager, Michele Steinberg, is slated to present wildfire safety information and tips during an upcoming webinar for mortgage field service industry professionals. Steinberg and members of her team at NFPA are frequently sought out by insurance and realty professionals to provide updates and education on the latest in effective wildfire risk reduction tools and techniques. 
During the webinar at 1:30 pm Eastern Time on September 13, Steinberg along with Safeguard Properties and other industry professionals, will address key wildfire risk reduction principles to protect homes and neighborhoods. The industry is engaged in inspecting and preserving vacant and foreclosed properties, ensuring the safety and security of structures for their clients, the lenders and mortgage companies. 
While industry professionals regularly learn about hurricane and flood preparedness, Steinberg noted that wildfires are a growing concern. In the past two years, NFPA staff have presented to members of the National Association of REALTORS®, several insurance companies, the Casualty Actuarial Society, and have bylined or contributed to articles for such publications as Green Builder magazine and California Buildings News. 
Steinberg notes, “The actions that mortgage field service personnel can take to secure properties against wildfire damage are the very same ones that NFPA advises homeowners to do on a regular basis. Inspecting roofs, gutters and vents for vulnerabilities, clearing away flammables near the home, and reducing ignition potential in the home landscape are all proven ways to reduce the risk of a structure ignition during a wildfire.” 
The webinar will cover tips for individual property protection as well as the value of community-wide risk reduction efforts including the Firewise USA® recognition program. To participate, register here.
Safeguard Properties is the mortgage field services industry leader, inspecting and preserving vacant and foreclosed properties across the U.S. With a focus and investment in innovative technologies, Safeguard provides the highest quality service to our clients by proactively developing industry best practices and quality control procedures. We pride ourselves in our dedication to working with community leaders and officials to eliminate blight and stabilize neighborhoods across the country. Learn more at www.safeguardproperties.com.

Photo credit: NFPA

For many years, NFPA has convened an Educational Messages Advisory Committee to develop consistent fire and life safety messages for the general public on a wide variety of topics. The newly revised 2018 edition of the Educational Messages Desk Reference now includes wildfire topics for the first time.

 

The Committee’s goals include maintaining NFPA’s philosophy of clear, simple, accurate, technically sound and – whenever possible – positive messaging about fire and burn safety. The rules governing the Committee ensure that there is diverse representation among members as well as the ability for public input and comments. In my first term as a Committee member, I was happy to contribute a set of wildfire messages for review, and gratified to learn that several public commenters have been asking the Committee to include such messages in the new edition.

 

The Desk Reference is available for free download on NFPA.org. The wildfire messages are in Chapter 17 and include information about Wildfire Prevention, Protecting Homes from Wildfires, and Community-wide Wildfire Safety. The guide also contains some great tips about how to tailor messages to target audiences. Fire and life safety educators in fire departments and schools throughout North America use this guide – my hope is that the new messages will assist them in communicating best practices to cope with the growing threat of wildfire.

 

Get your free electronic copy and learn more about the public comment process by visiting NFPA’s Public Education web pages.

Photo Credit: Faith Berry, NFPA

Perhaps you live in a large metropolitan area and are thinking, “I don’t have to worry about wildfire risk.”  Many people think incorrectly that because they live in a big city away from forests and parks that there is no need for them to maintain their home and property for a wildfire threat.

So how can homes located within city limits be impacted by a local wildfire? The most common way is by embers lofted by burning materials in a wildfire. One example of this occurred in Wenatchee, Washington where businesses located 1.2 miles away from the fire burned.

 

Another way wildfires can impact city dwellers is by fires ignited in brush along highways. Poorly maintained vehicles can catch brush on fire and even pulling over on dry grass next to the highway can cause a fire to burn from overheated parts. This year’s Carr Fire for example was caused by a flat tire.

 

Another way homes can burn in big cities during a wildfire is from canyons or common park areas located inside the city burning. In 2014, Carlsbad - a Southern California community located on the ocean - was impacted by a devastating canyon fire that destroyed at least 18 condominiums and 4 single family homes.

