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In the May/June edition of NFPA Journal®, the Safety Policy column by Meghan Housewright explores the fact that while its clear that the public and government leaders value fire services, city budgets too often overlook wildfire, one of the fastest growing fire safety threats.

 

The column reflects on a recent study that provides guidance on leveraging local data for more focused funding. She also discusses how NFPA’s Fire & Life Safety Policy Institute can help communities and fire departments make wildfire the budget-line priority it needs to be.

 

I recently spoke with Meghan about the column and what stood out to her about these budget challenges. She shared that, “Tight budgets are a tough reality but people need to understand the consequences of relying on periodically available grants, or neglecting mitigation entirely. The most interesting point about the survey of residents from Rapid City [South Dakota] is that 53 percent reported being willing to increase taxes before cutting fire services. It’s an opportunity for the fire service to make the mitigation case to the community and they should certainly take it.”

 

Learn more about navigating the budget and community risk reduction landscape in the current edition of NFPA Journal®.

 

Photo Credit: Lucian Deaton.  Pulled from NFPA Journal® online 21 May 2018.  

Far from an academic question, the Cape Town, South Africa, Fire Department and the 4 million residents it serves provide a great example of building operational and community resiliency for wildfire in a time of server drought and strict water restrictions. Learn more in the May/June edition of NFPA Journal®’s Wildfire column.

 

Back in March, NFPA visited with its wildfire community outreach partners in South Africa and landed in the middle of a water crisis. Years of drought have reduced the reservoirs that supply Cape Town with its drinking water and the city faced a “Day Zero” reality, when the taps would actually run dry.

 

In response, residents, businesses, and agriculture, all reduced their water consumption and reconsidered the value of something that we usually take for granted.  I did as well as a guest and have tried to reduce my unnecessary water use back at home in the USA.

 

While there, I had the great opportunity to talk with Ian Schnetler, Cape Town’s chief fire officer, about how municipal water restrictions and the looming threat of “Day Zero” changed how the department deals with wildfire and the culture of the fire department in it use of water.  Learn from his insight and actions in the current edition of NFPA Journal®’s Wildfire column.  

Picture Credit: Lucian Deaton

 

Photo shared by April Hale from Stevensville, Montana 

 

People are telling us what they did on Wildfire Community Preparedness Day.  The best part of their incredible stories is the fact that they had fun, while at the same time creating safer neighborhoods.  Francis Reynolds from New Mexico told me, “It was fun, and we got a lot done.”  Activities completed on the day included helping seniors, cleaning up roadways, scouts helping with neighborhood clean-up, families working together, seniors maintaining common areas and more.

 

It was heartwarming to know that fire departments got the help they needed, cities were able to help senior residents be safer, and hear stories about how neighborhoods worked together and not only created safer places to live but grew bonds of friendship, all on the same day. 

 

A wonderful saying shared with me by one of the communities that participated on the day by Ralph Waldo Emerson summarized what many of these hard working folks shared with me, “Write it on your heart that every day is the best day in the year.”  Many of them had such a great time working and yes, having fun together on Prep Day that they want to continue working on wildfire safety projects throughout the year.

                                                                                                       Photo shared by Gayle Ehlman in Ryderwood, Washington                                                            

NFPA appreciates the support received from State Farm to provide the awards to 150 community and individual projects in 36 states from across the United States.  These people have made a difference working together on projects that reduce their risk of loss.  Many other communities also participated in this grass roots wildfire safety effort.  We will be sharing some of their stories soon. Check out the Wildfire Community Preparedness Day page for success stories today.  Tell us how you participated!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Photo shared by Frances Reynolds in San Cristóbal, New Mexico

Interest and participation in the national Firewise USA® resident focused, wildfire risk reduction program, continues to gain momentum with 1,503 active sites located throughout 42 states. The program’s participants are residents living in areas with wildfire risks, completing work at their individual properties and in tandem with their neighbors and broader neighboring residents to complete the recognition program’s annual requirements.

