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Champions for wildfire safety can be found throughout our country's high-risk areas and might take the shape of an individual "sparkplug" who leads community volunteer action, a proactive fire department offering prevention education and risk assessment as well as fire recovery services, or a faith-based group on a mission to help people prepare for and recover from disaster. In 2020, the national Wildfire Mitigation Awards committee has found wonderful examples of all three.

The awards are co-sponsored by the National Association of State Foresters (NASF), the International Association of Fire Chiefs (IAFC), the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), and the USDA Forest Service (USFS). They honor and recognize individuals and organizations for innovation, dedication, and leadership in wildfire mitigation. 

The winners of the 2020 Wildfire Mitigation Awards are:

The 2020 Wildfire Mitigation Awards will be presented at the Wildland-Urban Interface Conference in Reno, Nevada, on Wednesday, March 25. For more information, visit www.stateforesters.org/mitigation.

Planning overlay aerial community

In light of the recent experience of devastating wildfires in California and the ongoing tragic loss of lives, natural habitat, and property in Australia, NFPA President and CEO Jim Pauley has issued a call to action for government officials at all levels to take steps to solve the wildfire disaster problem.

Pauley’s opinion piece appeared this week in the Regulatory Review, an online regulatory news source affiliated with the Penn Program on Regulation at the University of Pennsylvania Law School. He emphasizes the need for preparedness action by individuals, neighborhoods but most importantly by government agencies with regulatory powers in “Beyond Fighting Wildfires.”

Acknowledging the long-time efforts of many stakeholders in preparedness education, Pauley states, “Voluntary action is helpful, but regulation is critical. Governing where and how we build and maintain property in areas at risk to wildfire ignition is more important than ever before.” He asserts that policymakers are uniquely capable of taking steps to reduce community wildfire risks.

Read the article for more information about the magnitude of wildfire risks and costs, as well as to access links to tools and resources for the next steps in wildfire safety.

Follow me on Twitter for more about wildfire every day! @Michele_NFPA

Wooden sign "Summit Park" surrounded by wildflowersIn this final piece of Taking on Excellence, we travel to Utah to learn more about Summit Park.  I had the chance to visit them over the summer, it is a beautiful place in the mountains with a variety of style of homes, just the type of place I would like to live.  But part of its beauty is what puts it at risk.  Mike Quinones, the resident leader of Summit Park, shares their story.

Can you describe your community for me and tell me why you choose to have a home there?  What do you love about your community?  

Summit Park was developed in the late 1950's and lies between 6800 to 8000 feet in elevation. We have approximately 820 lots with around 550 having been developed with single family homes. Some homes being built in the 1960's and some just being finished, so we have a wide range of architecture and building materials. Our community sits in the middle of dense conifer forest, which in the past has been neglected but has become recognized by our community, state and local agencies as a priority for fuel and forest health management projects. 

I live here because I enjoy mountain living and the challenges it offers. We receive a lot of snow, wildlife is common and it’s quiet and dark at night. The location is perfect as well. We're between Salt Lake City and Park City with skiing and mountain biking literally right out our back door.

Tell me about your community's journey in wildfire risk reduction.  What led you to Firewise USA and participation in the pilot?

Because of my wildland fire suppression experience, I recognized the need to address our threat. Nothing was being done in our county or the country at that time. I've been here for 35 years.  We started by me joining the HOA board and developing the CWPP when that was introduced. We developed a web page and started to educate our neighbors. We brought in the local FD and reached out to the State division of forestry and fire. We quickly qualified for a shaded fuel break project which launched more involvement.

Firewise came about when I recognized the advantages of being a member, the state also encouraged our involvement.  The Pilot Program was suggested by our WUI representative and I immediately knew we has to apply, it helps to validate the work we are trying to accomplish.

What are your goals in the pilot?

The ultimate goal is to get 100% homeowner participation with a secondary goal of providing data to the national agenda.

What are some challenges you think you might face?  

The biggest challenge to our journey is getting community members to recognize their responsibility to reduce the likelihood of a catastrophic fire in our community. We are so accustomed to having the notion the government should do something and they are to blame when they don't.  