 

No matter where we live, whether we live in rural enclaves or big cities, we can be impacted by wildfires.  Wildfires are one event that can be planned for.  We all can do a lot to reduce our risk of loss by taking steps today to make our homes and neighborhoods safer.  Learn more about simple and inexpensive actions you can take by visiting the Firewise USA® Program website

Photo Credit: Los Angeles City Fire Department

Photo by Faith Berry

 

Land use planning can reduce the risk of loss due to wildfire.  Community Planning Assistance for Wildfire (CPAW) program is a partnership between Headwaters Economics and Wildfire Planning International and provides according to their webpage, “grant funded professional guidance about integrating wildfire mitigation into the development planning processes of communities.”  It is funded by the US Forest Service, the LOR Foundation and other private foundations.

 

Communities now have the opportunity to apply for no cost assistance to look at integrating wildfire safety measures into current and future development and learning how to leverage local assets and resources.  According to the webpage all recommendations they share are voluntarily adopted.

 

CPAW is accepting applications now through October 5 for planning assistance.  To apply for this opportunity to receive no cost wildfire risk reduction assistance, check out the CPAW website.

Photo by Faith Berry

 

Many of us are making last minute vacation plans, before the kids go back to college or school, and cooler weather sets in.  To make good memories there are some safety tips to keep in mind.

 

Before heading down the road, make sure that you left things in order at home, in case a wildfire occurs while you are away. Some tips to follow before you leave:

  1.       Make sure that all doors and windows are shut. If there is a wildfire embers will find a way into your home.
  2.       Remove flammable items from your patio, such as chair cushions, coco mats, planters, trash cans, brooms etc. Either put them in a shed, inside the house or far away from your home.
  3.       Make sure pine needles and other debris is cleaned up, and follow Firewise USA ® tip sheets for maintaining landscaping around your home.

 

Before you leave make sure you check the National Interagency Fire Center Report, to make sure that your pre-planned vacation site is not being impacted by wildfire.  This is important especially if you are traveling in high wildfire prone regions.

 

Check out your recreational vehicles and make sure that they are well maintained.  Following some simple safety tips will make sure that you don’t spark a wildfire as you head down the road.  Some tips to keep in mind include:

  1.      Off road motorcycles or other off road vehicles should have properly maintained spark arrestors.
  2.       Never park a vehicle that has been running on dry grass. Hot parts from underneath your vehicle can spark a fire.
  3.       Tow equipment is should be properly maintained.  Dragging chains can cause sparks that can ignite wildfires.
  4.       Check for proper tire pressure, this can not only save you gas as you travel, but also prevent exposed wheel rims from under inflated tires igniting a wildfire.
  5.       Complete proper vehicle maintenance and carry a fire extinguisher that you know how to use.

 

When you arrive at your destination, be aware of local fire conditions and follow all campground rules.

  1.       Check first to see if you are allowed to have open fires. If campfires are allowed, make sure that you keep them in a designated fire rings.  Never build a fire too large, and be aware of overhanging limbs.
  2.       Don’t engage in recreational activities at your campsite that can ignite wildfire like fireworks.
  3.       Tiki torches may not be allowed in your campground, check with your local park ranger/manager, or better yet bring and use portable solar lights.
  4.       If you are using citronella candles in the evening to keep bugs away, make sure that you keep them on a non-flammable surface and put them out before going to bed.

 

By proactively taking simple steps before and during your vacation, you can make sure that your vacation if fun and leaves you and your family with lasting good memories.  Check out the Firewise USA® website for more information about wildfire safety.

UPDATE: Registration is now open.  Click here to learn more and sign up.  

As part of the upcoming 2018 Fire Prevention Week, NFPA will host a webinar on Wednesday, October 10, at 3:00pm eastern time helping residents in the wildland-urban interface learn what they need to know about insurance before, during and after a wildfire.

 

Presenters will include Carole Walker from the Rocky Mountain Insurance Information Association, Kenton Brine with the Northwest Insurance Council, and Janet Ruiz with the Insurance Information Institute.

 

Tom Welle, with the NFPA Wildfire Division, shared with me that, “Being prepared for Wildfire is not just about preparing your home and having an evacuation plan, it also means you need to be financially prepared. Being well informed about your insurance coverage and having regular update meetings with your agent are crucial to your financial preparedness for wildfires.” The webinar will share insight from insurance experts so you can be a part of a more informed public.

 

Registration guidance for the webinar will be shared this September and we look forward to your participation.

 

The 2018 Fire Prevention Week campaign, “Look. Listen. Learn. Be aware. Fire can happen anywhere,” works to educate people about three basic but essential steps to take to reduce the likelihood of having a fire – and how to escape safely in the event of one. Learn more about Fire Prevention Week and its educational resources.