 

Administered by the National Fire Protection Association, the Firewise USA® program is a collaborative partnership with each of the participating state’s forestry agencies and their designated program liaison. Using a framework that provides residents with a set of annual requirements needed to retain an “In Good Standing” status; residents must demonstrate and document their successful achievements every calendar year. That criteria includes a yearly investment in risk reduction actions that when completed can increase a home’s chances of survival during a wildfire.

 

Currently, participating sites represent more than 1.5 million residents with a self-reported investment of more than $54 million dollars in risk reduction activities over the past twelve months.

 

Connect with the Firewise USA® team to learn how you and your neighbors can become a recognized Firewise USA® site and begin working towards making where you live a safer place for residents and firefighters responding to wildfires.

This Saturday we can all take action to make our communities safer from wildfire risks.  Everyone who participates is making a difference and becomes an integral part of a larger movement, where residents in wildfire prone areas understand what their risk is and are taking steps on May 5th, to reduce their risk of loss. Check out our Prep Day map to look for an opportunity to get involved where you live. Nothing mapped in your area?  Design and map your own local solution today. 

 

Are you thinking that it will never happen here?  Wildfires can and do occur everywhere.  It is not a matter of location.  It is a set of conditions, which can contribute to wildfire loss anywhere. Last week a small wildfire in Minnesota threatened a farm.  Smoke from the wildfires in the great plains area were mapped April 14th as affecting Oklahoma, Texas, Kansas, Arkansas and Missouri.  The Greenway Fire in March caused thousands of forested acres to be burned in Florida. Currently in the Payson, Arizona area a large wildfire is burning thousands of acres causing the evacuation of many communities. Wildfires can and do occur in places not normally considered at risk from wildfire loss.

 

We can ignore the risk, or can we be a part of the solution.  Get involved this Saturday, May 5th. Get to know your neighbors and create a safer place to live.  What will you be doing?  Share your success story with us!

Wind-blown embers generated during wildfires are the single biggest hazard posed to homes, and homeowners should never overlook the potential risk that an attached deck can create. Nothing that can ignite should be stored under a deck. An ignited deck can result in the ignition of combustible siding or glass breakage in a sliding glass door. The research detailed in April's Wildfire Research Fact Sheet provides low-cost construction changes that can minimize fire spread on ember-ignited decks.

 

Recent testing by the Insurance Institute for Business & Home Safety has important findings that can help minimize risk from wind-blown embers in a wildfire. The 2018 five-part Wildfire Research Fact Sheet series produced by the National Fire Protection Association's (NFPA) Firewise USA® program and the Insurance Institute for Business & Home Safety (IBHS) will run from April thru August.

 

Each fact sheet in the series provides residents living in areas prone to wildfires with important research findings that should be implemented at their homes. They also provide forestry agencies and fire departments with a tool that can be utilized in their educational outreach efforts by customizing the fact sheets with an agency/department logo.

 

 

As I was finishing raking up the mess from this year’s past storm fronts, I was thinking about how residents living in wildfire prone areas can do so much to reduce their risk of loss to wildfires by completing some simple and low cost property maintenance chores.  Spring cleaning can also improve your wildfire safety.  In a recent article, Making Homes Resistant to Wildfire May be Cheaper Than We Thought, Jack Cohen shares, “So that raises the question: can we actually prevent home ignitions using extreme wildfires,” Cohen said. “And again: a resounding ‘Yes!’”

 

Start by removing accumulations of flammable vegetative matter (leaves, pine needles, sticks etc.) that may have accumulated around or on your home.

 

Most homes that ignite, and are ultimately destroyed during a wildfire do so as the result of small burning embers that collect on and in areas around the home where there are accumulations of flammable materials.  For example gutters are a great place for leaves and pine needles to collect, a fuel bed for many embers generated during wildfires. Yet another area to check are the inside corners of the outside of the home.  Leaves and other matter builds up here from the wind, this is the same place that embers will accumulate during a wildfire.  Other areas under the deck and next to the home where leaves and material gather also are vulnerable to ignition during an ember storm generated by a wildfire.