There are two misconceptions I see. They are "it won’t happen to me (complacency) and the other is "it’s just too much work" (procrastination).   Everyone knows the threat, they watch the news and see the unprecedented losses. They’re the first to admit it when I talk to them, but when it comes to getting the job done, it’s not on most priority lists. However, the message it getting out and neighbors are talking. My expectations at first may have been to bold but when you put all the pieces together, we're making progress. Hopefully it won't be too late. 

How do you propose to overcome them?

I think it’s a multi pronged approach to set the new standard.  A combination of community, local and state agencies all on the same page pushing an aggressive agenda and implementing the narrative of personal responsibility. 

What else would you like to share?

The pilot program sparked an accelerated interest in fuel reduction, defensible space and home hardening. I'm looking forward to seeing what happens next summer.

Thank you Mike for sharing your story. We appreciate Summit Park’s commitment to personal responsibility when it comes to wildfire risk reduction.  Can’t wait to see the progress you make over the next year.

A big thank you to all of the readers for joining us in learning about the pilot participants.  We look forward to sharing their results and lessons learned later in 2020 and 2021.

Is your community ready to take the next step in wildfire risk reduction?   Visit Firewise.org to learn more about how to organize your neighbors and get started.

Photos: Community sign and moose provided by Mike Quinones

Cover of e-bookAfter the past few years of wildfire losses, learning about safer design and construction could not be more timely. NFPA and Green Builder Media proudly announce our latest collaboration, Enough is Enough, an e-book detailing what needs to be done to prevent loss of property and lives to wildfire. Aimed at the building and development audience, Enough Is Enough is much more than a rallying cry, it is a practical script for a new era of safe home building in wildfire-prone areas.

 

NFPA has worked with Green Builder Media on a number of collaborative efforts over the last several years, focusing on both sustainability and safety. It was my honor to help develop an e-book, Design With Fire In Mind: Three Steps to a Safer New Home, back in 2015. As I talked with the editors about a new edition, I was struck by the importance of telling the story of what American communities have suffered – loss of life, property, and resources – in only the last four fiery years. Even more important to convey are the things we have learned that we can apply now to prevent future disasters and devastation.

 

Visit the Green Builder Media website to sign up and get a complimentary copy of Enough is Enough. The techniques and strategies we deploy today can have a significant impact on making our communities less vulnerable to the inevitable wildfire of the future.

This year, let's do more than resolve or talk about trying to create communities that are safer in the event of a wildfire. Let’s take steps to make a difference. My daughter shared with me a beautiful saying by First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt:  “The future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams.”

We can not only dream bigger about wildfire safety this year - we can act. Research has proven that simple, low-cost steps can improve the survivability of neighborhoods and homes, and help protect those we love.  So, let’s get started making that dream of communities that can survive wildfire come true! Be a part of the movement to create cities, neighborhoods, people, and pets that are safer from wildfires. Here’s how anyone in any neighborhood can get started to be a part of the solution:

  1. Participate in a Wildfire Community Preparedness Day project individually or as a group.
  2. Apply for $500 for a wildfire safety project starting on Tuesday, January 7th. The application opens at 8 am ET - it's easy!
  3. Check out past success stories for project ideas to help you plan your own project.
  4. Check out information about home improvement project guidelines that can work on any residence.
  5. Check out a survivor’s story to learn that wildfire safety preparations can help you survive a wildfire.

You can be a part of changing your world today. Use NFPA’s free resources and the opportunity to apply for funding for a wildfire safety project with generous support from State Farm. In 2020, may our dreams of wildfire safety become a reality!

With all the wildfire news emanating from Australia this week, it’s easy to view the events through the perspective of area burned, structures lost, fuel loading, states of emergency, and evacuation protocols.  The Thursday funeral for New South Wales Volunteer Firefighter Geoffrey Keaton places these wildfires in a deeper context.  The 32 year old began his volunteer work with the fire service as a young boy.  On Thursday, his posthumous Commendation for Bravery and Service medal was pinned on his toddler son. 

 

Keaton and fellow volunteer firefighter Andrew O’Dwyer, died while fighting the Green Wattle Creek blaze in south-west Sydney, when their vehicle rolled missing a falling tree, on December 19.  A funeral for O’Dwyer is scheduled for next week. (Update: O’Dwyer’s funeral was held on January 7th, with his young daughter receiving his service medal and helmet.  The Sydney Morning Herald also shared photos from the ceremony.)