While wildfires across the American West threaten communities, a summer of excessive heat and drought has also torched parts of Europe. Over June and July, wildfire in the forests of Sweden, to moorlands of the United Kingdom, and even the Netherlands, surpassed records and showed that wildfire is no longer just a “Southern European issue”. The countries of Northern Europe are not accustomed to wildfire and the factors causing this expansion are not going away. Recent articles by the BBC and reflections from our wildfire partner in the UK provide great perspective on this emerging challenge.

 

July was a massive month for wildfire in Europe and followed a heightened trend for 2018 over the previous 10-year average. This is highlighted in an article by the BBC that explored, “why wildfires are breaking out in the ‘wrong’ countries”. The cause is a prolonged heat-wave drying out abundant fuel loads and it is continuing into August. Ignitions are primarily human-caused in Europe.

 

The article explains that by July 24, over 34,000 acres burned in the UK, which is four times the previous 10-year average. Approximately 46,000 acres in Sweden was 41 times the previous 10-year average. Aside from the recent tragic fire losses in Greece, Mediterranean Europe has seen less fires through a cool and wet spring and early summer.

 

In the UK, the current heat wave is the worst since 1976. Shaun Walton, Group Manager for the Pennine Area with the Lancashire Fire & Rescue Service, shared his prospective with me on the conditions and their wildfire response.

 

“Historically the UK has experienced periodic severe wildfire seasons, however more recently the number and severity of wildfires have increased. Many influencing factors have contributed to this including hotter and dryer seasonal weather. Traditional wildfire seasons have changed, with the UK experiencing wildfires starting earlier and finishing later in the year. UK seasonal weather has not been consistent over the years in comparison to previous seasons, this has allowed fuel/vegetation to have the right conditions to grow and remain in-situ for long periods of time, allowing the fuel to build with dead vegetation providing more surface fuels to burn across the moors.”

 

Explaining more about the fuel-loading, Shaun shared that, “the UK, like other countries, face challenges [fighting] the various types of vegetation of wildfires in forests, upland and lowland heaths and moors, that can involve surface fuel fires and ground fuels involving peat that are carbon rich and burn requiring little oxygen underground for several weeks.”

 

Wildfire operations and public outreach are changing with the growing threat as well. In Shaun’s role with the UK’s National Fire Chiefs Council and its Wildfire Group, he explained to me that, “the NFCC supports the UK Fire & Rescue Services to manage this risk by providing safety advice to the public to help prevent wildfire occurring and advising the public on what action to take when they do occur. The NFCC Wildfire Tactical Advisers also provide on request specialist advice to Incident commanders in relation to managing wildfires. The NFCC also support the development of UK National Operational Guidance to provide operational advice to Incident Commanders and improve Firefighter Safety.

 

Shaun noted that, “various UK fire rescue services are working together to develop specialist teams to fight wildfires by lighting deliberate ‘good fires’ to suppress wildfires and reduce fuels in the wildfires burn path, thereby protecting homes, infrastructure and reducing the impact to the environment.”

 

As the threat of wildfire continues this summer, Shaun stressed to me, “how important it is that organizations with a vested interest in wildfire, such as NFCC and NFPA, share best practice and learning to support prevention and operational response for what many consider to be the new norm.” NFPA looks forward to this work as well and wishes all those fighting wildfires in Europe safety and success.

 

Photo Credits: 
BBC News, Sweden battles wildfires from Arctic Circle to Baltic Sea, 18 July 2018, pulled 2 Aug 2018
BBC News, Drone footage captures Dorset heath fire damage, 27 July 18, pulled 2 Aug 18

It's been less than a year since California's "worst wildfires" and wildland firefighters, fire agencies, and safety advocates are all experiencing a major case of deja vu. As someone who has written continuously for years about what we all need to do to prepare for wildfires, reading the news feels like a nightmare from which I cannot seem to wake up. Conditions throughout most of the western United States are hot, dry and windy, the perfect recipe to create large and dangerous wildfires from any ignition. The federal government mapping counts 90 active fires as of today (July 30, 2018).

 

For the fourth time in the last decade, the federal agencies that respond to wildfire are at a "preparedness level 5" - 2 weeks earlier than last year. This level allows for more aid from states and even other countries to suppress wildfires. For those people very familiar with the wildfire problem, it is not as if current events are completely surprising. In spite of media interviews where people continue to talk about "unprecedented" events and conditions that have injured and killed firefighters and residents, forced thousands to evacuate and burned hundreds of structures in each incident, it has only been weeks and months since sources including the USDA Forest Service, CAL FIRE, the National Interagency Fire Center, the Governor of Arizona, and a U.S. Senator from Oregon have sounded the alarm about predicted conditions that spell high hazard from wildfire. 