 

Small nooks and crannies on the outside of your home that may provide openings into your home because of small cracks and holes (such as areas in your eaves, areas where window frames are not flush to the house and other open areas in siding, and garage doors that do not close flush to the ground) can all provide avenues for embers to collect and ignite your home from the inside.  Caulk all cracks and holes and buy weather stripping material for the sides and bottom of your garage door.

 

Pay special attention to your roof and vents.  Repair holes and replace missing shingles or roof tiles.  Add bird stops or cement in openings in the front of clay tiles to prevent embers from igniting nesting material from birds or other animals in this area. Screen vents to prevent ember entry or update them with ember resistant vents.

 

Steps taken today in the form of simple spring maintenance projects can pay big dividends in the survivability of a home.  Learn more about steps you can take to make your home safer with information provided on NFPA’s Firewise USA® webpage.

 

According to the latest situation report from the Oklahoma Forestry Services website, two major wildfire complexes have burned more than 350,000 acres over the past week, and are only partially under control. The 34 Complex fire in Woodward County has burned 62,089 acres and is 60% contained as of April 20, 2018. The Rhea Fire in Dewey County is more than four times that size at 289,078 acres and is only 25% contained as of April 20.

 

An article on Weatherunderground.com by meteorologist Bob Henson provides an excellent, detailed explanation of why Oklahoma is burning and points out that these large fires are certainly not unprecedented and are even becoming more common in recent years.

 

Henson’s article describes the main factors conspiring to bring these so-called “megafires” to Oklahoma – a place many don’t think of when they hear the word “wildfire.” The culprits include unusually serious wildfires – drought, high temperatures and persistent high winds; alternating wet and dry periods leading to a profusion of fire-prone vegetation; and the prevalence of a particular fire-prone species, eastern red cedar, throughout Oklahoma and the southern plains. I once heard a forester describe this tree as a “native invasive” – a tree that belongs there but without intervention spreads and grows and has significant negative impacts on the landscape. Henson helpfully points out that before European settlement, indigenous people set fires to keep these weed-like trees under control.

 

The trend toward larger and more damaging wildfires in the Southern Plains is clear, and the toll on people, the land and livelihoods is growing. In a haunting repeat of the March 2017 fires across Oklahoma, Kansas, Texas, and Colorado, today’s fires are destroying homes, killing people and livestock, and decimating crops and agricultural land upon which livelihoods are based.

 

To help the people and communities impacted by these fires, see this article that indicates where you can donate money and resources. To track wildfires, see NFPA’s map (image above) that pulls data from national sources and updates every 24 hours.

 

This growing trend of wildfire does not have to mean disaster. To learn more about what to do to protect your home and community, visit www.firewise.org.

Have you ever felt like you just don’t know how to get started, improving the wildfire safety of your community?  You know that you need to do something, but just don’t know how to begin taking action that will make a difference when you are just one person or neighborhood. 

 

Get started by getting involved on May 5th, in Wildfire Community Preparedness Day, a nationwide effort.  All you have to do is commit a few hours and connect with some neighbors to take action, working on a project that will help make you safer.

 

NFPA has made it easy for you to get started.  Need a flyer?  On the Wildfire Prep page we have a free resource, a fillable flyer you can customize with information about your project time and location and even add your own logo to.  Simply print it up and post around your community to invite others to participate.  You can also map your project on the Wildfire Prep Day map page so other volunteers can see what you are doing, and learn how they can help. Want to connect with your local paper, radio station, or television station?  NFPA has created a free press release template you can use as a guide to get the word out about what you are doing.