 

I have often felt that society as a whole over-relies on the fire service, volunteer and career, to suppress our way to the wildfire solution.  I explored that reality in the May 2017 NFPA Journal Wildfire column and the expectations placed on volunteer departments to carry the burden of this communal challenge.  The deaths of these volunteers in Australia once again remind us that a solution covering the entire ecosystem of agencies, services, trades, and the public is needed to truly address the current and future global wildfire risk.   

 

Australia has been battered by wildfires over the past two months and conditions are not improving.  As of January 2, approximately 5.9 million hectares (22,780 square miles) have burned across mainly eastern and southern Australia.  About 100 wildfires are burning in New South Wales and another 30 in Victoria.  Temperatures over 104 degrees Fahrenheit and strong winds are driving the flames, with the heatwave expected to continue over this coming weekend.  The civilian death toll is at 18, with eight killed on New Year’s Eve, as wildfires have consumed over 1,300 homes. 

 

Wildfire in Australia is not new, but this summer season for them has been extreme.  A current heatwave that began in mid-December remains and lead to the highest recorded temperature on record at 107.4 degrees Fahrenheit.  This heat comes on the heels of Australia’s driest spring season on record and a persistent deficit of rain in New South Wales and Queensland since early 2017.  In November, New South Wales issues a first ever, “Catastrophic” fire danger rating.  “A changing climate has meant an increase in temperatures in the Indian and Southern Oceans, which in turn has meant drier and hotter weather across Australia this summer”, as explained in a recent news article


To follow the ongoing fires - especially the current evacuations from southeast coastal communities - the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) has a live blog that also provides a daily concise synopsis of events. 

 

For further information, NFPA shared additional Australia media links to follow and the feeds and daily video briefings from the various state fire agencies in November. 

 

Our thoughts remain with those who have lost loved ones and to all those working the fire lines to protect communities across Australia. 

 

Photo Credit: New South Wales Rural Fire Service.  Pulled 2 January 2019 from BBC News: Australia fires: Son of firefighter Geoffrey Keaton awarded medal at funeral. 

Sign up for Fire Break Newsletter to stay up to date with the latest news and information on key wildfire issues. You can also follow me on twitter @LucianNFPA for more international wildfire related topics.

Sunset over Crystal Lake in Wisconsin

For this next edition of our Sites of Excellence highlight, we head to Crystal Lake Club in Wisconsin.  Bill Santer II shares the journey his community has taken on the wildfire risk reduction path.

Crystal Lake Club (CLC) is in the north central portion of Marquette County, Wisconsin in a geographical area known as the Central Sands. The location is determined to be in a high-risk area for wildfires. This area is famous for Aldo Leopold’s, Sand County Almanac, and the boyhood home of John Muir. The environs are credited with inspiring Muir to his lifelong passion for the environment. 

Seventy-five residences line the Crystal Lake shoreline, the homes are occupied seasonally (75%) and year-round (25%). The lake association, CLC, with a membership of 130, owns 1,026 acres surrounding Crystal Lake. The common lands are primarily used for forestry, habitat and recreation, with areas designated for golf, tennis, pickle ball, hiking, trap and skeet shooting, pistol range, cross country skiing and frisbee golf.  Crystal Lake is a 124-acre, spring-fed lake, with a maximum depth of 60 feet. There is a public access location on the lake, made available by a walk-in trail. Crystal Lake, the Mecan River and Weddle Creek provide water for suppression efforts. 

Two dry hydrants were installed in the nearby area within the past few years. All homes have private wells. The club maintains four alarms around the lake shore to alert Club members in case of a wildfire or other emergency. A designated debris pile site eliminates the need to burn debris on individual properties. CLC falls within the Montello Fire Response Unit (FRU) with the Montello Ranger Station located in Montello approximately 12 miles to the south. The Wautoma Ranger Station is located approximately 9 miles to the north. Access from both stations is via Highway 22, which is one mile east of the development. The personnel and equipment of both stations are available for fire response in an emergency. The fire department serving the Crystal Lake community is the Neshkoro Volunteer Fire Department. 