 

What will it take for all of us - not only firefighters, and not only elected officials - to start taking the warnings seriously? Why aren't we treating wildfire like the natural, inevitable, and often dangerous phenomenon that it is, and learning how to live with this hazard and prepare our homes and communities? What more can we, should we have done in places impacted by the Carr Fire and all the others? It is not acceptable to me - nor should it be to anyone - to witness repeated, heartbreaking destruction and the toll on human lives when we know there are things we all can be doing to reduce risk. 

 

Safety advocates including staff of all of the agencies mentioned above, the California Fire Science Consortium, the Insurance Institute for Business & Home Safety, NFPA and many of our other colleagues and partners around the country and around the world have been tirelessly researching, messaging and reaching out with best practices, tips, tools and opportunities to take action - for years and years. If you are watching these fires and you aren't in immediate danger, NOW is the time to educate yourself and take practical, proven steps to protect your family and home from the risk of wildfire. Visit www.firewise.org and your state and local fire prevention websites to get the information you need today.

Photo by Faith Berry

As wildfires rage across the globe, we ask ourselves what can be done to help cities, homes, people and animals be safer during these events?  The losses are heart wrenching. The pictures are horrifying.  Wildfires occur across the globe and can increase in intensity anywhere, in the right set of conditions; hot temperatures, dried out vegetation, and high winds.

 

But we also see many people, neighborhoods, and cities coming together to create safer communities; firefighters, elected officials, land managing agencies, and residents all working together to be a part of the solution.  Did you know that there is a lot that you can do long before a wildfire happens to protect yourself, your family your pets and your home?  People of all ages can come together and complete property maintenance chores that are simple and don’t cost a lot of money but can provide huge benefits.

 

So what can we do?

 

  1.       Help a senior neighbor or neighbor unable to do the work, with yard maintenance.  This helps protect your property from damage if their home ignites.  It will also make you feel good.
  2.       Host a neighborhood clean-up day!  Rent a large dumpster to dispose of those human treasures (plywood, furniture, yard ornaments etc.) around and next to everyone’s home and create safer, and more desirable neighborhoods to live in.  You will make new friends and perhaps increase property values.
  3.       Host a day to complete one project waiting for your attention.  Get the neighbors together for a morning of work, with everyone doing their own thing at their own home; cleaning out gutters, cleaning up under decks, removing dead vegetation from around the home or liming up trees next to the house.  Get together afterwards for a picnic and half day of fun to celebrate your success!
  4.       Have lots of dead wood in your yards from storms?  Organize your own “Dead Wood Gang”.  Neighbors working together to clean up wood from property to property.  Place branches butt ends facing the street in easy to manage piles, and chip them up as soon as possible.  Just don’t put those wood chips in your landscaping next to the house or leave those piles hanging around long.
  5.       Have someone that your community trusts and enjoys working with locally (from a local fire department or land managing agency etc.), help you “see” what maintenance projects you can do to your home and in the area surrounding your home. Make a list for each neighbor to complete at a later date, and do something nice for the agency person assisting you to show your appreciation.  You are also helping to build a great relationship with an agency partner.

Be a part of making your home, neighborhood, and city safer.  Dust off those gloves and put them to work.  If nobody leads the way, be the hero in your neighborhood and help organize your neighbors to take action. For more information about projects you can do to make your home safer check out the Firewise USA® web-page.

                                                                                                                       Chipping at Bustin's Island photo by Faith Berry

Use of exterior sprinkler systems as an option to protect a home during wildfires is something frequently explored by residents looking for ways to increase their home’s chances of survival. Information in July’s Wildfire Research Fact Sheet on the functionality of exterior sprinkler systems, along with potential issues and recommendations is a must-read if you're considering adding them to your home.

 

The Insurance Institute for Business & Home Safety (IBHS) and the National Fire Protection Association’s (NFPA) Firewise USA® program produces the fact sheet series. Each topic provides residents living in areas where wildfires can happen with important research findings.

 

The series also provides forestry agencies, fire departments and additional stakeholders with the ability to customize each fact sheet with their agency or department’s logo.

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