 

If social media is your thing, there is a free downloadable web banner you can use on your webpage or on social media posts.  We make it even easier by providing sample posts.  Connect on the Firewise USA® Facebook page and give yourself a shout out for being a part of making a positive difference in your community.

 

Local elected officials can now download a new resource, a fillable PDF proclamation. You can add your city or town seal and endorse positive actions taken by residents to improve their wildfire safety.

 

Finally if you just have to get something more, to promote your efforts, NFPA has listened to you and created for purchase a beautiful  banner to hang over your fire department or community center, stickers to put on certificates or give to participants and a digital decal that can be used to print an unlimited amount of beautiful t-shirts.

 

Get involved and become a part of making where you live safer in the event of a wildfire.  Need or want something we don’t have?  Let us know.  NFPA wants to support your efforts.  It is so easy to get involved.  Finally, tell us your story about how you are going to make a difference.

USFS Missoula Fire Sciences Lab

A very interesting read on the growth of the wildland-urban interface from scientists with the USDA Forest Service and the University of Wisconsin-Madison is now available. Scientists tracked changes in the nation’s WUI over a 20-year time span that revealed the area has expanded by more than 46 million acres (an area larger than Washington State), with one-third of all homes in the U.S. now located in areas that are near or intermingled with forests and grasslands.

 

Authors of the study, “Rapid growth of the U.S. Wildland-Urban Interface raises wildfire risk” published March 12, in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences journal, found both the number of homes in the WUI and its total footprint are growing rapidly, with many implications for wildfire management and other natural resource management issues. 

 

In addition to the article, make sure to catch an excellent new video, “A Better Way to Think About Wildfires” produced by the USDA Forest Service with the Western Forestry Leadership Coalition. It's a great resource to share with stakeholders at all levels. Using a creative approach that includes drone footage and video that illustrates the physics of fire from the USFS Missoula Fire Sciences Lab, it explains the benefits of healthy fire to forest ecosystems. 

 

Grab a cup of coffee and take a few minutes to read the article and watch the video!

The California Governor’s Office of Emergency Services posted a remarkable article on their website last week.  This article, Signs of Recovery Show Six Months After Most Destructive Wildfires in California History, Debris Removal Reaches Major Milestone shared staggering costs and work involved in rebuilding the communities that were hardest hit by wildfires in Northern California.  The overall costs paid out by government agencies since the October 10th described in this article, which does not including costs paid out by homeowner’s insurance policies was;

 

  •        15.7 million dollars from FEMA for individual assistance to 4,500 residents in this hard hit area.
  •       Of this amount 9.6 million was provided for temporary housing assistance and to help rebuilding
  •       Another 6.1 million dollars was used to help victims of these fires with other needs such as funeral costs, medical needs, and personal property loss
  •        271.8 million dollars was given in Public Assistance grants to the neighborhoods, cities, counties and state affected by the wildfires.This money is used for the repair of public infrastructure and buildings.  The amount going directly to people is only about 6% of the amount going to repair and replace public buildings and infrastructure. 

TOTAL  287.5 million dollars just in government assistance for these 2017 Northern California wildfires.  These costs also do not include 640 households who received California State Transitional Sheltering Assistance and 230 households who received FEMA temporary housing.  This funding does not cover all costs incurred in the rebuilding process and many costs are never recovered.

 

It was amazing to me also how long it took just to remove the 1.7 million tons of debris (from homes and businesses that burned) that became designated as hazardous materials.  The thought of the damage all of this caused the environment not to mention the horrible loss of life was overwhelming.  I can’t help but think that there is so much more that can be done now as the rebuilding and healing process begins to help reduce California residents’ loss during wildfires.  NFPA has many no cost resources that can be used to reduce wildfire losses.  

The photos were shared with NFPA by the LA City Fire Department

 

Get detailed information in our new Reducing Wildfire Risks in the Home Ignition Zone foldout poster that will assist in planning your wildfire risk reduction projects. The format includes detailed actions that all residents with a wildfire risk should complete at their home. Learn about ignition resistant building materials and construction techniques, along with vegetation and debris removal and how each can be impacted during a wildfire.