The vast majority of residents have been on the lake since birth. Most are daughters and sons Blue Heron standing in Crystal Lake, WIof original owners. Others are long-time friends of owners and/or nieces and nephews of original owners. The Caribbean blue/green water, great fishing, banning gasoline powered engines, the smell of the pines, the nesting eagles, egrets, herons and sandhill cranes, the abundant white tail deer, the undeveloped surroundings that are only a short drive to the state capital and other major city centers, makes CLC an oasis of peace and tranquility where neighbors share and support common values of stewardship and conservation.

Tell me about your community's journey in wildfire risk reduction.  What led you to Firewise USA?  Why did you decide to participate in the pilot?

We got a “wake-up call” on April 13, 2003. That day the weather was partly cloudy, temperature 82-83 degrees (unusually hot for a Wisconsin April), minimum humidity at 25%, SW winds at 15 MPH increasing to 25 MPH in the afternoon. The CLC (township) Fire started within a quarter mile of our club lands around 2 pm. By the next day 572 acres burned, 6 structures were lost, and 49 other structures threatened. Two CLC members immediately recognized future danger and contacted our state DNR. The CLC Firewise Committee was formed in 2003, with Firewise Community status earned in 2004, the first site in Wisconsin.  

The initial Firewise Community Assessment was conducted on Sept. 8, 2003, again on June 15, 2013 and most recently June 26, 2018. Dynamic action plans were developed from each assessment. Priorities for each year’s activities are drawn from the action plan. The committee currently has five club members, chaired by Bill Santner II. We have a workday in the spring and fall of each year. Upwards of 90 people work on Club land projects during the workdays, as well as individually throughout the year. We sponsor a lunch in the fall as a thank you for the members efforts and provide educational materials, presentations and updates on Firewise efforts within club lands.

When asked if we would like to be considered as a Site of Excellence for this pilot program, the committee was unanimous in agreement to apply for this distinction. We see it as a way to learn and grow in our knowledge base and to network with other communities to share best practices to keep our members and their investments as safe as possible from the dangers of wildfires.

What are you goals in the pilot?

CLC has two specific goals for the Sites of Excellence 2-year pilot program. First, within the first year of the program, the goal is to get as many residences as possible to agree to have a Home Ignition Zone assessment. By the way, we realized that people don’t react favorably to the word “assessment.” So, we now label it the “Fire Safety Check-Up.” The second goal, in the second year, is to follow-up, encourage and support, and record the work done based on the residences’ fire safety check-up report. Updates and results will continue to be reported to the membership.

What are some challenges you think you might face?  How do you propose to overcome them?

Some of our members have the perception that “outsiders” will come on their property and tell them what must be done. The only way to overcome this is to continue education efforts and have participating members share their favorable experiences. Another challenge is to engage with absentee owner/members. There are few at CLC, but still critical to get those involved. We continue to do outreach through emailed newsletters, etc. 

What else would you like to share?

We are grateful for the training and support received from NFPA and our state DNR and Forestry personnel. We are confident that this pilot program will make our club more aware of wildfire dangers and more proactive in protecting our land and dwellings. One member put it this way: “Doing the work around our home is like getting a vaccination. It’s for our own good, but also for the protection of the community. What we do around our home helps protect those homes around us.” We believe that’s a great metaphor for the work to be done.

Crystal Lake Club Community members, WI DNR staff, and NFPA staff member Tom Welle standing in front of a building with Firewise Community banner

Thank you Bill for sharing your story. We appreciate Crystal Lake Club's commitment to personal responsibility and look forward to your progress over the next year.

Is your community ready to take the next step in wildfire risk reduction?  Visit Firewise.org to learn more about how to organize your neighbors and get started.

Photo credit: all photos provided by Bill Santner II, resident leader

Power line

Recent research on electrical power line problems may help prevent wildfire ignitions. B. Don Russell, Ph.D.,  an electrical engineering professor at Texas A&M, and his research team have created a tool that helps keep linemen safe and also ensures that power outages do not occur. According to Digital Journal, this newly developed diagnostic tool, called Distribution Fault Anticipation, was designed to detect power line problems to help prevent electrocutions as a result of these power line failures.  The tool has been designed to check power lines for potential issues that could result in power line degradation and the loss of power to consumers as well.