 

The easy-to-follow checklist identifies tasks that increase a home’s potential survivability when exposed to embers and/or a surface fire. Use the checklist to track individual accomplishments within the Immediate, Intermediate and Extended home ignition zones and make entries that denote when they were completed and will need to be repeated.

 

Order a poster today for both yourself and your neighbors and work together to prepare your homes and landscapes for when wildfires happen. Posters are available as an individual single-unit, or packaged in bundles of 25 for larger outreach events. Both are available through the NFPA online catalog.

In my family, we are always looking for reasons to eat cake. Celebrations of all sizes work equally well for us; so I’m very excited that I can indulge in a big slice tonight as a nod to the 277 Firewise USA sites that recently reached a 5, 10 or 15 year milestone anniversary of wildfire risk reduction achievements. Accomplishments of that magnitude call for lots and lots of cake so join me from afar and cut yourself a giant slice too!

 

These site's long-term accomplishments range from individual efforts, to neighbor-to-neighbor collaborative actions, to community-wide projects that increase a homes chances of surviving wildfires. Each has embraced the importance of neighbors working together to reduce wildfire risks and have worked closely with their state forestry agency and local fire department to maximize their efforts. 

 

We extend a hearty round of applause to all that reached these major milestones! There are 167 sites that reached the five-year milestone; 94 that reached the ten-year milestone and 16 superstars achieved fifteen years with the program. The sixteen sites completing fifteen years of participation will receive customized street signage that proudly shares their status in the program.

 

The 15-year sites include:

Arkansas: Holiday Island, Holiday Island, AR; Joplin, Mt. Ida, AR; Norman, Norman AR and Story, Story, AR

Florida:  Lakewood, Starke, FL

New Mexico:  Village of Ruidoso, Ruidoso, NM

North Carolina:  River Run Plantation, Bolivia, NC

Pennsylvania:  Penn Forest Streams, Jim Thorpe, PA

South Dakota:  Mountain Plains, Spearfish, SD

Tennessee:  Cumberland Cove, Monterey, TN

Texas:  Tierra Linda Ranch, Kerrville, TX; Trails of Horseshoe Bay, Horseshoe Bay, TX and Wildcatter Ranch and Resort, Graham, TX

Washington:  Lummi Island Scenic Estates, Lummi Island, WA

Wyoming:  Story, Buffalo, WY and Union Pass, Dubois, WY

 

Learn how you and your neighbors can become a Firewise USA program participant at Firewise.org, or contact your local state forestry liaison.

 

On April 1 the National Interagency Fire Center’s (NIFC’s) Predictive Services issued their newest National Significant Wildland Fire Potential Outlook for April, May, June, and July 2018.  Some key takeaways are during April, areas of the central and southern Great Plains will continue to experience significant wildland fire activity; this will shift towards the Southwest as the month continues.  The Florida Peninsula, eastern Georgia, and South Carolina are areas of concern as they experience lingering drought conditions.  As we head towards June and July drought conditions and weather patterns will shift the areas of concern west. 

 

With this outlook, many focus on the approach of “wildfire season” in the west, but others are starting to think more in terms of a “fire year.”  I first heard this presented at the annual Wildland Urban Interface Conference by the now interim Chief of the Forest Service, Vicki Christiansen.  Recently it was announced that the Wildland Fire Leadership Council (WFLC) was formally adopting the term. Fire year acknowledges that traditional seasons are starting sooner and extending longer, putting a demand on resources further outside of summer and the traditional fire season.  This is important to consider in the realm of wildfire fire preparedness and risk reduction as well since we have already seen active fire and threats to homes. Several fires during March resulted in home losses in Colorado and just last week 40 homes were saved from a fast-moving wildfire in Florida, their survival was credited to having taken action to create defensible space.