With the recent devastating wildfires in California and elsewhere that have been attributed to power line problems, this tool has been thought to potentially help with wildfire-related ignitions. If power line problems can be detected by this new tool before they occur, the possibility, therefore, should exist that you can reduce the ignition of wildfires related to power line equipment failures.

Yet another use for this tool is to identify at-risk sections of the power grid in real-time and focus efforts to repair those problem areas quickly instead of waiting for the power line to fail and then repairing it.  This may help prevent massive electrical power shutdowns during red flag weather warnings to prevent wildfire ignitions that have also caused suffering to many residents.  Referred to in some instances as public safety power shutdowns, these actions create additional challenges for first responders as well as essential facilities like hospitals to continue to provide a high level of service.  This new diagnostic tool could have a twofold purpose: first, to help power companies improve the overall safety and reliability of their power systems and second, to minimize wildfire ignitions and public safety power shutdowns during red flag warnings.

Over the last couple of months I was able to attend two conferences held in the US and Canada that strengthened and developed new working relationships between fire fighters, foresters, researchers, insurance industry leaders, elected officials, educators, and first nations groups. These relationships foster the exchange of information about new technologies as well as revisiting old ways, including the use of prescribed fire by indigenous people to improve forest health and share resources that create communities that are safer from wildfire.  

 

The theme of the 2019 Wildland Fire Canada Conference held in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada in mid-November was, “New Paths, New Partnerships.”   Conference attendees had a friendly, open demeanor and were eager to help other organizations be successful in improving their program or research.  Presentations covered research topics including studies about “stay and defend” concepts in the event of evacuations, new fire modeling technologies, and developing collaborative relationships.  

 

As part of the collaborative relationships topics presented, I presented for NFPA about Wildfire Community Preparedness Day in the US along with Laura Stewart, who coordinated the 2019 Canada's FireSmart Wildfire Community Preparedness Day.  The conference also stressed the Canadian national wildfire management strategy.  Its purpose is to develop good strategies to assess risk and create communities that are safer from wildfire.

 

Similarly, at the third annual conference presented by the International Association of Wildfire in October in Plymouth, Massachusetts, explored the U.S. National Cohesive Wildland Fire Management Strategy.  The theme was,  “Defining Our Future With Wildland Fire – A New  Paradigm.”  Conference attendees came together eager to learn about developing research, community activities, risk assessments, as well as how they could share information and resources about wildfire and wildfire safety .  

 

Tom Welle, from the NFPA, shared how public-private sector partnerships help change WUI resident behavior.  Michele Steinberg, also with the NFPA, presented with Tracy Katelman, Executive Director of the California Fire Safe Council, about lessons learned in wildfire safety in a session titled: "Impacts of our Experience: Learning from California, the US and the World”.  Also at the conference, over 125 participants attended an incredible field tour about the community and landscape work accomplished by the Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation in partnership with the local fire department and first nations groups.  It gave participants a good working understanding about how the national strategy was put into action.

 

These conferences stressed the important role each of us plays in creating communities that are safer from wildfire and how important new partnerships are in addressing the "new normal" of wildfire.  A key component of both national strategies is to create neighborhoods and larger communities that are safer in the event of a wildfire.  Check out NFPA’s Firewise USA site to learn how you and your neighborhood can take steps to reduce your risk of loss as part of developing fire adapted communities.

 

Photo Credit: Peace Tower, Canadian Parliament, Ottawa, Ontario.  Faith Berry Nov. 2019 

Wildfires not only impact the environment and human infrastructure, but can also create long term health issues for first responders, residents, and workers due to smoke emitted during the fire. The residues from burned material can also affect people involved in post-fire clean-up efforts. Tips to stay healthier during and after a wildfire event can be found on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) webpage. Information on the page is available in English and Spanish.

The page talks about health concerns for those at highest risk of harm from wildfire smoke during a wildfire. People with COPD, asthma, heart disease, or those who are pregnant, need to be aware of their increased risk and take extra precautions and should seek medical assistance if needed.