 

All of this reminds me that preparing for wildfires and lowering home ignitability is a year-round event – not limited to a weekend or two leading up to summer.  With the losses in Colorado last month, I took a moment to evaluate my house and realized I wasn’t practicing good fire safety in the Home Ignition Zone.  Oak leaves and pines needles were piled up against the foundation, carried by wind that could potentially drive embers to the same location in the event of a wildfire.  I spent several hours raking and cleaning them up, working out to about 15 feet in areas exposed to the predominate winds.  And while I certainly have more work to do, I could definitely see the difference.

 

Two piles of branches and debris that have been gathered for removal, debris was located within the Home Ignition Zone.As spring rolls forward I encourage you to tackle projects of your own – a few hours a weekend can really make an impact.

  • Clean out the gutters and 0-5 feet from foundation where debris has gathered
  • Trim and clean up dead/decadent plants
  • Work your way out, 5-30 feet, cleaning up litter and debris, pruning tree limbs 6-10 feet from the ground
  • Home projects - inspect your gutters, roof, etc. for any storm damage, replace or repair any missing shingles as they might allow for ember penetration
  • Screen in any decks or porches that allow for debris and embers to get underneath
  • Learn more about what actions you can take to reduce your risk of loss

 

If you are still experiencing winter conditions that prevent risk reduction work focus on other parts of wildfire preparedness:

  • Create an emergency plan for you and your family and practice it
  • Assemble an emergency supply kit, remember to include important documents, medications, and personal identification
  • Plan two ways out of your neighborhood and designate a meeting place

 

Check out NFPA's Wildfire safety tips for more information and resources.

 

Photo credits - 

Significant Wildland Fire Potential- NIFC

Wildfire mitigation photo - NFPA

Being born and raised in the West, I would never have expected to see the vast amount of rural forested area that I witnessed, of all places, in New Jersey.  But there it was, miles of trees, with developments nestled within it for as far as the eye could see.  This was the Pine Barrens.  And for the last several years, it has been high on the national list of places that can burn, and burn big.

 

The last time it did was May of 2007.  The Warren Grove Gunnery Range sits within the Pinelands and an Air National Guard F-16 ignited a 14,000 acre wildfire that forced the evacuation of 6,000 people and burned several homes. A 2016 article in Rolling Stone magazine, "Will America's Worst Wildfire Disaster Happen in New Jersey" caught many folks off guard with most of the news being western wildfire concerns.  Yet, this 1.1 million acre tract of trees is home to some 500,000 people and is still growing.  And it can burn big.

 

The State of New Jersey, and specifically, the New Jersey Forest Fire Service is working diligently to prepare their residents for future fire events.  In March, we got a chance to meet with them on a State visit as part of our work with the Firewise USA™ program. 

 

The New Jersey Forest Fire Service utilizes a multi-pronged approach that marries up the Firewise USA™ program, The International Association of Fire Chief’s “Ready, Set, Go” program, New Jersey Fire Safety Councils, and the Fire Adapted Communities Learning Network into one effort called Sustainable Jersey.  This program allows communities to build points towards achieving various levels of status which assists them in competing for risk reduction grant funding.

Given that New Jersey is heavily served by volunteer fire companies, the “Ready, Set, Go” program was a natural fit, especially since the Firewise USA™ program is the “Ready” part for them. The residents we met are deeply engaged with the state to reduce their risk because Sustainable Jersey helped to define what the various wildfire risk reduction programs can do and build upon the success of each locally.

We attended a meeting with over 75 participants in Barnegat, including the Chief of the New Jersey Forest Fire Service, Greg McLaughlin. The large fires in recent memory are always on the minds of these residents and all had stories to tell about the Warren Grove fire.

So from a place many do not think of having significant wildfire, comes a unique approach to trying to reduce the risk ahead of the next “big one”. I think all of us can learn from the good work going on in New Jersey.

Photo credit: Warren Grove Gunnery Range by Tom Welle

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