After the fire has passed and residents return, the CDC recommends that residents, first responders, and clean-up workers take extra safety precautions to protect themselves from harmful chemical residues and other unsafe conditions that may be present. The site even shares some guidance for first responders who are managing the site. That information covers topics such as electrocution hazards, personal protective equipment needed for cleaning up, structure hazards that might be present, and more.

Being better prepared before, during, and after a fire can help create better outcomes for residents, first responders, and clean up crews after a wildfire event has occurred.

Image credit: Faith Berry, NFPA

It should bring a moment of pause when Australians describe their fire threat as “catastrophic”. This is the forecast warning for Tuesday in eastern-Australia, as high winds and temperatures above 96 degrees Fahrenheit are expected to fan numerous fires that have already brought life and structure losses.  An anticipated afternoon southerly wind shift will cause additional risk. 

This is the first time a “catastrophic” wildfire weather warning has been issued in Australia. The new rating system was introduced in 2009 in response to devastating wildfire losses that year. “Catastrophic” reaches around 100 on the scale, which including most of the New South Wales eastern coast, and one area registers at 109 (Aus. Monday 9:33pm post). 

 

Winds are expected on Tuesday in Australia to gust over 50 mph, with conditions likened to the 2009 “Black Saturday” wildfires that claimed 173 lives in the Australian state of Victoria.   

Right now, more than 120 wildfires are burning across the Australian states of Queensland and New South Wales.  More than 3,745 square miles have burned in New South Wales alone, with over 150 structures lost. This  weekend, three fatalities were reported - one victim was found in their car, another in their burned home, and a third separately succumbed to burns in the hospital. Two firefighters were also injured when a tree fell on their truck. To date, 35 civilian and 19 total firefighter injuries have been reported. 

 

Over 55 wildfires in Queensland have consumed 17 structures thus far. 

 

To follow the current wildfires in New South Wales and Queensland:

The resiliency of Australian residents will once again be tested in the coming days and months but there is no doubt as to their ability to stand up to the challenge. Check back here for more information as these wildfires unfold.    

 

Photo Credit: 
Top: New South Wales Rural Fire Service Fire Danger Rating Tues Nov 19, pulled 11Nov19 Denver 

Bottom: Australian BoM Max Fire Danger Index Maps for Tues 12 Nov pulled from bom.gov 11Nov19 Denver

 

Sign up for Fire Break Newsletter to stay up to date with the latest news and information on key wildfire issues. You can also follow me on twitter @LucianNFPA for more international wildfire related topics.

Picture of the community of Paradise, CA 6 months after a wildfire.  The picture is taken from above and shows a number of burned out foundations.

 

The Camp Fire, the most devastating California wildfire to date, which caused 5 injuries, 86 fatalities, the loss of 18,804 structures and 153,300 acres burned.  These losses, along with contamination of the water supply, damage to the watershed, and huge hazmat cleanup costs, devastated the local communities of Paradise and Yankee Concow. The story about the Camp Fire does not end with the fire and losses but is now a story of residents rebuilding lives and neighborhoods. Courageous residents have been working hard to clean up in advance of the one-year anniversary of the fire on November 8th. They have even set up  GoFundMe accounts to help those who are still rebuilding homes and lives.

 

As the anniversary approaches, a number of media outlets have created films to  tell the stories of survivors, first responders, community leaders and more. Each film gives a slightly different viewpoint, but all contain graphic footage and heart wrenching stories. The PBS Frontline film, Fire in Paradise, looks at the dramatic evacuations and explores the causes. Another film produced by Netflix, airing November 1, recounts harrowing stories from people about how they survived. Yet another film, The Camp Fire Documentary by Golden Eagle Films, tries to take a sensitive look at first person accounts from residents and first responders about what it was like.

 

I think the most compelling takeaway to me is the courage of the people who lived through the incident, and their care and support for each other. This is something I noticed when I visited the area years ago. The fact that so many survived the fast-moving fire is a testament to the preparedness of the residents and the first responders. I have a hard time reliving the tragedy in film, but there are stories to be told that we can learn from: stories of courage, caring, survival and rebuilding. I think if we can take their stories to heart and look at where we all are on our individual journeys of wildfire preparedness, a part of what they have to share with us is that we each can make a difference in helping others be safer -- that we all have a role to play in creating safer communities. What have their stories told you, on the anniversary of this fire?

 

Picture credit: Matt Dutcher

Classroom training on wildfire mitigation

Register now for NFPA's Assessing Structure Ignition Potential from Wildfire two-day training in Charlotte, North Carolina, scheduled for November 21-22. 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. 

Wildfires happen in the eastern United States. In November 2016, 33 wildfires burned more than 90,000 acres in Eastern Tennessee, North Georgia, and Western North Carolina, with deadly and destructive results in the Gatlinburg area. Fourteen people died and some 2,400 structures were destroyed.

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 Charlotte! 

Asset(s)

For many, the fall months are a time for cleaning up our yards of accumulated leaves, sticks, and other vegetative debris before the long winter.  Disposing of this dried up green waste is becoming more difficult, with many waste facilities no longer accepting such material.  Yet, allowing this material to accumulate close to the home is even worse as it can become a bed for embers and act as an ignition source to a home.  Faced with the choice, some choose to burn these materials in order to reduce this hazard.

But before you burn anything, it is important to be aware of your local codes and ordinances regarding outdoor burning.   For example, the fall in the South East is the season for above normal wildfire potential due to the accumulation of dead, dry vegetation and dryer conditions overall.  

The US Forest Service shares some great ideas to keep in mind before you burn anything;

  1. Make sure you are aware of local laws and ordinances (a permit may be required).   NEVER BURN IF THERE IS A BURN BAN.
  2. Look around and above to make sure you are not burning next to something else that could ignite.  This includes checking for overhanging branches, vehicles, out buildings and other things that could catch fire.  Fires should be at least 50 feet from any structure.
  3. Never burn plastic or any other garbage along with the vegetation.
  4. Check the weather conditions and never burn when it is windy or very hot and dry.
  5. Start with a small pile and slowly add more material.
  6. Make sure you stay with the fire at all times. (You should have a charged hose and or fire extinguisher nearby as well as a shovel and rake).
  7. Make sure your fire is completely out and check the area around the fire for the next couple of days for smoldering embers. 


For more information about how you can keep your home safer from wildfire, check out the NFPA’s Firewise USA program.   Additional information concerning local authorities having jurisdiction over regulating outdoor burning can be found in the  NFPA 1 section about open fires and outdoor burning.

Photo Credit: Steve Lawrey, Holly Knoll Homeowner's Association, Virginia, shared to NFPA 2019

Did you know that many of California’s worst wildfires have historically occurred in the fall? Recent examples from last year include the Camp Fire which caused 86 fatalities and destroyed 18,804 structures and the Woolsey Fire which destroyed 1,643 structures and caused 3 fatalities. In fact, CAL Fire’s statistics show that 15 of the top 20 deadliest fires have occurred during September, October, and November.

Have you wondered why these destructive wildfires occur in the fall? The weather conditions that occur this time of year in California contribute to this threat. The Weather Channel has created a great video that explains how the winds and low humidity can increase California communities’ risk of loss due to wildfire.NASA Satellite image of the Camp Fire 2018

Some of the factors which contribute to the increased threat include:

  1. Santa Ana winds and other strong offshore winds that are caused by high-pressure systems forcing fast-moving wind to blow from hot desert regions west over the mountains toward the ocean. These high winds can topple power lines and cause rapid spotting of a wildfire.
  2. Very low relative humidity (moisture in the air) due to hot dry conditions.
  3. Low moisture levels in the vegetation which can cause the vegetation to catch fire more quickly.

Homeowners can reduce their risk of loss to wildfire this time of year by making simple and low-cost improvements to their home and landscape. Some of these activities are typical fall home maintenance projects, such as:

  1. Removing dead branches from trees and shrubbery (fall is a great time of year to prune bushes and trees, reducing the ability for fire to move up from shrubs into trees);
  2. Removing leaves from gutters and roofs;
  3. Removing weeds (that are drying out) from around the home especially within the first 5 feet of the home; and
  4. Making sure vents are screened and cleared of debris

For more information about steps that you can take to reduce your risk of loss to wildfire, check out NFPA’s Firewise USA website for free resources to help you decide on some fall home wildfire safety improvement projects.

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